Demystifying The Pi Shawl: Create Your Own One of a Kind Circular Shawl

Knitter Kate Atherley has put together a web seminar all about knitting Pi Shawls. Here she is to tell you about the history of this shawl construction, and her upcoming web seminar!

The Fabulous Pi Shawl

It is generally acknowledged that Elizabeth Zimmermann was a genius. Not just a genius of knitting, but a genius in the way she saw the world. She achieved many wonderful things, but the one I admire the most is mathematical: the Pi Shawl. I’m relatively good at math (a degree in Pure Mathematics) and relatively good at knitting (have been teaching it and writing books for more than ten years), but never in a million years would I have made the leap that she did.

 My own design, the Rosetta Tharpe

If you’re not mathematically inclined, all you need to know is that our lady of knitting, Ms. Zimmermann, realized that the application of a simple fact of geometry could make knitting a circular shawl significantly easier and more fun to knit.

In her words, “I have a circular shawl for you which starts at the center, has absolutely no pattern, and only six shaping rounds in the whole thing.”

 For the Love of Vincent, by Donna Druchunas

The traditional circular shawl is shaped through a fairly complex geometry, either 16 increases every fourth round, or 8 increases every other round. All well and good, and not too hard to work, but it means that there’s a fair degree of counting and keeping track, and if you wanted to work some kind of lace pattern, there was a fair bit of planning and calculation required to incorporate the shaping into the lace pattern.

Now, whether she was helping one of her children with her geometry homework at the time, I’m not sure, but what Ms. Zimmerman did realize is that applying a rule about circle size could reduce the number of shaping rounds radically. The rule is this: that as the diameter of a circle doubles, so does the circumference.

What this means is that you start in the center, at regular distances, you simply double the stitch count. Work even for a distance, and double the stitch count. Each time, the distance worked even gets longer: doubles, in fact.

It’s the easiest pattern in the world to memorize, and because there are large sections worked even, you can work stitch patterns and motifs without having to worry about shaping. Or none at all! In some ways, the entirely pattern-free eyelet version is the best one of all. Genius.

It works for any weight of yarn, and you can work until it’s whatever size you want or need.

In this web seminar, I will explain the mathematical principles that make it work, and I’ll show how you can create your own without having to worry about any math at all.

We’ll share the basic Pi shawl pattern and its eyelet variation, and talk through a variety of ways to customize your own—through yarn choice, by adding pattern stitches and lace motifs. We’ll talk through the technical details: the circular start and a variety of options for bind-offs and clever edgings that require no binding off at all. Along the way, we will discuss tips for making lace knitting fun, and for ensuring your finished shawl is the most beautiful it can be.

Please join me tomorrow at 1 Eastern Time for Knitting Pi Shawls! I’m so looking forward to delving into this topic with you.

Happy knitting,

Kate Atherley