The Galax Shawl and the Sideways Edge Cast-on Technique
The Galax Shawl by Lee Meredith, is one of those projects that I find appealing on a couple of different levels. Not only is it beautiful and wearable, it’s also very interesting to knit. The shawl starts with a lace edging that is worked in a long narrow strip. Then, the main body of the shawl is worked in a direction perpendicular to the edging.
Typically, shawls with this type of construction require you to pick up and knit all the body stitches (in this case, almost 300 of them) along one side of the edging. Picking up stitches isn’t my favorite thing to do, especially when there are so many of them. And, fortunately, Lee has found a way around this. She uses a technique that she calls the Sideways Edge Cast-on to add the body stitches at the same time that the edging is being worked. That way, all the body stitches are sitting there waiting for you by the time the edging is complete.
A cast-on technique that does the work for you! What could be better than that?
When I first saw Lee’s description of the Sideways Edge cast-on, I was reminded of the I-cord cast-on, where the cord is worked at the same time that new stitches are added by working increases at the beginning of every row. Only the 3-5 cord stitches are slipped back to the left needle each time and the new stitches are added to the right needle. In the Galax Shawl, the process is reversed: increases are worked after the marker which divides the edging pattern from the body stitches and the new stitches are added to the left needle.
Lee calls her Sideways Edge cast-on an “unvention,” which was Elizabeth Zimmermann’s term for a technique you came up with on your own while acknowledging that someone else may have come up with a similar technique. I have to say, even though I’ve worked the I-cord cast-on many times, it never occurred to me that the same technique could be applied to shawl edgings, hat brims, or the cuffs of mittens, or other types of garments with perpendicular edgings.
The chart for the shawl edging shows only the edging and the increases, but it doesn’t show all the body stitches (only the first two after the marker on any given row). The blue line indicates the placement of the marker that separates the edging stitches from the body stitches.
All the right-side rows are worked in this way: work the edging pattern to the blue marker placement line (which corresponds to the marker on the needle), slip the marker, k1f&b, turn. All the wrong-side rows are worked exactly the same: Slip the first stitch purlwise with the yarn in front, purl 1, slip the marker, purl to the end. You don’t have to do any counting of body stitches. Each time a 22-row chart repeat is worked, 11 new body stitches are added, so you just have to work the chart the number of times indicated in the pattern and you’ll end up with the number of stitches needed to start the body of the shawl.
I’ve broken down the steps to give you an idea of where the new stitches will be in relation to the edging stitches (and the marker). All the photos show the work as it’s viewed from the right side, and before turning to work the next wrong-side row.
This is what the stitches on the needle will look like after the set-up row. On chart Row 1, the edging will be worked over the first 19 stitches (to the right of the marker) and a k1f&b increase will be worked in the first body stitch (to the left of the marker).
This is what the stitches on the needle will look like after Row 1 is complete (and before the work is turned). There will be two body stitches to the left of the marker. The number of stitches to the right of the marker will fluctuate because of the increases and decreases in the edging pattern. On Row 2 (and all wrong-side rows), slip the first stitch, purl the second stitch, slip the marker, purl to the end of the row.
After Row 3, there will be three body stitches to the left of the marker. Notice that one of these body stitches is on the left needle and the other two are on the right needle (the ones just to the left of the marker). After every right-side row, there will always be two stitches on the right needle after the marker and the number of stitches on the left needle will continue to increase. The two stitches after the marker are the result of the k1f&b increase and these are the only body stitches represented on the chart; the stitches on the left needle don’t appear. Turn and work Row 4 as for Row 2. After every wrong-side row, all the stitches will be on one needle.
After Row 5, there will be four body stitches to the left of the marker (two on the right needle and two on the left needle).
After Row 7, there will be five body stitches to the left of the marker, with three of these on the left needle.
On Row 9, there will be six body stitches, with four of these on the left needle. And so on, to the end of the chart.
After Row 22, there will be 12 body stitches to the left of the marker, the 11 new stitches that were added, plus the single stitch that you started with. Because Row 22 is a wrong-side row, all the stitches are on the cable of the circular needle.
Each chart repeat will add another 11 body stitches. This photo shows the edging after Row 21 has been worked a second time. There are 23 body stitches to the left of the marker: 12 stitches from the first repeat, plus another 11 stitches.
One thing to consider when working the Sideways Edge Cast-on is the ratio of cast-on stitches to the rows of the edging. Lee has made a careful study of how to compensate for the different ratios that are required for different stitch patterns and you can find much more information about this on her website. For the Galax Shawl, the body stitches are added at a ratio of one stitch for every two rows of the edging.
It’s best to work with a long circular needle because the two sets of stitches (the edging stitches and the body stitches) are perpendicular to each other and the cord of the needle is flexible enough to accommodate the change of direction. In addition, the cord must be long enough to hold all the body stitches that will be on the needle when the chart is complete.
I highly recommend that you add this fascinating and useful technique to your knitting repertoire!
The Shawl’s the Thing!