What is a ‘Proper Shawl’?

Lately I have been thinking about what constitutes a ‘proper’ shawl. I have a set idea in mind though I’m not sure I could define it, and I’m certainly not sure it’s a normal thing. Surely anything that you consider a shawl counts as one, right?

Or is the word ‘shawl’ kind of a category, in which there are different types of shoulder-based knitted/crocheted items?

In the past I’ve made a few of what I would consider shawls, though maybe not ‘proper shawls’.

My first was crocheted and has since disappeared into oblivion, which is especially sad as it was made from some absolutely gorgeous flame orange/red yarn from Sanguine Gryphon. My heart sinks every time I think about the void eating that thing up. I have no idea where it could have gone but since I’ve moved about six times since then (not exaggerating, and three of those times were intercontinental), it’s not surprising there was some collateral damage.


That is the only photo I have of it. Yes, this is appalling. Yes, I am ashamed of myself. It was a gorgeous thing when it was done and I wish I’d taken more care, but I was seriously ill at the time so it was the process of making it that was the point.

I’ve made a couple other crochet shawls, both Eva’s Shawls. This is the perfect pattern for long gradients and mindless crocheting. You can whip one of these bad boys out in a couple of days and wrap yourself up in it in no time. I have this purple one at work over the back of my chair ready for when the room drops to Arctic temperatures for no reason at all.

And I hung it out on my spindly plants.

Then I decided to jump into more complicated knitting and made my lovely orange Brandywine shawl, though honestly this is more like a wrap. It’s vaguely rectangular and not at all lacy. It remains one of my favourite knitted objects as it’s functional and attractive and was SO MUCH FUN to knit, holy crap. You have no idea. The smocking… oh, the smocking. I get hot flushes when I think of the smocking and have to have a little lie down.

My Baranduin (I’m a Tolkien geek, so) has been retired to the closet for now as summer seems to have remembered it exists after a terrible spring of rain and coldness that made me think I was back in the UK instead of Southern Ontario. Yet it lives on in my mind and will be brought back at at the first opportunity.


I love that thing but I don’t consider it to be a proper shawl.

Which brings me to my latest creation. This is what I would say is a ‘proper shawl’; it’s made of fingering weight instead of lace weight, yes, but it is knit at a loose gauge and is flowy and lacy with a lot of openwork and interesting repeating patterns. It is a triangle with a border at the bottom. It is what I expect to see when someone says they are knitting a shawl.

That pattern is Damask, and my version was finished last week after two weeks of intense and obsessive knitting. I’ll be posting a picture of it on Thursday, but suffice to say it’s possibly overtaking my Baranduin as my favourite things ever. It was so much fun to knit and I feel like a proper knitter now.

So according to my narrow definition, a proper shawl should:

  1. be a triangle (or at a stretch a semi-circle),
  2. have a border of some kind, and
  3. constitute an amount of openwork/lace.

Yet even as I write that I can think of many examples I’ve seen that don’t fit that definition. What do you think?


9 thoughts on “What is a ‘Proper Shawl’?

    1. Oh, I’m sure about that – all are lovely! I’m not saying one is better than the other, either. Just there’s a type of shawl that’s exactly what a shawl should be in my mind and I can’t define it.

      I love them all though.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I know what you mean! I love all wraps including shawls, just finished my first “proper shawl”.
    I do wish Ravelry differentiated between the two, I have to look at all the rectangles when I want triangles or semi-circles and vice versa!
    Your work is beautiful, btw!


    1. I think you can narrow down the results by shape if you don’t want to look at rectangle shawls (for example). I don’t like most rectangle wraps, so I tend to go towards the circular or triangle ones and weed out the rest.

      Thank you!


  2. Well I thought I knew what a shawl was until I started reading your post and now I’m completely bamboozled! Not surprised you’re still grieving for that lovely flame orange shawl 😦

    Liked by 2 people

    1. As a person with a passion for linguistics I get a bit obsessed over definitions of things. I’m not sure I’ll come to a firm conclusion on this one… Sorry for bamboozling you! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m with you on shape. Rectangular is definitely a wrap. I’d say it has to be large enough to give you some warmth around your shoulders, otherwise it’s more of a scarf thingy. I don’t think you need lace – texture or colour(work) counts too. I have a heavier weight shawl that has lace patterns but is nice and warm and for me that’s a shawl, too. I love that orange colour – shame it didn’t make all your house moves with you.


  4. I’d definitely define a rectangle as a wrap; a triangle as a shawl. Then there are the mini triangles, which I refer to as ‘shawlettes’…


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