15 February 2013

Notches in Triangles

Damask knit with a notch about 15 inches/38 cm deep.
In the previous post, I said I didn't want to knit a solid triangle, but rather a triangle with a notch in it. Why would I want to do that?

A triangular shawl may not necessarily sit nicely on your shoulders. I wear my shawls. I do household chores while wearing my shawls. They need to stay put. A regular triangular shawl does not have a place for your neck, so you end up with a chunk of fabric that bunches up at the back of your neck. And you end up with much more fabric across your back than across your front, which means the force of gravity tugging at the back is always more than the force of gravity tugging at the front.

There are a couple ways to deal with this. Faroese shawls incorporate shaping, so they have a gentle "wing" shape that reminds me of a butterfly or a manta ray. The shaping helps get more fabric to the front so that gravity pulls evenly on both sides. Ruanas also work this way by having enough fabric in front. In fact, if you have a little more fabric in front than in back, you should be fine. The shawl might ride up on the back of your neck a little bit, but it can't fall off your body because your neck is in the way as gravity tries to pull the shawl down your front.

Triangular shawls are very popular right now. Because of their simple shaping, they are easy to knit and easy to personalize by adding whatever patterns you find delightful. But they aren't easy to wear. Now, I am as delighted as the next person to find yet another excuse to wear a shawl pin, but some shawls don't behave well even with a shawl pin. What's a knitter to do?

An easy solution is to leave out a small chunk of fabric -- i.e. knit a triangle with a notch. If you are knitting top down, this means doing a little math and casting-on midway into the shawl. Instead of starting with a few stitches and working downward, you'll want to figure out the pattern a few inches into the shawl and cast on there. (If you are a fast knitter and you don't like math, cast on as the pattern indicates in waste yarn of the same grist as your project yarn, and knit until you've reached the depth you need. Count your stitches and then cast on with the project yarn.) If you are working bottom up, just stop knitting and bind-off before you reach the top.

You may be wondering, how big a notch should I make? A trip to the fabric store, a few yards of plain fleece (on sale! glee!), and an afternoon with the scissors is what I used to answer that question. The fabric was the standard 60 inches/ 152cm in width. I cut out four plain right triangles measuring 60 inches/152cm on the leg sides. These are large, cape-like shawls. Then I proceeded to cut notches of varying depths in three of the four. Here are the results.

I started with a plain triangle. (In science lingo, this would be the baseline or control.)
Plain triangle, front.
Plain triangle, neck back.
While it can wrap completely around the shoulders and collarbone, notice how it bunches up at the neck.

A large, deep notch looks like this:
Large deep notch, front.
Large deep notch, neck back.
The depth of the notch is about 20 inches/ 51cm. It is one-third of the 60-inch length, and removes one-ninth of the area of this particular shawl.

No bunching, but also it creates a long v-neck in front. This will shorten a large triangle so that it doesn't hang as long in back. But too deep a notch, and the front will hang very long indeed. If you like the versatility of a ruana, you might like this type of shaping. Yarn not used in the eliminated notch area can be used instead to make a larger overall garment.

A medium notch looks like this:
Medium notch, front.
Medium notch, neck back.
The depth of the notch is about 15 inches/ 38cm. It is one-quarter of the 60-inch length, and removes one-sixteenth of the area of this particular shawl.

Again, this makes for a better fit at the neck than a plain triangle. You may or may not like the "lapels." You don't get a straight line down the front, but rather a little jog. If you don't mind the "lapels," you might even discover that the little diamond of overlapping fabric is a great place for the shawl pin. My Damask is this shaping.

A small shallow notch looks like this.
Small shallow notch, front.
Small shallow notch, neck back.
The depth of the notch is about 7.5 inches/ 19cm. It is one-eighth of the 60-inch length, and removes one-sixty-fourth of the area of this particular shawl.

This notch is actually too small. It accommodates the neck, but it isn't deep enough for the fabric to meet in front. On the other hand, if you have a bar pin or a cardigan clasp, you could wear the shawl this way. You might want to pin it through to the clothes underneath to prevent the weight of the shawl from pulling the shawl pin to your throat. If you are making a costume, this might be a way to use triangular shaping as a cape.

The shallower notch also shifts how the shawl sits. With the large, deep notch the fronts of the shawl definitely hung lower than the back. This is less so with the shallow notch. And the small notch eliminates the "lapels." If you get the notch depth just right, the "lapels" will meet at your collar bone where they can join with a pin or button, then the edges of the shawl hang straight. How do you figure this distance? Using a measuring tape, measure from the back of your neck around to your collar bone. If you like the shawl right up against your neck, use that distance. If you want a little more ease so the shawl is down on your shoulders or a little more fabric to overlap for your shawl pin, add a little more depth to your notch (an inch/2.5 cm or less).

Notice, too, that you'll be knitting just a little bit less fabric but not a lot less fabric. While your shawl won't be significantly larger if you are using a shallow notch, it may be give you just enough extra yarn if your gauge is a little looser than the pattern sample.

