Shaping Shawls by Anna Dalvi

Perilla shawl knit in CashSilk Lace. Photo by Kristen Caldwell Photography.

Talented lace designer, Anna Dalvi, has just launched her new book, Shaping Shawls and it’s stunning. She gave me a sneak peek at the book and I was lucky enough to be able to pick her brain about lace knitting and design!

FL: Hi Anna! The lace designs in this book are GORGEOUS as are the photographs! And I’m quite impressed with the content in the book in the first chapter… all about cast on and bind off techniques, design methodology and the yarn discussion.

First off, there are an overwhelming number of handknit shawl designs (just over 10,000 patterns on Ravelry alone). Where do you get your inspiration from for your designs? How do you find something new, innovative and unique to design?

AD: I usually get my inspiration from nature, but also from literature, music, and all sorts of other places. I think that as long as I find a good theme, the design just flows. There are endless possibilities in how to combine yarn-overs with decreases, so I think it’s quite possible to come up with new, unique designs. I have to confess that I rarely check other lace patterns on Ravelry, except for the occasional shawl fashion shows in groups like 11 shawls in 2011 (where people challenge themselves to knit 11 shawls in 2011).

Tidal Waves shawl knit in Handmaiden Swiss Mountain Sea Sock. Photo by Kristen Caldwell Photography.

FL: I love that you go into such great detail about creating these different shaped shawls. It seems that there are shawl trends and different shapes come and go in popularity… I’m seeing some movement away from triangle shawls in favour of Faroese or multi-panel shawls because they are easier to wear, etc. Do you have a favourite shawl “shape” right now and why? Suggestions on what are more “wearable” styles?

AD: I like triangles, actually. I find them very versatile to wear, and I use them a lot. But other types are fun to knit and nice to wear too, so perhaps the best idea is to just knit a lot of shawls, and try as many shapes as possible, ha ha.

FL: Are there any tricks of the trade that you can share about fitting stitch motifs to your shawl shape and pattern? Any suggestions for someone designing their first lace shawl?

AD: Some shapes are easier than others, I think, when it comes to placing lace patterns on the canvas. Any of the triangles with 45 degree angles (e.g. Margarita Leaves or Magic Lanterns) and of course the rectangular shawls. For the triangular shawls, diamond patterns are a very good fit, if stay within the 45 degree angle. If they do, then it’s a simple matter of placing them and covering the canvas without worrying about spilling over the edge. For rectangular shawls, most stitch-pattern-books are written to describe the pattern in an X-stitch repeat.

The tricky part in the design is what to do when you get close to the edges of the shawl. Different options include just filling the extra stitches with knit stitches, or trying to work the lace pattern all the way to the edge and making sure the increases and decreases add up. For the first-time shawl designer, I would strongly recommend the first option, since the math is a lot simpler.

Blueberry Patch knit in Land o Lace Krissy. Photo by Kristen Caldwell Photography.

FL: What do you think makes an ideal lace yarn? In terms of fibre blend and weight?

AD: It depends on the project, of course, but I do have a particular fondness for yarn in the heavy laceweight / light fingering category (600-800m per 100g or so). I really like how the lace can look so intricate, and yet not be so delicate that I’m afraid to use it on an everyday basis.

FL: Gauge in lace knitting is a pretty loosely defined concept… I know for our CashSilk Lace, I’ve seen it knit up everywhere from 3.25 mm needles to 5.5 mm needles and the resulting fabric is very different at each extreme. What are your suggestions for determining the right needle size for a particular yarn? Is there a particular drape or hand that you are looking for?

AD: The answer is swatching. When I swatch with a new yarn, I try to find a needle size that gives me a finished fabric that I like. That is of course very subjective, but for me, the important part is that there is good contrast between the holes (yarn-overs) and the solid parts (knit stitches). I also make sure that I like the texture of the fabric. That is very much dependent on the look I’m aiming for for a particular shawl. For example, I recently finished a design with a lot of moss-stitch, and I really wanted a good, bumpy moss-stitch, so the gauge on that shawl is a bit tighter than my usual lace gauge. On the other hand, I knit another shawl not too long ago (which will be published in the Icelandic Knitter at the end of the month), and for that one, I really wanted light and wispy lace, like clouds, so I used a much larger needle.

Changing Directions knit in Rocky Mountain Dyeworks Glacier Ice Lace. Photo by Kristen Caldwell Photography.

FL: I’ve been a long-time follower of Sharon Miller’s heirloom knitting designs as well as Margaret Stove’s gossamer lace shawls. Your own “Eyjafjallajökull” and “Urdr” shawl designs are stunning too! But those types of projects require an enormous investment of time and while I look at those lace projects with admiration and lust, I also feel this sadness of knowing I’ll never have enough time to finish a shawl that big. Do you have any suggestions on how knitters can get over the intimidation factor in choosing a lace project?

Well, yes, some lace projects do take longer than others. It’s funny that you mention both Eyjafjallajökull and Urðr in the same thought here, because they are actually very different when it comes to the time spent knitting them. Urðr was a lot of fun, but it took almost 1,800 yds of laceweight yarn. The last several rounds on that shawl were had 2,000+ stitches and took….. well, if not forever, then close to it. Eyjafjallajökull on the other hand is knit in a light fingering weight yarn, and there are no rounds on that shawl that have more than 600 stitches. It knit up remarkably quickly into a stunning shawl that I love to wear. At the time, I was also very inspired by all the pictures of the real Eyjafjallajökull (the Icelandic volcano) that was in the news, so it had my complete attention for a while.

Eyjafjallajökull Shawl by Anna Dalvi
Urdr Shawl by Anna Dalvi

FL: On the other hand, there’s also a huge trend towards knitters wanting to knit smaller shawls with heavier, sock weight yarns so that the lace knitting process goes faster. Any thoughts on this trend?

AD: I think that whatever makes the knitter happy and satisfied with their project is a good thing. I personally like a lot of the larger shawls, but perhaps that’s because I am tall and like to be able to wrap myself in big shawls. At the same time, I do wear a lot of smaller shawls, especially in the winter when I use them as scarves, or extra warmth indoors.

I like a lot of the sock weight/fingering weight shawls, because it gives a little bit more weight to the shawls, and I’m not as worried about snagging the lace on zippers and buttons. A lot of my favourite everyday wear shawls are fingering weight.

At the same time, I love the lightweight lace too, and Mystic Air, Araneidae, Blueberry Patch and Urðr are all examples of that. I use all of those shawls, but more for dress-up occasions.

Mystic Air by Anna Dalvi

FL: I noticed that your book covers rectangular, triangular and square shawls but leaves out the semi-circular or circular shawls… perhaps this will be a subsequent book idea?

AD: It’s certainly possible, and I have thought about it. For the first book, I really wanted to focus on straight lines and angles, because they all build on the same concepts. Circular shawls (and by extension semi-circular shawls) are a little different, since they don’t necessarily have to have an even rate of increase.

FL: Thank you so much, Anna, for inviting me to participate in your blog tour. I’m very excited about your new book and no doubt will be referencing it from now on when I think of lace!

Shaping Shawls by Anna Dalvi (available at Ravelry as a downloadable ebook, or at Cooperative Press in several formats)

About Felicia Lo

founder + creative director of SweetGeorgia // designer + dreamer // wife + mama // dyer, knitter, spinner, weaver, youtuber + author // been writing this blog about colour and craft since 2004 // see what I am making @lomeetsloom and @sweetgeorgia.

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