The Shawl Design Trinity: Yarn, Shape, Pattern

Whatever your inspiration may be, it always boils down to three decisions first: You have to decide which yarn, shawl shape and stitch pattern to use. The secret of successful shawl design is to match these three ingredients. I call this process the Shawl Design Trinity.
This article is part of  Shawl Design for Everybody.

You start with one element – either yarn, a certain stitch pattern or a shawl shape – and proceed from there by choosing the other two ingredients.

Shawl Design Trinity: Yarn, shape, stitch pattern

Matching Yarn, Stitch Pattern & Shawl Shape

No matter how beautiful your yarn selection might be, if it does not match the stitch pattern you chose, it does not matter at all. Even the perfect stitch pattern and yarn combination fails if it is not matched with a suitable shawl shape and size.

So what is a good match of yarn, stitch pattern and shawl shape?
For example, bamboo and cotton are excellent fibers to work with but they tend to be heavy. Knitting large shawls in these fibers is generally no good choice because their shape distorts when worn. Besides the fibre content – the thicker the yarn, the heavier the resulting item. There are workarounds, though: Using firm, well-defined stitch patterns helps avoiding these pitfalls. Using open mesh patterns is not the best choice in this case.
Yarn texture is important, especially when working well-defined stitches. For cables, plied textures work much better than singles. They show the stitch pattern better and the pattern looks much crispier and defined.
Singles tend not to be the best choice for items getting heavy wear. Are you designing a delicate lace shawl, or a everyday item that gets used lots? Take this consideration into account.
Color and stitch pattern combinations are a topic of its own. Busy colors tend to mask details in stitch patterns, so if you choose to use stitch patterns with lots of details better use solid or semi-soli yarns.
The specific shawl shape needs to be taken into account about the stitch pattern selection. Rectangular stitch patterns won’t work for triangle shawls and the other way round – you’ll need extra adjustments to make them work.

The shawl design trinity – your basic selection of yarn, shape and stitch pattern – has to be balanced, otherwise your design will not work.

Shawl Design Trinity Example

Let’s say we have two skeins of yarn in our stash we’d like to use for our example shawl pattern, the triangle worked sideways. One is a multi-colour sock weight yarn from Das Mondschaf in the color Childlike Empress, the other one a solid color sock weight from Madelinetosh.

Using the same stitch pattern for both would result in drastically different results. The more complicated the stitch pattern, especially when it comes to lace stitch patterns, the better we’re off with the solid colour.

My choice: 

  • Das Mondschaf Andromeda, colour: Childlike Empress
  • Stitch Pattern: yarn is busy, so I’ll go for garter and maybe some eyelets and brioche stitch!
  • Shape: triangle worked sideways

Shawl Design Trinity: Yarn, Shape, Pattern

22 thoughts on “The Shawl Design Trinity: Yarn, Shape, Pattern

  • August 16, 2019 at 6:07 am

    I am trying a fingering weight Black DMC cotton with “striping”, meaning one row is stockinette, one row is lace, and so on. Every other stockinette section, I use a Beaded Black Silk yarn I’ve had for awhile now, just to see if they “play” well together.

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  • November 24, 2018 at 6:27 pm

    I have always found it more convenient to throw a shawl on my shoulders than to put on a coat when I go out into the yard, so my shawl will be a working shawl, not a decorative one. I have some dark blue Berroco Vintage Chunky in my stash that should make a warm shawl. The color reminds me of fisherman’s ganseys, so I thought it would be interesting to knit bands of traditional gansey patterns.

  • May 27, 2018 at 7:28 am

    I’m going to try a Shetland lace design , from the corner using “Juniper Moon” Lace weight yarn. I’s Really fun. Your trinity suggestions help a lot . I have OCD and Add and for once you make it really understandable for me. Thank You So Much

  • May 10, 2018 at 6:29 pm

    I will be using Plymouth Yarn Zino (wool and nylon blend)
    I think I will do an elongated eyelet on the edges but since this is a variegated yarn, I’ll keep a large part of it in stockinette.

  • March 18, 2018 at 5:08 pm

    My yarn is Lion Brand Mandela Baby, an acrylic yarn. Color Magic . Moon. Shades of purples with shades of gray.
    Weight light 3. Suggests size 5 needles.
    Pattern I want something light and airy in triangular shape possibly with fringe.

  • February 11, 2018 at 9:55 pm

    I will use:
    1. Juniper Moon Findley Dappled, Rost Turkey 129
    2. Garter stitch with lace panels alternating.

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  • November 20, 2017 at 1:18 am

    Ella Rae and seersucker, stockinette and some undecided lace..

  • November 19, 2017 at 7:03 pm

    1. My yarn is Katia Verso in pale grey and pale blue.
    2. As they are both solids I’m thinking of alternating lace panels with garter stitch panels.
    3. Sideways knit triangle shape.

  • November 19, 2017 at 6:54 pm

    Hi, I’m using Lion Brand Shawl in a Ball – Cleansing Quartz. It states medium/4, but it feels more finger weight! I’m “unknitting” a crescent shape I tried and didn’t like. Also it’s a gift for my plus- size sister, so I’m hoping to learn how to adjust patterns.

  • November 19, 2017 at 6:41 pm

    I will be using Plymouth yarn, Encore chunky acrylic and wool. It is a two tone dark blues so will just use garter stitch with some type of decorative edge pattern

  • November 18, 2017 at 10:01 pm

    Your website comes up on my screen with the Share icons on the left. They cover a goodly part of what you have written. Is there any way they can be moved to the bottom?

    I’ll be using acrylic yarns because that’s what I have in my stash and because I’m too old (83) to be hauling full size soaking wet shawls out of water to be blocked.

    • November 22, 2017 at 7:27 pm

      Yes, you can remove them by hovering over the bar with the icons, then you will see two blue arrows appear at the bottom of the share icon bar, click on the double blue arrows and it hides that bar.

  • November 18, 2017 at 7:18 pm

    Also, I’ll be using a simple garter stitch with some type of eyelet pattern.

  • November 18, 2017 at 7:13 pm

    I’m using a mystery yarn which I believe is a blend of natural fiber and synthetic (based on my burn test) in graduated shades of dark purple, med. rose and lite pink. I’m also incorporating 2 blends of wool and nylon , one in hot pink and one in purple. lastly, I’m interspersing a wool and alpaca blend in amethyst. all yarns are of fingering wt and have similar gauges.

    I picked these yarns because I wanted to see how each one performed in a triangle-shaped shawl. plus I think the different textures will be interesting.

  • November 18, 2017 at 5:43 am

    1. I will use Nina Mirador puple 1028 and Lila (don’t have the tag for the color same brand)
    2. As are solids I would like to use Ivy lace pattern with the purple and maybe some panels of stockinette or garter stitch with the lila. I like to use i-cord edge.
    3. Shape: triangle worked sideways.

    Note: I didn’t receive the email with day two. I found I by chance after checking multiple times schedule. I clicked on Trinity on day one and it got me here.

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