A Brief History of the Modern Shawl

If you Google “shawl,” the first few results are the usual mainstream ones— Wikipedia, Etsy, some clothing e-commerce sites. But then, Ravelry knitted shawl pattern listings quickly take over the page. I think it’s easy to say, knitters own the shawl in the Western world in this day and age.

Historically, shawls were functional layering garments, worn for warmth and in many cultures, modesty. But what’s with modern knitters making all these lacey triangles and crescents and inventive asymmetrical shapes with short-rows and stripes and spurts of handpainted color? Something tells me this knitting craze has less to do with function or modesty and more to do with creative expression.

knitted shawls

The Swallowtail and Flower Basket Shawls were huge hits in Interweave Knits in the mid 2000’s. Find these patterns in Interweave Knits Fall 2006  and Interweave Knits Fall 2004, respectively.

As an editor with Interweave, I watched the mid-2000s scarf trend ascend. We didn’t have Ravelry then, but you couldn’t miss the trend in publishing, in yarn shops, on the show floor of events such as Stitches. And then something else started to show up with more and more frequency . . . shawls. As scarf knitters advanced, and as they discovered lace, the traditional triangle flourished again. Evelyn Clark’s gorgeous lace numbers in books such as Scarf Style and on the pages of Interweave Knits became hugely popular for us, and I walked many a knitter through their first shaped lace project on the phone, working on those projects. And then, in 2007, Ravelry showed up.

The Galaxy Shawl and Return Journey shawl are included in the new book Classic Knit Shawls.

The collision of hand-dyed indie yarns, designers self-publishing, and knitters sharing their projects online made for a Shawl Explosion. We started printing more and more shawl patterns in Interweave magazines, as they garnered more likes and projects than other types of designs. We’ve published several books that emphasize shawls, including my Free-Spirit Shawls (Interweave, 2013). We sell more shawl project kits than any other kind of kit. To this day, knitters love shawls. I don’t think it’s a trend anymore; it’s a permanent archetype in our pantheon.

There’s no sizing; shawls use limited yarn, and they allow for such glorious explorations in color, pattern, and technique. Just look at the patterns in this new book—such a variety in size, profile, complexity, and graphic impact. What a fun workbook for a creative life filled with yarn and charts and—please— lifelines.

Explore color and lace with the Ship That Shawl and Junius Shawl from Classic Knit Shawls.

I’m thrilled to present Classic Knit Shawls, a collection of Interweave favorites; a good number of which are designs I curated for our knitting magazines and books over the years. And thank you to all the designers everywhere who puzzle out these patterns with their clever repeats and edgings and intricate charts. You keep us all obsessed.

I can’t help shawling in love with you,

— Lisa

More Knitted Shawls for You to Try!


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