reflections of a shawl knitter

My Whippoorwill has been finished for a while now (almost two months actually!). I am counting it as my first official shawl, and as such, I can say that it has illuminated me greatly on many things.

The knitting

The knitting itself was quite easy. Let’s face it, as shawl patterns go, this one is pretty much as simple as they get. But what worried me more than potential complexity was the fear of boredom. You often hear shawl knitters complain about those endless rows of several hundred stitches, about how they lose interest on purl rows, and also about how easy it is to lose track of where you are and mess up a pattern. I can happily report that I experienced none of that. I completely breezed through this pattern, at remarkable speed. I did mess up a few times, coming to the end of a row and realizing that my stitch count was a bit off, but I was equally remarkably unconcerned about that. I just picked up an extra stitch here and there, and things worked out on their own. I challenge you to locate the mistakes in my FO!


The fabric

I usually consider myself quite a big fan of densely knit fabric. My ideal gauge is that thin line between a fabric that is compact, yet still soft. If pressed to choose among the alternative extremes, though, I would go towards the stiffer, tighter knit fabrics, much sooner than towards loose, open gauge. Whippoorwill taught me, however, that I may have underestimated what loose gauge can do to a knitted item’s softness. Whoa! This baby is so soft that I feel like I have to whisper the word soft when talking about it. (And frankly, while Malabrigo is amazingly soft, I think the gauge gets all the credit here.)

And the lightness, oh my, the lightness! To have something so soft, so light, yet so warm, now this is a completely new experience to me.

The size

I knit the size small (that’s how much yarn I had), and I was convinced the finished object would be the size ‘too small’. Again, underestimating the gauge.

When something is knitted so loosely, it becomes stretchy, and this small little thing wraps around my neck, twists itself into a nice knot and even leaves some ends hanging out of it prettily without any effort.

The rolling

Anyone who’s ever knit a shawl knows that they are ugly ducklings in the process and only turn into beautiful swans after you stretch them out like crazy, pin them out like a voodoo doll and block even the thought of scrunchupedness out of them. So I trusted my shawl while it looked all old-lady-skin on me, and waited patiently for the blocking to do its magic. Needless to say – it did. Wonderfully. However, after wearing the thing on and off for about a month, I can report that the edges are now rolling in again. I have to say I expected greater durability…

Am I going to have to keep blocking this every two or three weeks?

The wearing

Actually, the main part of my skepticism towards shawls comes from the fact that they simply do not fit into my wardrobe. When it comes to neckwear, I’m more of a chunky, elongated kinda gal (as opposed to the light, triangular kind). In this section, I have several things to report. One, this shawl is not too triangular for me. It might even be a good stepping stone towards more properly triangulary things. Two, it’s the perfect thing to have on your neck in these transitional autumn days. Not too warm, not too cold. Three, the shawl cuts into my neck. Now here we have a problem. The upper edge (longest edge if you think of the shape as a triangle) is the least elastic one. That is because of the construction of the shawl, from the centre of that side outwards, so that edge is formed by the stitches you keep casting on in each row.

That is also normally the edge that is in most contact with the neck and I would want it most stretchy. I find this quite discouraging since most shawls I’ve seen have the same method of construction, which means that they’ll all have this unelastic edge? As it is I end up wearing my shawl “upside-down” (with the unelastic edge towards the bottom and the decorative edge towards my face), to prevent it from cutting into my neck.

I hope you guys have some advice for avoiding this!

So there you have it! I am really happy with all the lessons learned from this experience and I think it has expanded my horizons as a knitter. I look forward trying out new shawls, and maybe even discovering constructions that suit me better… Do you have any additional reflections on shawl-knitting? I’d love to hear!

p.s. Have a great weekend everyone! :)

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About fridica

I started knitting completely by accident, when I was visiting my parents for a holiday in 2008. On a boring Sunday afternoon, I decided to dig through their stash of books to see if there was anything interesting to take back to my apartment. A knitting manual happened to be one of the books I found. I got curious, my mom immediately dug out her old needles and yarn stash (which she hadn’t used in a decade at least), and in a few minutes we were both casting on - she by memory, I by following the instructions from the book… :) Since I normally prefer learning from books, this was ideal.. I took the book home with me, and very very soon - I was an addict.

21 thoughts on “reflections of a shawl knitter

  1. Everything you mentioned: the boredom, the triangular shape, the tight edge; are the same reasons why I have not knit a shawl. I’m looking forward to reading the other comments you receive.

  2. Of the few shawls I have made, I’ve only kept one and I actually haven’t worn it yet, so I have nothing to tell you about cutting into my neck…but sometimes I just take it out to look at the pretty lace.

