Adapting Stitch Patterns to Fit Shawl Shapes

The number one question I’m asked about shawl design is about adapting stitch patterns to fit certain shawl shapes, especially for lace stitch patterns. Different shawl shapes need different stitch patterns – a rectangular chart will not do the job for a triangle shawl, for instance.

This post introduces adapting stitch patterns and provides an introduction to my article series about adapting stitch patterns.

Adapting Stitch Patterns: Table of Contents

Part 1: Making Shawl Stitch Patterns Fit Different Shawl Shapes (this post)

Part 2: Tools and Helpers for Adapting Stitch Patterns

Part 3: Adapting Charts for Triangle Shawls

Part 4: Circular Shawls and Stitch Patterns

Part 5: Spicing Up Crescent Shawls With Lace Patterns

Part 6: Adapting Cornucopia Shawls

Part 7: Faroese Shawls With Stitch Patterns

Part 8: Other Shawl Shapes

Stitch Patterns & Shawl Shapes

A few days ago, I asked my mailing list the following question:

“I’m writing a guide on adapting stitch patterns to different shawl shapes and unsure about how to name it. When you think about altering stitch patterns (charts, colorwork, whatever), what comes to your mind first?”

The answers were many (thank you!) and had a clear central theme: Are there basic rules for making knit shawl stitch patterns fit different shaped shawls? And if yes, how to do it?

Adapting Stitch Patterns

Triangle shawls need different stitch patterns than stoles, for instance. Crescent shawls are a question of their own but yes, crescent shawls can include stitch patterns, too! There’s no limits in using lace or color patterns in whatever shawl shape you choose.

We can design lace shawls in any shape we desire!

Yes, even for crescent shawls. And for cornucopias, swirls, Faroese shawls and so on – not only for triangles and stoles. Promise.

Basic Rules for Making Shawl Stitch Patterns Fit Different Shawl Shapes

There’s two ways of approaching this question. First, we could start with a shawl shape and adjust our stitch pattern to fit the shapes. The other option is to select the shawl shape based on the shape of a certain stitch pattern.

As stitch patterns are mostly published in rectangular shapes, the first way – adapting the pattern to the shawl shape – is the more important one to understand. Besides that it will help you getting a deeper understanding of the subject as well as mastering the second way – selecting shape by pattern – easily.

There’s three rules to follow. After giving an overview, we’ll look at some examples below.

Rule #1: Know Your Shape

You need to know your shape and its construction principle. Which shape are your working? Are you going to work it top down. bottom up, sideways or in some other way? You need to know your increases (or decreases) to be able to define your canvas.

If our desired shape was a triangle worked sideways we can choose our increase rate to one stitch per row for instance – increase one stitch per row on one side only:

  • Row 1 (RS): k1, YO, k to end of row.
  • Row 2 (WS): k t last st, YO, k1.
  • Repeat the last two rows until shawl is of desired size.

Rule #2: Define Your Canvas

As soon as you know your shape you can define your canvas. Your canvas is your drawing space, the area you have available for your stitch pattern. The best way to get an idea of your drawing canvas is to sketch an empty chart including all increases or decreases your shape needs.

Let’s do this for our example above, a triangle shawl with increases on one side only. Your drawing canvas would look like the following picture.

Triangle Shawl Design
An example for a drawing canvas, showing the first few rows of a triangle worked sideways (increases on one side only).

Rule #3: Design Within Your Canvas

All stitches shown in white in the picture above are available for your stitch pattern. Within this frame you can design whatever you desire. There is only one rule: in sum, all increases (yarn overs or similar) have to be paired with corresponding decreases (ssk, k2tog, …).

Adapting Stitch Patterns
This will work: every increase (yarn over) is paired with one decrease. In total, the stitch count within the white area stays constant – not taking into the account the increases at the right side which are there for shaping reasons.


Adapting Stitch Patterns
This won’t work: not every increase (yarn over) is paired with one decrease! In total, the stitch count within the white area doesn’t stay constant.

I hope this article helped you figuring out the principles of how to adapt stitch patterns from one shape to another. To learn more about chart adjustments for specific shawl shapes have a look at the other parts of this series – you can find the table of contents at the beginning of this post.

Let me know by leaving a comment in case you have any questions!

If you want to know more about fitting stitch patterns into other shapes (crescents, vortices, Faroese shawls, circles, …) please have a look at  Shaping Lace.

Adapting Stitch Patterns to Fit All Shawl Shapes

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