Knitter’s Geometry: Triangular Shawls
Triangular shawls have been iconic to women’s clothing for hundreds of years, and are still a favorite among knitters. These signature pieces can be worn with the point hanging down the back, bunched up as a scarf under a coat, with the point in front and the ends tossed casually around the neck, or myriad other creative ways.
There are four basic ways to knit a triangle: top down, point up, wingspan down, and side to side.
Top-down shawls such as the Conifer Shawl begin in the middle of the wingspan edge. Each row is bisected by a center stitch. The rows get successively longer, and the bind-off is worked on the long bottom edges. The live stitches along the bottom edge create a unique canvas for knitted-on borders or crocheted edgings.
The shaping is usually accomplished by four increases worked every right-side row. One set of increases is placed just inside the edge stitches to form the wings, and one increase is placed on each side of a center stitch to form the central point. This shaping will result in a shawl with a wedge on each side of the center stitch; the stitch patterns will flow outward at two different angles toward the bind-off edge.
Upping the rate of increase at the edges will result in an upward curve in the wingspan, giving more of a crescent shape to the tail ends, while upping the rate of increase at the center stitch will result in a shawl shorter through the center back, with the wings angled up slightly.
Point Up and Wingspan Down
Point-up construction, as seen in the Squall Line Shawl, begins at the bottom of the shawl at the base of the center point and increases up to the full width. Wingspan-down construction is exactly the opposite, beginning at the long upper edge and decreasing to the bottom point; this approach is used in the Triangular Summer Shawl. Wingspan down is different from top down in that you cast on the number of stitches for the whole width of the top edge, unlike a top down for which you cast on just a few stitches and increase outward, with the selvedges becoming the wingspan.
For a longer point to both point up and wingspan down, you can increase or decrease two stitches on every other row, making the shawl about as long as it is wide. But if you change the rate of increase or decrease to two stitches every row instead of every other row, the triangle will become shorter and shallower, making it wider than it is long.
Both constructions can have center lines; however, unlike in top-down construction, they are not essential for the wingspan-down approach. Placing increases along the edge of the triangle only, and not in the center, presents a broad, uninterrupted canvas for a stitch pattern. For a directional stitch pattern, point-up construction would give you the correct stitch-pattern orientation, while wingspan-down would flip it 180 degrees. As new stitches are added or removed on the ends of every row, more pattern repeats can be inserted or removed.
Point-up construction can be used when you want to get the most from your yarn: You can bind off after completing any row and still be left with a finished triangle. If you did the same thing with a wingspan-down construction, you would be left with no bottom point on your shawl.
Side to Side
Side-to-side construction, used in Hermia’s Shawl from Interweave Knits, Summer 2017, begins at one side of the wingspan and is increased toward the center point, then decreased back down to the other side of the wingspan. In order to achieve the triangular shape, the increases and decreases must all be placed on one edge of the shawl instead of being evenly distributed across a row.
For a shallower triangle, one increase is worked every other row on one edge of the shawl to the center point and then one decrease every other row until the full wingspan is worked. For a deeper triangle (a longer point down the back) the rate of increase/decrease should be changed to one increase or decrease every row.
The shape results in an uninterrupted canvas for a stitch pattern, but one in which repeats can only be added and removed along the shaped edge. The stitch pattern would also be rotated 90 degrees from its original orientation.
No matter which construction you use, the amount of stitch manipulation in the motifs within the shawl has a great impact on how severely the piece can be blocked. A stretchy stitch pattern will allow for more leeway in blocking than something like a complicated cable, which makes the fabric contract. The increase used will also change the stretch factor of the shawl. For instance, a M1 is more restrictive than a yarnover.
One more thing to keep in mind is that blocking a triangular shawl has a huge impact on the shape. A standard top-down lace shawl can still be blocked to have a crescent curve in the wingspan if the edge stitches are stretchy enough. If you want a longer shawl, you can block it longer if you’re willing to sacrifice some width.
Blocking a shawl (especially a lace shawl) is arguably the most important part of the process. Lace will often look like a tangled pile of string until it is soaked and pinned out. For a non-lace shawl, soaking may not be necessary, but pinning or smoothing out the finished piece will even out the stitches and pull everything into place. Pinning out the washed piece can be aided with wires or cotton string pulled taut to get a straight and even edge. Be sure to let the shawl dry completely before unpinning it.
Miriam Felton’s lace shawls and other designs have been published online and in print, and she also self-publishes patterns at www.mimknits.com. When she’s not knitting, Miriam can be found frequenting Salt Lake City coffee shops while wearing her tiara.
Tackle That Triangle!