Wednesday, April 13, 2016

5 Shawls, 5 Days

A few weeks ago I participated in a challenge hosted by Francoise of Aroha Knits. It was a challenge in which you knit five shawls in five days. Mini shawl samples, that is. The point of the challenge was to knit, learn, and demystify the basic shawl constructions and techniques of the five most common shawl shapes. The rules of the challenge were pretty simple: each day spend thirty minutes knitting a mini shawl using the shape construction designated for the day, which was emailed to you each morning. You were allowed to use whatever yarn weight and composition that you wanted with whichever needle size that suited that yarn. Francoise really encouraged knitters to try different increases or decreases, to try a stitch pattern, to try knitting another sample in a different yarn weight, to try anything - just experiment and most of all, have fun. It was the perfect challenge for aspiring shawl designers and for those wanting to learn more about shawl construction. 

I signed up for the challenge because of the latter, I really did want to learn more about shawl construction and I thoroughly enjoyed watching Francoise's daily Periscope videos in which she gave tips and advice on each shawl shape and even explained how to use a spreadsheet to figure out stitch counts. I liked that the challenge didn't feel at all stressful or like I had to have the day's shape done before midnight. Probably because there were two groups of knitters: one in which participants in the official challenge was entered to win an eBook copy of Francoise's book, Forming Shawl and Their Charts; and the second group were for people who signed up late. Even though I was in the first group, we had an extra few days to get our samples knitted up and posted. Seriously, no stress. At all. 

The shape for Day 1 was the triangle shawl with the popular garter tab cast-on:

I personally think this is the most popular shawl shape. I used some leftover yarn from a baby knit (The Sanguine Gryphon Sea Sock in Canyon Flower, in case you were wondering) and opted to do a garter stitch border before binding off using the Icelandic Bind-Off method. I had several "a-ha!" moments, especially when figuring out numbers on a spreadsheet, and can see why this shape is so easy to design for. The only problem that I had with this sample was the yarn. Love the colour, didn't care for the texture it created. Even after a soak and being blocked, the stitches looked wonky and uneven. So not a fan of that!

On Day 2 the shape was crescent:   

I absolutely love this shape. Of all the shawls I have in my wardrobe, this is the shape that I wear the most. I wear my shawls "bandana style" and find that there's never enough of a wing span with a triangle shawl to wear comfortably around my neck without feeling like I'm being choked. And most of the time if the wing span is wide enough, usually the height is way too long and the point of the triangular shawl is well past my belly button. 

Crescent shaped shawls though, have the wide wing span I love and need, and covers enough of my chest without overwhelming my frame. I think this is why my Color Affection shawl is the most worn shawl out of my entire collection. For this sample I used yarn that has been sitting on my desk shelf for years, for reasons completely unknown (Zen String Lotus Toes Fingering in Georgia). I absolutely loved knitting this sample and would like to take some time to explore more with this shape. I didn't do anything fancy with this sample, other than using a Russian Bind-Off (also called Lace Bind-Off), because I got so caught up in how the yarn was knitting up that by the time it got to a certain size it was too late to try anything decorative. While there was no regulation as to how big the samples needed to be, I wanted mine to all be relatively the same size. I'm just weird like that. 

Next up, Day 3: asymmetrical:

Francoise had mentioned in her Periscope video that she noticed that asymmetrical shawls were a huge trend that didn't seem to be going away any time soon. I happen to agree. The first patterns that came to my mind were pretty much all of Martina Behm's, especially the ├╝ber popular Hitchhiker and Trillian shawls. I absolutely love knitting this type of shawl shape but find that I have a harder time trying to wear them because I tend to tug at them trying to make the ends even. Sometimes, just like in triangle shaped shawls, there's just not enough of a wing span for my liking.

With all that said, I would still like to explore this type of construction more. There has been such a rise of shawl patterns using this construction as a guideline (Match & Move by Martina Behm and Zsuzsika by Taiga Hilliard both come to mind) that the design possibilities are truly endless, and the more I think about it, the more design ideas I get. That's not a bad thing at all! I have no idea what yarn this is, it was an un-labeled mini skein that I found in my bag of minis. I have a sneaking suspicion that this is Sunshine Yarns Merino Sport in Alice's Porsche. It's much thicker than your typical fingering weight and yet it didn't look right next to the strands of DK weight that I had put it next to. Also, a quick peak at my Ravelry project page and I discovered that I had used this yarn for Stephen West's Akimbo shawl way back in the day. I definitely had a fair amount leftover (and back then I didn't record in my notes just exactly how much I had leftover), so by deduction, I think this is what the yarn is.

