Boy oh boy, what a project.
Back in September, during a phone chat with my lovely mom, I confessed that I was already thinking about Christmas gifts – making them, that is. I really wanted to get ahead of the last minute make-a-thon that usually takes over my festive spirit. Apparently, she was already thinking about gifts too – she knew exactly what she wanted. It went something like this,
I want a wrap for church when it gets cold that matches my kitchen backsplash.
After digging a little deeper, it came to light that she was talking about a shawl (not necessarily a rectangular wrap) and her backsplash was slate blue (very specific, thanks mom). So I set out to knit her a warm, slate blue shawl for Christmas.
I have never, ever, knit a shawl. Every time I think, “maybe I would like to have a shawl,” I always imagine how I could use that same amount of yarn to knit a sweater… and then knit that sweater. So this gift knit was necessary for me to break into the shawl knitting universe that I know so little about – and for that I’m grateful to my mom for her slightly weird request of a Christmas present.
I sent her a few patterns of shawl’s I liked, and ultimately we settled on the Open Waters Shawl my Melanie Berg in Making no. 2. I was drawn to the unique stitch pattern. It looks so inviting and creative. I also liked that most of the body of the shawl is in garter stitch and a smaller section in a more complex stitch pattern – enough complexity to stay interested but enough basic stitches to chill. The dream combo. This pattern is for an asymmetrical shawl, which includes increasing on one side (to create the wingspan/hypotenuse of the triangle). I know shawls come in a variety of shapes (words like crescent and half pie that make me think of baked goods, not knitting), and some folks have strong feelings about which shapes they prefer. My feelings toward shawl shapes are distinctly underdeveloped; I just don’t know which one is best.
Finding the yarn for this sweater was a minor effort. I traveled out of my usual thrift shop boundaries to a suburban thrift store. After circling the sweater racks for 30 minutes searching for a slate blue fingering weight sweater with good fiber content to unravel, I finally settled for a less preferable option: multiple lace weight sweaters. The first sweater was a cornflower blue 100% cashmere sweater from Ann Taylor LOFT (I always find this brand has fantastic quality sweaters). The second was a graphite grey linen/silk/rayon blend from J.Jill (also good quality sweaters from the brand in general). Both of these sweaters were machine knit with very fine yarn (cobweb/laceweight). I knew unraveling was going to be a *t a s k* but I decided the right color (literally blue/grey) in quality yarn was worth the challenge.
And it sure was a challenge. The cashmere sweater was quite weak, snapped often, and produced a lot of fuzz. This is to be expected of a short fiber like cashmere, but still I was struggling to remain positive through this sweater harvest. The grey sweater was a whole other bag of worms – I didn’t notice that this sweater was machine knit with two separate strands of yarn, which unraveled at different tensions. So one yarn was always a little saggier than the other.
I’ve done most of my unraveling without a yarn swift, but halfway through endless winding of laceweight yarn, I gave in – I needed a yarn swift as soon as possible to finish this project. After maybe about 20 minutes of research one weekday morning I decided to buy an amish style swift. By that evening, I walked out of my LYS with the ChiaoGoo Amish Style swift at a price that just fit within my monthly craft budget (no extra yarn for me).
The yarn swift is a game changer.
I sped through the rest of my unraveling, washed the yarn, stretched it gently to remove any knitting kinks, and was ready to start knitting.
The pattern calls for a US size 2.5 needle, which I do not have… so I decided a US size 3 metal circular needle would have to do – and my swatch turned out okay, but again, my first ever shawl, so I really didn’t know what to expect.
This shawl was strange to knit. My yarn combo did not want to knit nicely, it was both slippery and stiff. The main part of the stitch pattern is small sections of bound off stitches – this was really difficult to do with my yarn + needle combo. The knitting process felt like it took ages! I’m used to garment projects with their different sections, sleeves, button bands, and the like. This shawl was one large piece of repeating patterns – a new style for me. Once I finished the last pattern repeat I rejoiced at the thought of binding off. But I knew binding off wasn’t the last step of this project. It would need a serious session of blocking to help the stitch pattern shine. I was generally intimidated by this step so I put off blocking for two weeks to try to build up the courage to stretch my knitting.
I’m pretty unsure about the finished look of this shawl. Generally in the middle. After blocking, the fabric turned into something light and airy. I don’t know if it will actually keep my mom warm, which was a crucial part of her request. I do know that it hits slate blue straight on the head. However, I do worry that I stretched the fabric out too much and that I should have added one more strand of yarn to add a little bulk to the shawl. But, alas, these are all lessons learned for next time. I do think I’ll knit a shawl again, and probably one of Melanie Berg’s designs. For a first ever shawl, I think this turned out just fine.