Knitting a Blanket Shawl

From time to time knitters need a “stash reduction project.” One should never throw away yarn—it can always be used in another project, and at worst, if you’re planning to quit knitting, you can always give or sell your stash to another knitter—but whenever I’ve accumulated more than a 60-gallon bin full of yarn, I do something quick and frivolous with some of the leftovers. (I try to plan my knitting and yarn buying in such a way as to have lots of leftovers.)

When I made my Blanket Shawl during the poncho craze at the turn of the century, I took out all my leftovers and sorted them into groups of congenial colors: shades of pale pastels, pink and red, pink and coral, red-orange, yellow-orange, yellow-gold, yellow-green, mossy greens, grassy greens, blue-greens, true blues, blue-violets, dark colors, black-white-and-greys, neutrals, browns, and some odd bits of chunky craft yarn for which I’d found no other use. I peeled off as much yarn as I’d wrapped around each ball in one direction…anything from five inches to a hundred yards. I then rewound the yarn from each group into balls of congenial colors, always winding and later knitting two strands of yarn together, taking care that one strand was always acrylic.

If you want to do a project like this and use up scraps of wool, silk, cotton, mohair, and even rayon, it will wash and wear like acrylic as long as one strand is acrylic. Mohair will gradually lose its fluff as the piece is washed, but will stay soft to the touch. Other fabrics will behave themselves; when washed the wool and rayon will try to shrink, but the acrylic will stretch and exert enough counter-pressure to keep the piece pretty much the same size and shape for many years. When worn or otherwise used, between washings, the piece will stretch slightly until the next time it’s washed.

The Blanket Shawl consists of three big squares arranged in an L-shape. For something that will completely cover an average adult from neck to ankle, with side vents, I used my #10-1/2 needles and cast on 120 stitches for each square…remember, it will be heavy and stretch when worn. I used the rewound “magic balls” in the rainbow sequence described above.To discourage curling I alternated rows of plain, reverse, and garter stitch in a sequence suggested in Deborah Newton’s BOOK Designing Knitwear. If you can’t get a copy of that book, you’re deprived of seeing lots of other inspiring patterns, but for this project, no worries; just work the first and last 20 rows in garter stitch if you want to be sure the edges don’t curl, and work each group of 20 rows between in whichever pattern pleases you. You could use moss, Irish moss, seed, and Betty Martin stitch as well; I didn’t, because they take longer, and this is a large project.

The big question to answer if you’re planning and knitting a Blanket Shawl is how big you want each square to be. By the time you’ve done enough knitting to have a stash of this size, you should be able to guess the average gauge you’ll get (it varies slightly as thicker and thinner yarns are worked in) with two strands of the yarns you’ve been using. I use a lot of yarn that knits up to between 4 and 5 stitches per inch on #8 needles; doubled, it worked up to an average of 3 stitches per inch on #10-1/2 needles, which gave me approximately 40”  squares even when one strand of yarn was lightweight or extra-bulky. Anyway, make sure each piece is square by folding it diagonally, then bind off the last row, pick up a row of the same number of stitches down one side, and work another square in which the stripes line up at a 90-degree angle to the stripes in the first square. Do this twice so the squares form an L shape.

That’s all I did. You may, of course, use up an extra hundred yards of a suitable yarn by knitting or crocheting a border around your shawl.

My Blanket Shawl is long enough to be worn over my head in very cold weather. If you made a smaller shawl or are taller, you might want to attach a hood, or better yet knit a companion scarf…the fabric doesn’t feel heavy on your shoulders but it does, to me, on my head.

You now have an outer garment that is warmer than most coats and at the same time, due to the air vents at either side, less likely to make you feel overheated before your whole body is warm. Splendid! I wear my Blanket Shawl with pride in freezing weather. It’s much warmer than either a trench coat or a wool coat; when pulled tight it’s about as snug as a bearskin coat. Also, because the pale stripes stand out under any kind of dim light, it’s more easily seen when I’m walking at night.

It lacks only one advantage. Because so few people realize how wonderfully comfortable a Blanket Shawl can be, it’s not nicely inconspicuous. If you wear a Blanket Shawl, even if you use only soft neutral colors, you will be noticed.

(Graphic from Jdurham at Morguefile, .)