Pi Shawls for Math Nerd Knitters

Posted by on May 27, 2014 in Knitting | Comments


Reach way back to your middle-school memories and you might remember hearing the word “pi” in math class. You probably thought you’d never hear that word again, but math has a way of creeping back into our lives, especially when it involves knitting. Enter the pi shawl! The pi shawl is a beautiful example of how math and knitting are total soul mates. The pi shawl is also a really simple approach to a circular shawl that involves minimal shaping rows. Put your brain in math mode and find out how the pi shawl is constructed, plus see some lovely examples of pi shawls right here on Craftsy!

Knitted pi shawl

Photo via Craftsy member Wusel1811

What is a pi shawl?

The pi shawl is simply a circle-shaped shawl. The pi shawl was designed by pioneer knitter Elizabeth Zimmermann, who brought us countless revolutionary knitting ideas, from calculating sweater proportions to knitting camps. The pi shawl is included in one of her books, Knitter’s Almanac

The super interesting thing about the pi shawl is that it’s not written as a traditional pattern. Rather, it’s written out like prose, with Zimmermann giving us instructions as if she’s speaking to us in conversation.

How the pi shawl is constructed?

Pi shawls are circular shawls worked from the center out. The pi shawl isn’t actually based on any complicated calculations that involve the pi = 3.14 you probably learned in school. Rather, it’s based on the geometry of pi that shows us the relationship between a circle’s radius and circumference.  This geometry, as discovered by Elizabeth Zimmermann, requires only six shaping rows in the entire shawl. The trick, of course, is increasing the rounds so that the shawl lies flat. If you’ve ever designed your own pattern that includes shaping, you know how tricky it is to get those increases and decreases just right!

Even if you’re not the least bit interested in knitting the pi shawl, reading Elizabeth Zimmerman’s patterns is a lot of fun. Here’s just a little tidbit of what Zimmermann had to say about the pi shawl construction after the shaping rounds, straight from Knitter’s Almanac:

“Towards the end, by the time your state of mind has become more and more frayed, and your need of mindless comfort greater and greater, your knitting will be nothing but almost endless round of hundreds of stitches with no thinking required at all.”

Now that’s a lady who understands the minds and needs of knitters!

Variations on the pi shawl:

Knitted iris pi shawl

Photo via Craftsy member Daniel Yuhas

Knitters took the idea behind the pi shawl and ran with it, like we do a lot of other brilliant designs. You’ll even find quite a few pi shawls right here on Craftsy! Pictured above, the Iris Pi Shawl is a variation on Elizabeth Zimmermann’s pi shawl, knitting the shawl from the center out with four different lace motifs. It’s a great intro to Zimmermann’s original pi shawl.

Get the pattern here.

Pumpkin pie shawl

Photo via Craftsy member Merry Melody

The Pumpkin Pie (Pi) Shawl above is not a complete circle like Zimmermann’s pi shawl. One edge is knitted more evenly so that the shawl fits around your shoulders more easily. This particular shawl is obviously a tribute to yummy pumpkin pie, but you could knit it in whatever colors you’d like, including just one solid color.

Get the pattern here.

Memphis pi shawl

Photo via Craftsy member Cooperative Press

Wowsa. This Memphis Shawl is circular and is inspired by Memphis — not the Memphis, Tennessee, we’re familiar with, but rather the capital of ancient Egypt. Knit it with your favorite lace weight yarn, then sit back and wait for the compliments you’re sure to get when you wear this.

Get the pattern here.

If you’re ready to tackle a pi shawl but need just a bit of help with lace knitting, check out Lace Knitting: Basics and Beyond with Eunny Jang, and you’ll get the hang of those yarn overs and other shaping in no time.

What do you like about pi shawls?