shawl

Shawls

by Harriet Bazley on November 2, 2013 · 4 comments

in 1910s,1940s,Accessories

It’s getting cold – time to bring the retro-knitted shawls out!

Patons Woolcraft 9th editionI seem to have completed quite a few this year. Here’s an electric blue number knitted in decided non-period wool from my 1915 copy of Patons’ famous Woolcraft booklet, in amongst all the other highly exotic undergarments of the era:

I used a cone of machine-knit acrylic in place of the super-fine Shetland wool recommended in the pattern. The pattern is actually extremely simple, consisting of sets of intersecting ‘fans’ repeated again and again (and again and again and again…): the only difference between rows is that there are three different corner groups, which have to be repeated in a set order, and if you get it wrong you don’t notice until you try to work the next row into it and find that it doesn’t fit. It’s very dispiriting to discover this when each row takes forty-five minutes to complete!
corner of shawl

This is a square shawl measuring thirty-six inches along each side (plus star-border). It was so large that I had to pin it out and steam it on my bed: I don’t have a ‘blocking board’ big enough. But the whole thing weighs only 160 grams (five and a half ounces).
Holding up shawl

It took me a while to work out how to wear a square shawl by looking at the photo in the booklet, but in fact if you fold it right you get a genuine ‘shawl collar’ forming all by itself…

Wearing shawl under cherry tree

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Standing under the rose arch

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My second shawl was also worked in crochet, but was a far faster project! So fast in fact that I did two, with slightly different colour schemes to use up the spare wool: spot the difference.

green shawl in garden

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red shawl indoors

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This was a 1940s pattern for a round shawl entitled “Cozy comfort on cool nights”, and it is designed to sit with a yoke section on the shoulders and a looser section in ‘Solomon’s knot’ stitch. It only takes a few days to make out of double-knitting wool, and is a good way to use up scraps.

front view, sky-gazing in garden

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My third shawl is a triangle shawl of unknown date, since the website I got the pattern from gives only a diagram from an old magazine:
http://www.smart-knit-crocheting.com/crochet-shawl.html

I’ve called it an ‘Art Deco’ shawl, but in fact I’ve been told it may well be older.
Shawl displayed in garden

I deliberately chose a much larger hook size than would normally be used for working double-knitting wool (itself thicker wool than would have been intended for a pattern of this type) so that, instead of getting multiple squares to be assembled together with their edges matching in a further lace pattern, I got a single large square that would more or less fit across my back.

back view of shawl being worn

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This was just as well, since the instructions don’t give any directions as to how you are supposed to make the partial squares to fit along the edges, and I had to guess… and clearly got it wrong, as they ended up distinctly shorter than the full-size motif! Luckily with only two dangling down the front, it doesn’t show.

front/side view of shawl being worn

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By using the very large hook size to produce this extra ‘lacy’ effect, I managed to get an entire shawl out of one spare ball of double-knitting wool: very economical.

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Headline News booklet
I came across a charming booklet entitled Headline News via the Vintage Pattern Files website and decided I simply had to try out some of the crochet patterns there; it had to be something that I could actually wear, though, which meant the strictly practical ‘head-shawl’ featured on the right-hand side of the front cover (suitable for ‘motoring or riding your bike’) rather than the exotic ‘fascinator’ on the left, let alone the flower-covered ‘captivator’ illustrated inside!

I’d wanted something like this for some time and had actually planned to make up one of my various hat-and-integral-scarf patterns – I have one with a bunch of bright crochet flowers on that I’ve meant to try for years – but felt that this would work quite well to fulfil the double role of keeping my ears warm and stopping draughts whistling down the open V-neck of my tailored coat.

Unfortunately none of the patterns in this leaflet give any indication as to tension, so it was complete guesswork as to what thickness of wool I ought to be using and what size crochet hook. The yarn being advertised (“Lily’s No.600 Crochet and Knitting Cotton”) was evidently quite chunky as crochet cotton went, so I thought I’d try some of my vintage 4-ply wool on the grounds that this was fairly chunky as vintage yarn went, and picked a 2.5mm hook after experimenting with a 2mm hook and deciding that the resulting crochet didn’t look as ‘open’ as the fabric illustrated. All these first three patterns in the booklet are essentially a basic triangle shape gathered in different ways, and the base of the triangle seemed wide enough to drape around my shoulders adequately, so I reckoned this was probably about the right size.

When I reached the apex of the triangle, however, it became apparent that it was on the contrary very much too small! The neck-cord was supposed to be threaded in a semi-circle at a radius of 12″ from the edge of the shawl, and the entire shawl was less than twelve inches deep – something had evidently gone radically wrong.

Fortunately this was crochet and not knitting, which meant it proved possible to retro-engineer a complete six-inch additional section of shawl (with the aid of some mathematical calculation) and then slip-stitch the upper loops on to the cast-on edge in a fairly stretchy manner without the join’s showing too much…

Join just visible towards upper edge of triangle

I’ve read descriptions of young ladies conversing while ‘knotting a fringe’; I never realised how long it took in real life. No wonder they regarded it on a level with doing tapestry as a means of avoiding idle hands!

Winding wool to size around a card before cutting more lengths to knot as a fringe

The next problem was trying to get the weird cockscomb crest working. I wanted it to match the fringe rather than the body of the shawl, and as I’d used a thinner yarn for this I was back to experimenting with hook size again. I tried a large hook, I tried a small hook, I tried using the wool doubled, and eventually came to the conclusion that folding up a thick strip to get the heavy cartridge-pleated effect visible in the photo wasn’t going to work. I also came to the conclusion that the instructions about how far along the strip to place the folds were simply wrong!

So in the end I winged it to produce a lighter and shorter strip that would stand up better under its own steam – the heavy one simply weighed down the front of the head-shawl and caused it to flop – and decided that the mysterious instruction to ‘gather slightly’ the folds implied gathering each separate fold width-ways across the strip to spread the bows a little at the top, rather than gathering the strip lengthways into the actual folds required. At any rate it seemed to provide the requisite stiffening.

After all this I wasn’t particularly pleased with the finished article, which didn’t look much like the original pattern photo despite all my efforts. However I tried it out in the cold and snow of this past spring, and found it surprisingly effective despite the open mesh; it’s not proof against a direct blast of icy wind, but it does keep your head pretty warm otherwise. And I had been getting very, very tired of reknotting my large polyester headsquare, which persisted in slipping undone and was very unflattering.

The drawstring design of the head-shawl (essentially, you just pull the cord tight around your neck to fasten it on) proved as practical as advertised, although I haven’t used it for riding my bike – and the long ends of the triangle hanging down in front fill in the neck opening of a coat very conveniently. It doesn’t have the same tendency as a neckscarf to come unwound if you turn your head, and I found I didn’t spend so much time hunching rigidly to try to keep the draught out. Meanwhile the ‘crest’ on the front does actually serve a purpose in making the design noticeably more flattering than a basic headscarf – it removes the ‘low forehead’ appearance and is much less reminiscent of a Russian granny!

So in fact I ended up wearing it on a more or less daily basis throughout the prolonged wait for Spring: it’s easier (because less bulky) to carry around than a hat and scarf, doesn’t look like a peasant headwrap, and is surprisingly effective as a warm garment. I’ve even been told that it looks appealingly ‘retro’, which is perhaps unsurprising in a 1940s pattern…

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