If you’re familiar with my past design work, you know that the Shetland Hap Shawl is a genre that I come back to time and again. I think this is because I am generally interested in the intersection between utility and beauty in design – and this traditional shawl style was born directly from that crossing. Worn by working women in the Shetland islands, the Hap Shawls’ primary function was to keep the wearer warm in the harsh conditions of the Northern Scottish Isles.
Over time, however, Shetland knitters developed a signature style for these shawls. They were generally square in shape and worked in garter stitch, with a plain central section worked in a solid color. The outer border almost always uses some variation of an Old Shale lace pattern and very often employs multicolored striping sequences, which were the perfect use for assorted oddments of shetland wool left over from former projects. (If you are interested in learning more about the history of Haps, Sharon Miller’s book “Shetland Hap Shawls” is the definitive source on the topic – I highly recommend it!)
When we began concept sketches for the Winter 14 collection, the urge to design a new Hap Shawl was welling up inside me yet again. With this design, though, I wanted to think more about what types of shawls and construction methods appeal to the modern hand knitter, and apply those ideas to the traditional look of the Hap.
The first and most obvious choice was to create a triangular shawl, rather than the traditional square format. Triangles are faster to knit, easier to wear and more versatile as a styling item – so that decision seemed to make sense. After that, I needed to decide upon a construction sequence that would keep the knitting both interesting and efficient. I knew I wanted to keep the entire project seamless, so that goal was my starting point.
The diagram below maps out the knitting sequence, which begins at the base of the inverted central triangle. The entire project begins with just a single stitch cast onto your needle; the rest of the shawl grows out of that lone loop (I love that). The central triangle is worked back and forth, increasing one stitch per row by way of a yarn over at the beginning of the row. This type of shaping allows the garter stitch ridges to travel straight across the inverted triangle, which makes for an attractive contrast to the diagonal direction of the undulating border.
Additionally, the yarn over selvedge conveniently provides open loops along the shaped sides of the central triangle, creating the perfect pick-up edge when you return to work the colorful lace edge.
You’ll see a dashed line at the top of the central triangle in the diagram above. When this point is reached, live stitches are placed onto waste yarn to be held until you work a contiguous top border that incorporates both the central triangle and the diagonal side edges of the Old Shale lace portion of the shawl.
After securing these live stitches with the waste yarn holder, stitches for the lace border are picked up along the diagonal edges of the central triangle (effortlessly, from those yarn overs along each edge). Upon completion of pick-up, the lace border is worked back and forth, with mitered increases at the triangle tip and side edges of the border (to maintain the overall triangular shape of the piece).
I played around a bit with ways to modify the traditional Old Shale lace motif, and found that I liked working a row of elongated “drop” stitches between the colored eyelet rows. The photo above shows these rows clearly. These elongated stitches are created by double-wrapping the yarn as you knit across the row, then dropping one of the double wraps as you work into the stitch on the following row. The eyelet rows (worked in alternate colors) gently distort the fabric into wavy lines, which in turn effects the shape of the elongated rows nicely.
The project is also a fun excuse to play with color! In my version I used 5 different shades of Green from the Loft palette – but there are so many different ways you can use color in this border. It’s a perfect use for small amounts of leftover wool that you might have lying around. You can also keep it simple by working the shawl with only two colors (a main “shawl color” and a contrasting stripe color). The pattern includes yardage amounts for both a 2-color version and the 6-color version (shown) so you won’t need to do the extra math.
Traditional Hap Shawls usually employ a fancy knitted-on lace edging to finish the piece. While these edgings are beautiful, they can also be a bit fussy. In an effort to modernize and streamline the design, I liked the idea of keeping a clean bind-off edge – both from the perspective of finished appearance and convenience during fabrication. It is certainly a more concise finish than the traditional method – just remember to keep your bind-off row very relaxed so you don’t run into elasticity problems when blocking.
After completion of the striped lace border, return to the top edge of the project, pick up stitches along the side edges of the lace border, and incorporate them into the same row as your held live stitches from the center triangle. Once united into a single row, work back and forth in garter stitch for a few ridges and bind off to complete the top border (a relaxed elastic bind off is advisable here as well).
All in all, it makes for quite a fun knit that looks complicated but is easier to create than you might think upon first glance. It’s also the type of project that you finish and immediately start thinking about what changes you’ll employ for your second one!
The best part for me, though, comes now – as I get to witness the creative variations you knitters will make! If you do choose to embark upon this shawl, I hope you’ll enjoy the process of not only knitting, but playing with color and striping ideas too. Have fun!