Knitting Shawls

My latest knitting obsession is shawls, knitted in sock yarn (also called fingering or 4 ply). This is a thin yarn, knitted on 3.5mm needles. Shawls are easy to knit, so are perfect to knit while watching TV, listening to the radio or on a trip when you want something simple. Most are garter stitch (knit every row) but some are a combination of garter and stocking stitch (knit right side, purl wrong side). They are knit flat using circular needles so you can easily hold the length of the shawl. Making shawls with thin sock yarn means more stitches but the result is a beautiful, lightweight and warm shawl. Previously I have knit scarves in DK weight yarn but they are bulky to wear.

Most shawl patterns are a triangle or a triangle with a wings (also called heart-shaped). They are knit starting at the top (the part that goes at the neck) and made by increasing on the edge and in the center. The basic triangle increases one stitch either side and two in the center, every other row. The triangle with wings increases the same as the triangle but also increases one stitch either side on the odd rows, creating the wings. You start knitting only a few stitches and increase until you end with a wide shawl.

This photo shows the Boneyard Shawl (see below for details) at the start of knitting.

Shawl - Boneyard
Shawl – Boneyard

5 Basic Shawl Shapes shows the basic shawl shapes. Other designers approach the basic triangle in different ways, starting at one end instead of in the center. You can vary the way that you increase in the center to change the look, or how you increase on the edges.

For all of these projects I used MadelineTosh yarn (from the US). It is expensive, as are all of the hand-dyed yarns available now. A small shawl costs around £40 in yarn. I am going to try two hand-dyed Irish yarns next – Life in the Longgrass and Hedgehog Fibres.

My Shawl Projects

Descriptions and photos of the five shawls I made in the last year or so, in the order that I made them. I have linked to the pages on Ravelry for each piece. There you will find the link to the pattern and photos of completed projects by other knitters. Ravelry is a great resource for knitters.

Different Lines by Veera Välimäki
MadelineTosh Sock yarn, one 100 gm skein each of Big Sur and Cousteau
4.o mm needles – the larger needles give it a nice drape

I started with Different Lines, a simple garter stitch shawl with an odd triangle-ish shape. This pattern uses short rows to create the different shape. It starts at the narrow point of the shawl and increases on one side to create the shape. Short rows on the other side gave it the curve. When you are wearing the shawl, the shape works well to wrap one side over your shoulder and throw the other longer side around your neck. I enjoy wearing this shawl.

Shawl - Different Lines
Shawl – Different Lines

Arroway by Stephen West (WestKnits)
MadelineTosh Sock yarn, one 100 gm skein each of Big Sur and Celadon
3.5 mm needles

Stephen West is an innovative knitting designer. I have purchased more of his patterns than I have knit, but I will get around to them all eventually. Arroway was my second shawl and my first Stephen West pattern. This is a traditional shawl in a triangle with wings. He had some nice two-color details at the bottom of the shawl but I was lazy and just made it a solid color (the gold band at the bottom). The shawl was easy to knit and I wear it all the time. I like to wear it with a coat, with the long part in front and the wings wrapped around my neck. Have a look at Stephen West’s fabulous patterns on Ravelry.

Shawl - Arroway
Shawl – Arroway

Boneyard by Stephen West (WestKnits), free pattern
MadelineTosh Sock yarn, one 100 gm skein of Filigree and two of Rain Water
3.5 mm needles

This is a basic triangle. The purist in me didn’t like the triangle with wings, but after knitting a triangle I see why the triangle with wings is better. I love this shawl but it stays in the living room to be worn on cold nights. It doesn’t wrap the way the first two shawls do, but it is much larger and works well to wear on its own. I love the colors. It is lightweight, so I could wrap it around my neck under a coat – I will try that!

Shawl - Boneyard
Shawl – Boneyard

Rockerfeller by Stephen West (WestKnits)
MadelineTosh Merino Light (sock weight), two 100 gm skeins of Plaid Blanket and Tannenbaum
3.5 mm needles

This is not knit as a triangle. Instead the shawl is knit in three parts. It starts with the striped neckline, using short rows to make it smaller at the neck. The second section starts by picking up along the bottom of section one. It is made with stocking stitch in one color with a few ribs of the other color and increases throughout the piece. It ends in an interesting design for the bottom. The last section is picked up on each side and the wings are knit in garter strip stripes.

I am finishing this one up now. I started out with one skein of each color and thought I could get by with ordering another skein in one color only, but I ran out of the green color at the end. Then I thought to save the money and finish the last bit without stripes but it didn’t look right, so now I am unpicking and re-knitting. It will be fabulous when finished.

Shawl - Rockefeller
Shawl – Rockefeller

Theme and Variation by Veera Välimäki, from the Book of Haps.
MadelineTosh Merino Light (sock weight), one 100 gm skein of Lichen (the multi-color yarn) and one and a half of Thyme (light green)
3.5mm needles

This pattern is the same shape as Arroway – a triangle with wings – but it is bigger. The pattern uses short rows for the section where there are stripes on one side only, a nice look I think. The only tricky part is the bottom, but it is worth the work. Using slip stitches and a ribbing pattern (using double the amount of stitches in the last row of the main part) you end up with a wider bottom with Thyme on one side and stripes on the other side (you can see the back of the bottom in the second photo). I finished this shawl today and love it.

Shawl - Theme and Variation
Shawl – Theme and Variation

Below you can see the stripes on the wrong side of the bottom ribbing.

Shawl - Theme and Variation
Shawl – Theme and Variation

What’s Next?

I’ll have to pause knitting shawls for awhile, because I have enough of them! I am back to knitting sweaters and cardigans. But, I have a list of shawl patterns to consider next. If you are looking for inspiration, head over to Ravelry.

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Pauline Kenny

Pauline Kenny and Steve Cohen are US expats living in Dorset. We moved to the UK in 2010. Read about our move. If you would like to talk about travel, please join us on the Slow Europe Travel Forums.

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