My fourth Pi shawl is done, I’m pleased to report, and it even made it just under the wire for Pi Day on Saturday. I cast off around lunchtime and laid it out for blocking that afternoon, and I am well pleased.
(It is also, I should mention, challenging to take full photos of a circular shawl without assistance, so in addition to these I may point out past Pi Shawl posts here and here)
Having done a few of these, I get a lot of Pi Shawl questions. I thought I would go ahead and answer a few of them in a kind of Pi Shawl FAQ, if you will:
How long does it take to knit a Pi Shawl?
For me personally, it’s taken me between 3 months (this one) and 11 months (last one). I liked having the Pi Day deadline for this because I think it made me work on it a little more regularly than I have for the other Pi Shawls that I’ve done. I’ve done each one with the same yarnover pattern on every 6th round (this is a variation suggested in the Knitter’s Almanac pattern directions), which makes it repetitive enough that it’s really easy to put down and pick up whenever you feel like it without worrying where you are in the pattern. This means that I tend to keep the Pi Shawl on ice for when I need a movie theatre project or a for-when-I’m-waiting-around-somewhere project, and I don’t dedicate myself to it like I usually do for a sweater or other accessories.
At the same time, though, most of the other gals in my group at Rhinebeck this past October also bought yarn to make Pi Shawls, and at least two of them were finished a month later, so clearly your mileage may vary. This is a very versatile project, and pretty easy for a variety of skill levels – no seriously, it is. To me the challenging part of it is just the sheer yardage and commitment involved. Other than that, if you can knit in the round and know how to do yarnovers (or are cool with learing how), you are really really good to go on this.
Where do I get the pattern?
This is the ‘July shawl’ pattern in Knitter’s Almanac by Elizabeth Zimmerman. If you’ve never encountered Elizabeth Zimmerman’s knitting patterns before, allow me to give them a big recommendation. Much of her patterns and writing in general pre-date knitting blogs by a few decades, and are written not so much as ironclad instructions but as guidelines that can be altered or adapted depending on the yarn weight you’re using. She’ll remind you to pay attention to gauge, to make swatches, and to decide how you want your fit and size to be, and then give you principles to work with. She has confidence in your knitting brain and in your ability to use it. She’s great. Sometimes I will re-read parts of her books before bed just for fun.
The Knitter’s Almanac is written as twelve chapters each for a month of the year, and a pattern for each month. If you had the mind, you could start with the month you’re at and just knit your way through the whole book. I confess the ‘July shawl’ is the only one I’ve done yet, but i have taken a long look at the knitted pants (long underwear ish) in September during more than one cold winter, and there are some nice mittens in there too.
How much yarn do you need to knit a Pi Shawl?
Well, it’ll vary based on what kind of yarn you’re using, naturally, but the recommendation is for 3-4 4oz skeins of whatever weight you’re using. For each of the 3 fingering weight ones I’ve knitted, I’ve used between 325g and 375g of yarn. The first one I did was laceweight, but I like the fingering weight (or ‘sock yarn’ weight) as a nice light option that is a little more sturdy. I think more and more that my next Pi ‘Shawl’ will actually be a blanket, since a warm wooly circle would be great for the reading nook, and a bit faster than fingering weight. Naturally, your finished size also influences the yardage, so buy an extra skein if you are nervous.
How do I know how big to make it?
The shawl is constructed from the centre outwards, and then you complete it by working a knitted-on border (rather than binding off from the finished edge). So, it’s hard to visualize the complete size of the shawl while you’re knitting it. What I tend to do is hold the centre of the shawl in one hand and the working edge in the other, and when that length is about as long as half my wingspan (from my chin to wrist, more or less), then I stop and work the border. I’m 5’9″ so my shawl is going to be bigger than someone shorter than me, but it also will fit me proportionally which is what you want. Mind you, for a blanket I might just keep knitting it as long as I feel like it if I want it to be cozy.
But how do you wear a Pi Shawl?
I wore one of my other Pi Shawls last October at Rhinebeck, bundled all around my neck and shoulders, since it was a cooler weekend than originally forecast. I can’t tell you how many people stopped and asked me what pattern it was, it was awesome. The other fun part was how many people thought it was some kind of cowl or modern wrap, and then I got to pull it off and reveal that it was in fact a big circle – really this got to be pretty neat. Not bad uptake at all for a pattern that’s four decades old.
This was also neat because I can’t tell you how many people take one look at the Pi Shawl as a big circular shawl and ask “but how would you ever wear that without looking like frumpy and weird?” (I may be paraphrasing a bit there) And the answer dear knitter friends is that you just wear it. Make it in a colour you like that you know you will want to reach for as an accessory, and then wear it however it pleases you to do so: Folded in half over your shoulders; wrapped around your neck like a big muffler; draped whole as a single elegant layer over a fancy dress; a-symmetrically over one shoulder; pinned with a shawl pin. Or, depending on what kind of yarn you’re using, it could turn into a veil (laceweight, with some fun charted lace patterns used in the different sections perhaps?) or a lap blanket (break out the worsted weight wool).
I like browsing the finished Pi Shawl projects on Ravelry every so often, because everyone who does manage to get a “wearing it” shot always looks so happy with it. Finishing one of these is good for the soul.
There you have it, knitter friends, possibly a lot more about Pi Shawls than you wanted to know, but they are pretty darned neat and it’s hard to resist evangelizing about them just a little. I’ll take a pause before my next Pi thingie (really thinking hard about the blanket option next), but ahhh there will be a next one for sure.
Happy knitting this fine Monday!
Pattern: Pi Shawl (“July shawl”, instructions with many variations in Knitter’s Almanac by Elizabeth Zimmerman)
Yarn: Miss Babs Kathadin, colourway ‘holy moly’
Needles: 4.5mm/US #7 circulars