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Faroese Shawls General Information

Faroese Shawls

General Information
(Worksheets for Designing your shawl are on separate pages.)

  • Shawls are usually knit in Garter Stitch and often have some type of lace border along the bottom edge.  The lace border may be set off with lace rows consisting of repeated YO, K2tog.
  • Shawls are composed of two right triangles and one trapezoid (the gusset).
  • A lace pattern usually runs the length of the gusset.
  • The triangles have border stitches.
  • The concept is that the triangles are decreased to zero and the trapezoid is decreased to about 3 inches in width. Shoulder shaping is incorporated into the triangle decreases and defines the excellent fit and drape of the shawl.

General Knitting Sequence
Detailed descriptions of each step follow.

  • Cast on total number of stitches
  • Knit without decreasing for the depth of the front borders. This makes the bottom border.    
  • Decrease  the triangles until the multiple of stitches required for the lace pattern is reached.
  • Knit the lace pattern decreasing only on the outer edges of the triangles.  
  • When the lace pattern is complete resume decreasing each side of the triangles.
  • When the lace pattern along the lower edge is complete begin decreasing the gusset.
  • Continue knitting until triangles are completely gone, while making shoulder decreases at the proper points as described below.
  • Complete gusset border.
  • Block.

Border Options

  • Borders may be set off with yarn overs or some other type of faggot stitch.
  • Borders are from 5 to 8 stitches wide.
  • The triangles including the borders may be decreased to zero and then the gusset cast off as in border a above.
  • Or the triangles may be decreased to zero, but the borders left intact. The right border is then continued as a “sideways” border thus eliminating the gusset stitches. The stitches from this right border are then woven with the stitches remaining on the left border as in border b on the right

Lace Pattern

  • Select a lace pattern of your choice.
  • This pattern will run along the bottom edge of the shawl and the length of the gusset.

The Gusset

  • The width of the gusset is somewhat determined by the pattern multiple.
  • The gusset should be at least 20-25 stitches wide. According to the literature, less than 20 stitches will make the shawl “strut,” especially as it is worn a great deal. 
  • 30-35 stitches should only be used for a large shawl, preferable single ply.
  • The gusset should narrow to about 2” - 3” worth of stitches at the top, although this can vary.
  • Decreasing within the gusset begins at the end of the pattern rows. The decreases are spread out evenly—typically two or three to a row about every 10 rows. This will vary somewhat by the number of rows necessary to form the right triangles.

Forming the right triangles

Determining the number of stitches to cast on for the triangle

  • Determine the gauge.
  • Determine the desired hypotenuse (40 inches will make a small shawl, 43-45 inches a medium shawl, and 50 inches a large shawl.) 
  • Think ahead to the multiple of  the lace pattern.
  • Determine the number of stitches based on the above considerations. 

Shoulder shaping within the triangles

  • The shawl has several rows of additional decreases near the top of the triangles to provide the unique shoulder fit. 
  • There seems to be little consistency in either the number of stitches decreased or in the number of rows over which the decreases are spread. 
  • Factors include size of shawl, whether or not the shawl will be tied or pulled  over the head, weight of yarn, needle size, and lace pattern. 
  • An analysis of 13 patterns revealed the following:
  1. The number of shoulder shaping rows varies between two and seven with two or three rows being the most common.
  2. Shaping rows start when anywhere from 66% to 38% of the cast on triangle stitches remain. This seems to be dependent on the factors listed above. The most common point to start the shaping was when 44% to 50% of the triangle stitches remained.
  3. Subsequent shaping rows began when anywhere from 44% to 23% of the triangle stitches remained.19% to 25% was common.
  4. First shoulder shaping rows consumed about 20% of the triangle stitches on that row.
  5. Second shoulder shaping rows consumed about 25% of the triangle stitches on the needle.
  • For purposes of this class shoulder shaping will be as follows:
  1. First shoulder shaping will occur when 44% of the original triangle stitches remain. 20% of the triangle stitches on the needle at that point will be decreased.
  2. Second shoulder shaping will occur when 19% of the original triangle stitches remain. 25% of the triangle stitches on the needle at that point will be decreased.

Determining the Total Number of Stitches

  • Determine the gauge—This affects number of hypotenuse stitches.
  • Decide on the size of the shawl--small (40 inches),  medium (43-45 inches), large (50 inches) 
  • Decide on the pattern multiple—this affects gusset and hypotenuse stitches.
  • Decide on the number of border stitches. (BS)
  • Decide on the width of the gusset. (GS)
  • Decide on the length of the hypotenuse of one triangle. (HS)
  • Add the following: BS + HS + GS + HS + BS to obtain the total number of stitches.

Placement and Type of Decreases

  • Knit number of even rows (ER)

  • Then decrease one stitch each side of each triangle every other row* until the number of stitches remaining are compatible with the lace pattern multiple, or to desired depth. *Some traditional patterns decrease the first triangle only on each row. This seems to eliminate the need for right and left decreases, and, since the rows are long, it seems easier to remember to decrease if the knitting has to be laid aside mid-row. I personally use this method.

  • Begin the pattern and decrease only at the outer** edges of the triangles every other row for the number of pattern rows (PR). Some variance to make patterns match may occur. **This is traditional, but optional. By decreasing only at the outer edges, the center back of the garment becomes longer without affecting the sides. However, this also produces a “pooch” or “strut” which must be removed by blocking. (See Blocking below.)
  • When the pattern is complete, resume decreasing one stitch each side of each triangle every other row* until the triangles have been eliminated.
  • At the same time when the pattern is complete, begin gusset decreases. Place them at regular intervals, say about every 10 rows until about 2 - 3 inches width of the gusset remains.

Shoulder Decreases

  • When 44% of the original triangle stitches remain, make the first group of shoulder decreases. Decrease these stitches by 20%
  • When 19% of the original triangle stitches remain, make the second group of shoulder decreases. Decrease these stitches by 25%.

Completing and Blocking the Shawl

  • Continue knitting until the triangles have been comsumed. 
  • Bind off gusset or complete with sideways border.
  • The easiest way to block the shawl is simply to wash it and pat it out to the desired dimensions. In the process, be sure to removed any bulge that may have formed at the center back when knitting the lace panel. Since the idea of limited decreases at this point was to increase the lengh, pull/pat the gusset lengthwise rather than sideways.


  ---, Foroysk Bindingarmynstur (T├│rshavn: Foroyskt Heimavirki, 1983).

Elizabeth Zimmermann, “3-Cornered Shawls,” Wool Gathering March 1986.

 Meg Swansen, “Faroese shawls,” Knitters Winter 1987: 26-29.

Susanne Pagoldh, Nordic Knitting (Loveland: Interweave Press, 1991) 28+, 110+.

Vibeke Lind, Knitting in the Nordic Tradition (Asheville, NC: Lark Books, 1984) 74-79.

Copyright by Carol Connors 1996 Janesville, Wisconsin