14 February 2013


I don't knit a lot of other people's patterns. I do admire a lot of other people's patterns. And I do read a lot of other people's patterns. But every now and then there is a pattern that just has to be done.
When I was in Portland, Oregon in the summer of 2011, the owner of Urban Fiber Arts was wearing a recently-completed Damask by Kitman Figueroa. This is such a beautiful lace pattern that I just had to work it. When a friend was de-stashing, I was able to acquire a large (215g) skein of Fleece Artist Blue Face Leicester 2/8. The skein was marked as 250g, but I must say, it wasn't that on my scale. Not sure if my scale is wrong or if Fleece Artist's scale was wrong, or maybe the yarn had acquired some moisture at some point? Nonetheless, either 215g or 250g is plenty of yarn for a shawl. Plenty.

I like my shawls large. I get cold. I don't like cold. (I don't like dark, either, just for the record.) So I decided to make a large Damask. The pattern comes in three sizes and calls for either 8, 9, or 10 repeats of pattern along the bottom edge. I cast on and started the shawl before the Denmark trip. And I knit on it across the Atlantic. And I knit on it on the trains in Denmark. And I knit on it in the hotel rooms while waiting on the Cuddly Hubby. And late in the Denmark trip, I realized I didn't like the size. It was too small.

The one great flaw in the this pattern is that the shawl is started on the large bottom edge and knit to the top. This means that you need to guess correctly how much yarn you will use so you can guess what size to cast on. Unlike a top-down shawl, you can't just knit until you run out. So the only choice I could make was to rip back what I had knit and start over. I believe I ripped out something like 80g of lace knitting. One of the ladies in the knit night group was appalled that I would do this.

I did have a couple false starts (see my notes on Ravelry) but finally got it going. I ended up using 14 repeats of each pattern, so 28 total at the beginning for a grand cast on of 523 stitches. For an experiment, I used Jeny's Stretch Slip-Knot Cast-on. I chose this because I knew I would block the lace. And I figured the stretchy cast-on would guarantee an edge that would not get in the way of blocking. I am happy to report that in the end, it did behave as anticipated! Hurray!
Now here's the really strange thing. My goal was not to knit to the top. I purposely knit with the idea that I would knit until I ran out and that, by running out early, I would have a notch for my neck. My goal was to knit the entire skein to the largest possible size that would produce a shawl with a notch. It took a bit of math, but I did get it.

Diagram of shawl with 14 pattern repeats on bottom edge.
Green lines indicate shaping.
Purple region is area not worked on my Damask.

The trick to thinking about yarn usage on a project like this is to figure out how much yarn it takes to work one repeat or area "unit" of the pattern. If you can then calculate how many units in your project, you can make intelligent guesses about yarn usage. Damask follows standard shaping for a triangular shawl -- i.e. a double-decrease in the center and a decrease at each edge; all shaping worked only on right-side rows.  I cast on 14 units per side, and I ran out when I was almost at 4 units per side. So if you count all the white units in the diagram, that's how many I knit -- nearly 90. If I had worked the next size down, that would have been casting on 13 units. When I work out that math, a whole shawl is 84 ½ units. So I would have had leftover yarn.

For those of you wondering, here is the math:
Number of pattern repeats on a side -- Total number of area units in a whole shawl
1 -- ½
2 -- 2
3 -- 4 ½
4 -- 8
5 -- 12 ½
6 -- 18
7 -- 24 ½
8 -- 32
9 -- 40 ½
10 -- 50
11 -- 60 ½
12 -- 72
13 -- 84 ½
14 -- 98

As you can see, the numbers take big jumps as the number of repeats of motif increases. Interestingly, the increase is easy to figure. For example, going from 5 motifs to 6 means knitting 5 ½ more units of area. Going from 12 to 13 motifs means knitting 12 ½ more units of area.

Why is the notch so important? See tomorrow's post for more about how the notch affects wearing a shawl and for information about how to size a notch.

P.S. A big thank you to the Cuddly Hubby for working with me to get these great photographs! It isn't easy for an engineer to do photography for an art major.

04 February 2013


You may have noticed the button for "Unwind," which replaced the "SAFF" button here on my blog last autumn. I am very excited to have been chosen as an instructor for Unwind 2013! This is a knitting retreat weekend in North Carolina from Friday 26 April through Monday 29 April. The other instructors are Michelle Hunter, Charles Gandy, and Debra Lee. I'll be teaching Unventions, Brioche Rosetta Stone, and Daring Double Cables as well as giving a short presentation about The Center for Knit and Crochet.

The retreat is put together by Nancy Shroyer of Nancy's Knit Knacks fame. This is a low-key weekend with some classes but also some plain sitting around and knitting. It is a smaller and more intimate retreat where you are likely to meet most of the attendees by the end of the weekend. For $450 you get:
  • Three nights stay - double occupancy (come with a friend or match up with a new fiber buddy)
  • Three breakfasts
  • Two dinners
  • Three classes
  • Four coffee/tea breaks
  • Friday Evening gourmet dessert buffet and event/social gathering
  • Saturday Evening featured presentation
  • Saturday Evening stash swap
  • Sunday Evening presentation
  • Sunday Evening fashion show and show and tell
  • Commemorative souvenir of the weekend
  • Free book signing by Instructors / Feature Speakers
  • Goody bags filled with fun samples and coupons
  • Door Prizes!!
Registration has recently opened. To learn more or register, you can click on the button to the right or follow this link.