The Dodd Shawl: A Knitting Mystery

I'm an avid mystery reader. I love historical mysteries, thrillers, and even the occasional "light" horror story. I'm currently making my way through Rhys Bowen's Molly Murphy series, along with The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt.

The large square shawl, purchased at a jumble sale in England in the 1980s, is bordered with a variation of Old Shale lace and has a small woven label on the edge with the name "H. A. Dodd" on it. It was knitted in garter stitch in Shetland 2-ply wool.
(Photograph © Joe Coca)

So imagine my delight when I came apon a little knitting mystery in the May/June 2014 issue of PieceWork! Designer Evelyn A Clark came upon a shawl with a mysterious label on it, and her curiousity was piqued!

The Dodd Shawl

At a small needlework gathering last autumn, my friend Rachel Norton surprised us at Show and Tell by pulling out a large square shawl bordered with a variation of Old Shale lace and with a small woven label on the edge with the name "H. A. Dodd" on it.

Like traditional Shetland shawls, this one was knitted in garter stitch in Shetland 2-ply wool with a center square and border. On the other hand, the construction (see below) and the Old Shale variant were both unusual as was ending the shawl with the border instead of an edging. And then there was that tiny tag.

Traditional Shetland shawls started with a narrow edging knitted long enough to go around the perimeter of a square. Then stitches were picked up along the straight side of the edging to individually knit four mitered borders toward the center, and the corners were grafted. Stitches from the _rst border were continued for the center square, which could be joined to the side borders as it was knitted or sewn later when the center was grafted to the end border. These options resulted in a shawl with few cast-on and cast-off stitches.

The slight hairiness or halo of Shetland wool in combination with garter stitch allowed the lace of the Dodd Shawl to be knitted at a looser gauge than usual; here, a blocked gauge of 12 stitches over 4 inches (10.2 cm). The center is knitted in a diamond starting with a single stitch and increasing and decreasing with a yarnover at the beginning of every row. Stitches were picked up in the yarnovers to knit each side of the lace border, and then the corners of the border were grafted. Knitting the center as a diamond results in a center square with stitches that are on the diagonal. Mary Thomas's Knitting Book refers to this style as "English and not Shetland in origin. It was a great favourite with Victorians, and always referred to as a Shetland shawl, because it was knitted in Shetland wool."

Whether the Dodd shawl was knitted in England or elsewhere is unknown. An American bought it at a 1980s' jumble sale in England and later tucked it away in a drawer for more than twenty years before Rachel received it.

Even the label is a mystery. I have learned that Dodd is not a typical Shetland name, nor is there any knitwear in the collection of the Shetland Museum bearing that name. Further evidence that the shawl might have been English and Dodd, the name of the knitter, broker, or merchant.

As for the border lace, whereas typical Old Shale has a cluster of yarnovers separated by a single stitch and then a cluster of decreases, this variation has two stitches between the yarnovers and two stitches between most of the decreases. Like other versions of Old Shale, this lace naturally scallops when it is cast off loosely. Many traditional knitters did not use patterns but knitted "out of their heads," and it is possible that this lace variation was unique.

The small label with the name "H. A. Dodd" on it on the shawl that was purchased at a jumble sale in England
in the 1980s.
(Photograph © Joe Coca)

Seeing the Dodd Shawl inspired me to knit my own interpretation of it. It, too, starts with a center diamond and yarnovers at the beginning of rows, and then stitches are picked up along the four sides to knit the border in the round. I also shifted the yarnover patterning to scallop the border corners since corners on the original were elongated with grafted stitches. I knitted the sample with an unlabeled souvenir 2-ply Shetland lace yarn purchased in Scotland in the early 1980s that is similar to Jamieson's Ultra Lace Weight yarn. Named for my friend, the Rachel Shawl also has a tighter blocked gauge—14 instead of 12 stitches to 4 inches (10.2 cm)—and a smaller finished size—48 inches (121.9 cm) instead of 58 inches (147.3 cm) square.

It is wonderful how knitting can connect people across time and distance. I like to think that the knitter of the Dodd Shawl would be amused to know that more than thirty years later her (or his) knitting inspired many questions, as well as another shawl, when it was displayed for Show and Tell a half a world away.

—Evelyn A. Clark, PieceWork magazine, May/June 2014

Get yourself a subscription to PieceWork magazine so you can knit Evelyn's version of the Dodd Shawl. You'll love the patterns, history, and mysteries you'll get in each issue of PieceWork!


P.S. What's your favorite mystery series? Leave a comment and share it with us!

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