Tips for Knitting Your First Shawl
Shawls are like a knitters showpiece. They can be (relatively) thick and cozy, or featherweight and delicate. Most shawls are knit with lace weight yarn or fingering weight yarn, although some are made with heavier sport yarn or DK weight yarn. A shawl can also be an great take-along project since they are compact and can be squished down into a purse or small bag.
If you’re ready to try knitting a shawl, here are 4 tips and tricks to making it a real showstopper.
1. Plan ahead
Be sure when choosing yarn for your shawl project that you look for something that will match the weight and fiber content called for in the pattern. My first shawl project called for fingering weight alpaca yarn, and I used fingering weight mercerized cotton. Needless to say, the results weren’t what I had hoped. Designers choose certain yarns for their distinct properties so keep that in mind and try to substitute yarns as closely related as possible.
When working with lightweight yarns (think lace and fingering) look at the twist in the yarn. You will not enjoy knitting an enormous shawl with yarn that is super splitty. Especially if you are taking on an intricate lace project — a yarn that splits very easily will make for a tedious project.
Also, you will want to choose a set of needles that will work well with the yarn and pattern. The needle tips should be pointy, rather than too blunt. Some lace shawl patterns may call for purl 6 stitches together and you don’t want to be fighting with a blunt needle with something like that.
Photo via Craftsy member Briansmith9
2. Stitch markers
Have a good supply of stitch markers on hand. While you are knitting, it’s a good idea to place a stitch marker after every pattern repeat. This will not only help you to keep track of where you are in the pattern, but also help you to identify and fix any mistakes you might make right away. These stitch markers should also be lightweight and not in a shape or with a hook that will snag your project.
Photo via Craftsy member Mairlynd
3. Lifelines are your friend
If you’ve never heard of this little knitting trick, it’s time to learn. A lifeline is where you thread a piece of thread (or unwaxed dental floss, or yarn of a similar weight) through the live stitches in your knitting without removing your needles and after a easily identifiable point in your pattern (normally after a pattern repeat). If you’re knitting a shawl that doesn’t have a lace pattern, I’d suggest placing the lifeline every inch or so. By using a lifeline, if you make a mistake that is missed for several rows (or inches!) you can pull your needle out, and rip out to the lifeline where all the stitches will be safely held and ready to be picked up with your needle once again. It’s tempting not to use a lifeline, thinking “Oh, but this pattern is so simple.” But I guarantee you will be so grateful you did the first time you have to use it.
A good blocking is the magic to getting a shawl to look it’s very best. Plan on wet blocking your shawl. Once you’ve washed, rinsed and squeezed the water out, you will want to do more than just lay flat. Use straight pins to pin out the shawl to measurement, taking care to pin out any lace or edge designs so that the pattern stands out. Now is a good time to use blocking wires if you have them (although it can be done with just a lot of pins). See our tutorial for blocking your knits for more information, and view our post on how to use blocking wires to make your shawl points pointy.
When you’re ready to start really exploring shawl knitting, take some time to try the Craftsy class Mastering Lace Shawls with Laura Nelkin. This class will help you with learning to read lace charts and how to identify and fix your mistakes which, is so important with any knitting project!
You might also enjoy our roundup of 7 splendid spring shawl knitting patterns.