Day 4's shape, half-pi, was a really hard one for me. After several attempts I finally achieved something passable:

My very first attempt looked like a cone and I tried to block it while it was still attached to the ball but it simply refused to block out of its cone shape. So I frogged it and tried again with a much larger needle. No dice. I switched yarns thinking something thinner would help. It sort of worked, it now resembled one of those hand-held fans. Riiiiiiiip!! I cast on the garter tab once more, this time with an even thinner yarn (Sweet Fiber Yarn's Sweet Merino Lite in Sapphire) and I was going to make increases like no tomorrow. Yeah, at this point I was mad at this shape. Some very un-lady-like language may have been uttered under my breath.

Now, the construction was half-pi but I think it looks like a crescent. Quite honestly, even though I favourited and queued several patterns using this shape on Ravelry, I highly doubt I would wear them. I might knit one for the sake of knitting it, and then donate or gift it, but I don't see this shape as one that I could wear comfortably. Cause you know...yep. Wing span. Or lack thereof, I should say. And I'm not at all graceful enough to be one of those knitters who can casually drape a shawl over my shoulders and have it actually stay put. Nor am I the kind that can wear shawl pins without stabbing myself a million times before I yank it off in frustration. I'm the type of knitter who is so klutzy that the casual draping of the shawl around my shoulders would fall off, causing me to trip, step all over the shawl, and thereby destroying the knit somehow. SO not graceful. I give major kudos to those of you who can pull of this shape!

And last, but not least, Day 5: square:

This shape was hands down my most favourite to knit.! I used some leftover Knit Picks Bare Tweed (which is now discontinued...sad face!) that I had dyed with some cherry Kool-Aid to match the rest of the tweedy yarn that I had used in a pair of Climb socks. While knitting this mini sample I genuinely didn't think I've ever knit this shape before in my life. 

Lies. All lies. I have.

Twice. In my Nuvem shawl and in the still unfinished Dahlia cardigan. While I've gotten a fair amount of use from my Nuvem, this shape is not as versatile to me as a knit I'd wear, but moreso one I'd like to use as either a detail (like in the Dahlia cardigan) or as in a blanket. I now have a very strong urge to knit a Vivid by Tin Can Knits...

Anyhoo, in summation I thoroughly enjoyed this challenge and look forward to the next one. I learned some new things and am eager to test out my new knowledge and try my hand at shawl design. It's probably not an intention but this challenge also pinpointed exactly what I like and don't like in a shawl and hopefully will help me make better pattern choices in the future. Thank you so much Francoise/Aroha Knits!! How about you? What kinds of shawls do you like to knit and/or wear?


  1. What a fantastic summary, Melissa! I really feel bad that I didn't get around to trying any of the mini shawls, however I'm certain that I will. You've got me looking forward to it! xoxo

  2. Wow, this is amazing. You really know your shawl shapes and how to get them started. I'd have no clue. I don't really wear shawls. I have knitted a Hitchhiker which I treated myself to the pattern and to trying out Manos del Uruguay for my 40th two years ago. I don't really wear it though as probably I don't know how quite to.

    1. I have to agree with you on the Hitchhiker. I absolutely loved knitting it and think variegated yarns look great in that pattern...but I can't wear it. I tug at it way too much and I feel sort of lopsided when one end is overly longer than the other when it's dangling on my front. If that makes any sense. I loved the yarn I used for mine and so I'm very hesitant to gift it. But I really do see myself wearing it often.

  3. It's fun to see all the different shapes in one place! I prefer triangle shows or 'elongated triangles' that are somewhere halfway between a triangle and crescent. I miss the triangle point in a full-blown crescent shawl.

    1. Yes!! I do like the elongated triangle shape too. Anything that has that wing span! I need to do some searches for this shape on Ravelry! ;)


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