  3. I was just thinking about this same issue this week because it finally got cold enough to wear two triangle shawls I made this summer. I totally agree with everything you wrote, but especially the section on wearing. The triangles don’t wrap around my neck right either! I’m thinking of trying to make an Annis shawl (by Susanna IC) because it is a unique crescent shape. I think this might look like a triangle on, but be easier to wear.

  4. I have made 2 shawls that are a constant in my wardrobe. Sorry I don’t know how to link-yet (I’m still learning ) but anyway the patterns are both free on Ravelry the 1st ‘The Travelling Women’ and the 2nd is the ‘Summer Flies’. Neither of them are tight on the edges. Both were easy to do. For both I used ‘Malabrigo Silky’ which is a DK weight yarn. They are so soft and light and they don’t roll. Check out my project page user name Runnergirlle. I highly recommend you try these patterns.

  5. That is quite lovely! Congrats, and welcome to triangle shawl knitting!

    I have a couple shawls in regular rotation, my favorite being the Holden Shawlette knit in worsted weight yarn on 7’s or 8’s. I love knitting shawls, particularly ones with a solid beginning triangle and lace or something else interesting along the edge. My Holden can be itchy along the edge, but I always attributed it to the garter stitches there, or me being overly sensitive, so I just fold/roll that bit under when I wrap it around. I also wear the point in the front, with the ends wrapped all the way around and tucked underneath in the front. Like a beautiful warm bib that I don’t use to catch food. :P Good luck!

  6. Your shawl is beautiful! This blue suits you so well!
    I love knitting and wearing shawls! Blocking is really as you described: Magical!
    I noticed the same unelastic edge, but as I knit very big shawls (at least 180cm wide) it doesn’t bother me that much.

  7. I think the tight, itchy edge may have something to do with the way the pattern instructs you to do increases along that edge. I usually find that if the first st is slipped and if increases are done by yo (often 2 sts in), I won’t have that problem.

    • I totally second Brigitte’s advice.. You’re probably doing too tight increases. And making sure your borders are even will remove any potential irritation.

  8. The shawl looks great and the colour is lovely.
    As far as the unelastic edge goes I’m thinking that’s a common problem. Same as a too tight bind off. I actually made Damson last autumn, wore it through winter and than frogged it in the spring because I just couldn’t deal with the top of the shawl cutting of my air supply. Since than I’ve made a couple more attempts at shawl knitting and have discovered that it helps to keep the first and last couple of stitches of the row (usually the garter edge) extra (and I mean Extra) loose compared to the rest of the knitting. Admittedly it looks messy and like a disaster while you’re knitting, but once blocked everything evens out and the result is a more stretchy top edge with no risk of accidental suffocation.

  9. yup, I know where you’re coming from… I tend to wear my shawl ‘like a bandana’ if I’m going out. Point in the front? ends around the neck tucked under the point? Anyway, someone suggested to me to ‘cast on’ with bigger needles (which goes against any knitting cast on rules ever I think) but it does give a slightly looser edge (and you can’t see the difference once it’s blocked)

    That shawl is lovely though!

  10. You could try a bottom up shawl or a Faroese style. Shetland style knit the centre out and then the outer edges are picked up. There are so many different shapes to try. My personal favourite at the moment is the semi circular shawl. Just have a look at the pictures and you can generally see if the top edge is tight or not. Now you know what a tight top edge looks like you can avoid that particular style of patterns.

  11. I have similar feelings about shawls–beautiful, interesting to make, but they just don’t fit into my wardrobe. I like the various ways you’re modeling it here though!

  12. I think I like to knit shawls better than wearing them. They don’t tend to lay right. I have heard that the Stripe Study shawl sits well, though.

  13. It suits you beautifully; size, color, not to kitschy pattern – too bad you didn’t like it in the end. But at least helped you learn bunch of things about scarves and your way with them ;o)

  14. Your shawl is lovely! It makes me think of a beach and ocean waves. I haven’t knit a shawl yet because I’m nervous about having to intensely block the FO, but my sister is getting married next year and I promised her one. I think I will try a smaller pattern like yours first, to prepare. The one I will make has a lot of open work, so there will be mega blocking!

  15. i’ve never made or worn a shawl, but seeing yours makes me think that I have to rectify these mistakes. I even have patterns somewhere for vintage irish shawls (crocheted, of course, which I’m sure will run into some of those problems you mention). Love the photos of you, and your new hair style. Hope you had a few days off this weekend.

  16. I think you may have convinced me to knit a shawl. I’ve been avoiding them since it seems most of them are in lace weight yarn and look like they take forever to knit. I also don’t like the triangular shapes, but if you wrap them around your neck it looks really nice. Yup, I’m gonna make me a shawl.

  17. Ive been wanting to make a triangle shaped shawl for so long~~ I see so many beautiful lacy lovely ones. I just havent worked up the courage. I will soon though. Yours is pretty.

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