Historical Sew Monthly 2016 – Protection Challenge

This month’s challenge was all about creating something historically accurate that could be used as a form of protection, either against the elements or to keep yourself or your clothing clean. I’ve wanted to knit a period shawl for myself for a while but found it difficult t make the time, so this challenge seemed the perfect way to finally get it done!

The project was finished on time but I have been trying to get decent photos taken in daylight for 2 weeks… I have now temporarily admitted defeat!



Information for Historical Sew Monthly

What the item is: A late 19th  / Early 20th C knitted shawl for a working class woman

Material: Yellow, pure wool, recycled yarn from stash, equivalent to a UK double knitting yarn

Pattern: Combination of 3 patterns, The Shoulder Shawl, Vandyke Stitch and  Knitted Lace Edging from The Lupton Ladies Manual

Year: Patterns published in 1894

Notions: Size 0 wooden knitting needles and 5mm circular needle for borders, sewing needle, 5mm crochet hook for top edging

How historically accurate is it? Very: I used extant knitting patterns and pure wool which would have been standard in the period, plus wooden needles for the body of the shawl. My only concession was to use a 6mm circular needle for the border to reduce the risk of dropping stitches and reduce the weight of the project on my neck and shoulders.

Hours to complete: Around 18 to knit the main body and vandyke border and another 4 to do the narrow edging and work out the best approach to cornering!

First worn: Not yet, hope to wear it to an English Civil War Battle Recreation this weekend

Total cost: Nothing – I was given a bag of odds and ends of yarns that included a large number of skeins of the wool used


Assembling the Materials

I chose my yarn from stash – pure wool in shades of soft yellow – with a working class woman of the early 20th C in mind, perhaps using yarn recycled from another project or passed on to her by a relative or friend. I combined 3 patterns from the 1894 Lupton’s Ladies Book,  downloaded from the Antique Pattern Library.  The main body is the knitted shoulder shawl on page 19 of PDF 1, the wide border the Vandyke Pattern on p5 of the 2nd PDF, and the narrow border is the Knitted Lace Edging on p15 of PDF 1.

One of the interesting things about the pattern book is that its a collection of patterns submitted by a wide range of ladies, so there’s no standard terminology or needle sizes, so you need to have google to hand plus be prepared to try some guess work plus trial and error. For example the shawl pattern simply called for a large pair of wooden or rubber needles – I did find a pair in my vintage collection that were manufactured by durex but they were definitely plastic so not of the right material, or I think  for knitting in polite company! I used a pair of UK size 0 needles, which equate to a modern 7 – 8mm, whcih gave an airy and open feel to the shawl. I wanted the border lace to be neater so I used 5mm needles to knit it up.

Knitting the Shawl 

Knitting the main body of the shawl was simple, start with 118 sts and decrease along 1 edge until 1 st remains. However I quickly discovered  variations in the shades of yellow, so I decided to work these in to give the effect of a shaded yarn. I alternated 2 rows of one shade with 2 rows of another for this part and chose to make the “wrong side” the right side, to help with blending.

The border was knitted on in 2 parts, the vandyke stitch wide border, followed by the narrow edging that was at 90 degrees to the  border. For the border, I picked up 244 stitches along one side,  using a  6mm circular – not period but the wire helped to manage the number of stitches safely and reduced the weight of the work on my neck and shoulders. To create a point a stitch was increased and incorporated into the pattern at the relevant end of alternate rows. I repeated the pattern 3 times for a total of 24 rows and the addition of 12 stitches. I then worked the narrow edging on this side by casting on 8 more stitches. To “cast off ” the border I  knitted 2 stitches together, one from the border and one from the edging at the border edge of each row. Once I had used up all the border stitches I slipped the remaining edging stitches onto a safety pin.

To work the border on the second side,  I picked up 256 sts along the edge, including those increased for the point. The shaping was mirrored  by decreasing 1st  on alternate rows at the point edge. Once completed, I transferred the narrow edging stitches from the safety pin  back to the needles and turned the corner, keeping the pattern correct, using short row shaping – this took me a few attempts, a couple of sketchy diagrams and the odd word my Dad would not have been amused that I know, to get right – an interesting learning curve to say the least .

To finish, I added a double crochet edging to the top edge of the shawl, then washed it in baby shampoo and conditioner to relax the wool. It was then supported to drip dry over the bath and blocked to shape. I didn’t have any woolite or similar to hand and often wash pure wool in baby shampoo, because its very gentle and gives a nice soft feel to the wool.

What I Liked

I discovered that knitting a shawl isn’t as huge a project as I thought. Alongside the shawl I also finished a couple of other projects, made some Easter Bunnies for the grandsons and  researched and designed my next historical challenge!

The narrow edging also gave me the opportunity to try out a technique I’ve read about but never tried, using multiple yarn overs to create holes, stabilised by knitting and purling into the yarn over multiple times. I’ve been intrigued since I first read about Niebling lace and the effect produced is lovely. I’m now keen to find a knitted lace collar or cuffs pattern using the technique for the May challenge.