Friday, 28 April 2017

Shawl Joy by Sylvia McFadden - a Review

When I saw this picture of 'The Rain Outside', after much browsing through shawl knitting patterns on Ravelry, my heart swelled with sheer delight. It was perfect, perfect, perfect. 
In all three of her 'Rain' shawl designs, Sylvia McFadden incorporates short row segments of lace patterning into the long, narrow, crescent shape, making them ripple with organic asymmetry. Though lace knitters commonly confine themselves to very fine yarns, this pattern used double knitting weight, which fortuitously, was exactly what I had brought home from my holiday in Tacoma. The destiny of that yarn was quite decided when I read that Sylvia lives in Vancouver, which is not so far north of where I had been visiting. 

I knew traveling back with some of the hand blown glass they make in the Pacific Northwest would have been a fabulous disaster, shattering my bank balance, if nothing else. I think just gawping at all the Dale Chihuly work around the Museum of Glass fired me up to choose flaming colours when shopping for a rather more portable souvenir of wool.

Sylvia McFadden's shawl shape reminded me of the organic curves I had watched being blown and drawn out from molten glass. By changing her subtle two toned grey stripes for my red and brown Targhee yarn from Brooklyn Tweed, I hoped to enhance my shawl's resemblance to bright, wriggling glass ridges.

'The Rain Outside' pattern has a clear structure, starting with an overview of the order of things, so that the knitter understands how the work should progress with each step. I am not great with charts and really appreciated also having a row by row written version of the lace inserts. Whenever I got to one of these sections, I knitted it with handspun Abstract Fibres Targhee topswhich had been burning a hole in my knitting basket. Although I messed up getting pure colour changes while spinning, each of the six short row segments did knit up with differing overall shades. I remain mystified by the pattern instruction to work the repeat four times for inserts 4, 5 and 6. The pdf download for 'The Rain Outside' has alluring images of the finished shawl being tossed in the air. Unfortunately, these don't help when you need a visual clue as to how the whole shawl should look when laid out, good job I could go back to check the photos on Ravelry.

My 100g of red Brooklyn Tweed ran out a couple of rows before the true pattern ending, but no-one is going to notice. By luck rather than judgement, there was still plenty of handspun to knit the clever bind off, which is worked in rows at 90 degrees to the body of the shawl, eating up the live stitches sideways. Finally, washing and blocking revealed the final shape.

Delighted with my Tacoma shawl, I named it 'The Fire Inside' and wore it to show off at Wonderwool, having already sent my money to Canada for a copy of Sylvia McFadden's printed book of six patterns, which is called 'Shawl Joy'. This only took a week to arrive in Wales and was worth the wait, being a substantial A4 size with lots of beautiful and useful pictures on thick matte paper. It includes two top down triangle shawls and a centre-out square shawl as well as the three crescent shawls of the Rain series. Sylvia calls the combination of charts, short rows and lace she dreamed up for these 'a lovely, new unvented thing'. I heartily agree and applaud most of all the generous spirit which led her to include pages in the book which share the method and enable her readers to design their own versions. 

Did I mention I brought home two lots of Targhee tops and more Brooklyn Tweed yarn? I spun the orange and grey tops straight from the undivided braid and navajo plied the single, to keep the different colours as clear as I could
and in the longest possible stretches of yarn. Quailing at the thought of charting my own lace inserts and deciding that while he will cheerfully tart about in lycra outfits to go cycling, himself might baulk at wearing lace anyway, I used the basic shawl construction and the short row ideas given in 'Shawl Joy' to knit my husband a simpler, but unique scarf.
100g grey Brooklyn Tweed dk yarn made one set of plain garter stitch ridges and 100g hanspun Targhee made the alternate ones, into which I added short row inserts of stocking stitch, whenever it looked as though the yarn would have a long run of orange near one edge or grey near the other. Except when I got mixed up.

I'm calling this one 'Hot Coal'.
Sexy if you're Welsh.

Many thanks to Sylvia McFadden. Shawl Joy indeed.
ISBN 978-0-9952734-0-5 
Published by Hemlock Printers, B.C. Canada in 2016


  1. hm, same taste over here:) I fell for the "waiting for rain" a while back, knitted one in grey only, but realized that the system can be done in most lace patterns easily! I'll do another one like the first, but with different lace - and probably with two colours like yours! it's a very adaptable pattern, which should work well in most yarns! and hot coals sound sexy in the west of ireland, too:) not because we have any of our own - but because we can always use them to keep warm:)
    happy knitting - and enjoy the weekend!


    1. Sun came out this evening - lovely - its been pretty cold and grey over here most of the week. I shall gather my courage and have a go with charting lace - eventually.

    2. yes, do - I think once you get used to it, it makes lace knitting so much easier! esp. nowadays, when the symbols reflect the look of the stitch, so that one glance at the chart is enough to know what to knit! I couldn't do lace patterns in all text, they drive me nuts:(

  2. Gorgeous shawls! You really did capture Chihuli's glasswork inspiration. I'm sad that I haven't yet met Sylvia though we both live in Vancouver. I only recently discovered her innovative designs and also hope to knit one soon!

  3. I agree they are like the glass, so beautiful. That book looks awesome, your own design is so clever!

  4. Since you like Chihuly you might enjoy this - his current exhibition at the New York Botanical Garden. It's a 2-part entry, there's an internal link inside this one. Chihuly_2017-04.html