My Handspun Shawl

Do you sometimes look back at the way you’ve travelled to get to where you are now? Think about all the many different roads, sand paths, ally ways, cramped busy city streets you took. I thought about that a lot while working on this shawl. I thought about the roadmap with all its landmarks that brought me to my first knitted project with my own wheel spun yarn. I could have gone so many different paths, yet I find myself now in a place where I’m a knitter who knits things with yarn from fibre I spun and dyed myself. Let me show you!

The yarn I used for this shawl is my very own handspun, the first few skeins I’ve spun on my wheel. You can read more about the spinning of this yarn and how I dyed them with red onion skins here. The skeins are around DK weight and together they delivered a yardage of about 630 meters. I tried to use up as much as possible of the yarn and after an intense game of yarn chicken was left with about a meter of yarn at cast off! Hurrah, success!

Knitting with my own handspun was remarkably like knitting with any other yarn (who knew?) except when I looked down and realised exactly what I was knitting with I filled with an overwhelming disbelief and warm tenderness at the yarn I had made. I’ve been lucky to have knit with a lot of beautifully crafted yarn spun at small and big mills alike and I’ve always marvelled in wonder at those materials. Knitting with this was a different experience though. As I hope to spin more and knit more with my handspun I expect the overwhelming feeling to ease somewhat but I hope I will always remember how memorable it was the first time I knit with a yarn I spun myself.

Knitting with handspun is a lot more unpredictable than knitting with mill spun yarn. For one, you can’t go to a yarn database and see how it knits up, as nobody has used it before and can share experiences. I mean, you aren’t completely in the dark, as a knitter can usually make an educated guess and have some idea about the yarn’s characteristics and what it will look like knit up. I think (hope) I will get better at this over time but of course an element of uncertainty and unpredictability will remain as handspun will always be completely unique.

Because this is the first time I’m using my handspun (or any handspun) and I’m a beginner spinner I wanted something simple for my first project in handspun. Something that could withstand wonky gauge and potential inconsistencies and other issues. During the spinning process I was leaning toward something like a scarf, cowl or shawl because of those reasons. In the end I went with a shawl as I think it matched best with my yarn quantity and would give me the most bang for my yardage. I used to knit quite a lot of shawls early in my knitting life, but once I made the shift towards jumpers and cardigans they became a rarity. I knit my last shawl 5 years ago, so perhaps it was time to have another go at it regardless of the handspun aspect.

The pattern I settled on is the Boneyard Shawl, a Stephen West pattern from back in the old days. I knit this pattern the year it came out and I choose it in part to wrap myself in that nostalgia, hope and fond memories of those early days of my own knit life that in many ways ran in tandem with the early days of the emerging presence of an online knit presence and the forming of an online knit community. I look back with warm feelings to some of that period; lots of new starts and possibilities (mind, I wouldn’t wish to be back). Choosing to knit this pattern again, more than ten years down the road, felt like a nice way to pay homage to those early humble beginnings and mark how far I’ve come and reflect how much has changed in my craft, in myself and in the community I’m part of. It was bittersweet and painful at times but also powerful and beautiful as markings of time such as these often are.

On a less serious note in that time I’ve realised that I’m generally more charmed by simpler, cosy shawls that have a bit more body to them. So where with my jumpers cardigans and other accessory knits I’m usually drawn to heavily patterned knits that is mostly not the case for shawls. I’ve also noticed that in recent years I find myself reaching more often for my drawer with woollen woven scarfs than for the one with my own knitted shawls. I think in part this is because they are a really nice weight and size (pretty sizeable) which is also what I prefer in my knitted shawls.

Because the plan was to knit up as much of the yarn as possible it remained a surprise to myself for a time what size I would actually end up with. Because I hadn’t knit shawls in a while I had forgotten how fast the first 2/3 or so of the shawl is. Because of the triangular nature of these types of shawls the first rows are tiny and you gradually increase until you end up with enormous rows which each take a solid effort to complete. It took a bit of guesswork to work our when to start the border garter ridges and I had to rip it out and redo it cause I preferred a bigger garter ridge edge. The only thing I might change the next time I’ll make a triangular shawl (and I’ll keep on spinning so who knows) is perhaps to shoot for a more elongated shape for more swoosh at the points. That said I’m pleased with this shawl and I ended up with a nice sizeable wrap that I can wear around my neck or my shoulders to cover my entire back and walk around like I’m a heroine in a period drama broodingly contemplating my fate on the moors.

The one thing I did find out while I was knitting the shawl was that I did not wash out the skeins thoroughly enough after dyeing them with onion skins. They stained my hands slightly during the knitting process. Shedding some colour is quite common with any naturally dyed yarn and I know I was quite inpatient to get going on knitting with it so I imagine I rushed the washing process on account of that. This issue was easily remedied by washing a bit more thoroughly for the blocking process. I have since worn it and also squished it and rubbed it against my hands thoroughly and did not encounter any stains so we’re good now. The lesson here is don’t skimp on the washing bit of your self dyed wool, even if you are impatient to cast on! I blocked the shawl on my smallish round dinner table and had to make a hilarious contraption of up side down buckets on two chairs to make a big enough blocking surface (I don’t block on the floor as my cats think taking out the pins is some sort of life saving super mission).

The knitted fabric feels softer than I expected it to be given the rustic nature of the yarn. It’s not a like a soft superwash merino mind, and this does come from a knitter who considers Icelandic and Shetland wool her most favourite yarn, but pretty good on the neck and face skin I would say. There are some irregularities in the knitted fabric but not overly much and not more than you would find in a similarly rustic commercial spun yarn.

I cannot believe that I just finished my first handspun project. Never in a million years would I have thought it would look like this when I just started spinning last summer. It’s amazing to look back and reflect on the last year and see what can happen when you think you just casually pick up a spindle one summer and see where it leads. The colour is absolutely divine and in combination with the pattern makes me think of ferns whenever I wear it. It also makes me want to experiment more with dyeing handspun and maybe try dyeing fibres before spinning some way down the line. In the end this project is very special and dear to me and probably always will remain so as it’s the first thing I ever made using my own handspun. I think that feeling of looking down in amazement and wonder at my own selfmade yarn while knitting a project is going to be hard to beat and I hope I’ll never forget it.

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