The Shawl Manifesto

Recently, I’ve seen a number of articles and social media posts about shawls. They all focused, either in passing or as a main topic, on how making shawls more wearable, or how to style them so they look less, well… shawly.

I can see where they’re coming from. Big, bold shawls in all the colours of the rainbow are an ever-popular type of knitting – they’re the perfect canvas for meandering cables, brain-melting lace or in-your-face colour contrasts. They’re one-size-fits-all, and most can be adapted to suit the amount or weight of yarn you have on hand, making them perfect for using up odd skeins or particularly special yarns. In short, shawls are fun to knit.

The wearing, though… Most people, knitters or not, don’t really see shawls as part of their repertoire. So they don’t wear them. And where does that leave us? With lots of brilliant creations that are painstakingly knitted, carefully blocked, and then neatly folded away in drawers.

It’s clear that this doesn’t sit well with a lot of people, hence the recent plethora of advice on toning them down and making them blend in more easily.

Fuck that. I’m here to offer an alternative.

You can bunch your shawls up around your neck if you want, and I’m not knocking that concept per se (it’s great for staying extra warm in winter, or making wraps work with coats and other thick outerwear). But what if… What if we stopped trying to make our shawls less dramatic and embraced their, well, shawliness?

Imagine billowing down thee street in a cloud of hand-dyed merino, maybe even with some beads sparkling around the edging. Pin on a pi shawl that comes down to your knees to meet friends for coffee. Rock a glorious shawl whenever the mood takes you or the temperature suggests it.

To me, it is the perfect combination of practical and glamorous, and will always be the most elegant way to leave the house wearing what is essentially a small blanket.

What if people stare?

Maybe they will. Staring is rude, but then, rude people are an unfortunate fact of life. I’m fairly sure that people stare at me about the same amount, regardless of whether I am wrapped in yarny goodness, or schlepping to the shops in an old jumper requisitioned from the Yarn Widower. I’m not jaw-droppingly beautiful, but I haven’t broken any mirrors recently either, so I don’t think that’s got anything to do with it.

People are going to stare sometimes, so you might as well be fabulous (and cozy) while they do it. Besides, what do a stranger’s opinions matter?

Now of course, people might go further and actually make comments on your knitwear. If you don’t like those comments, may I recommend the Captain Awkward method of Letting It Be Awkward. Say “wow” or “really” with as little inflection as possible, and just look at them while they stew. They know it’s rude, and they are the ones who decided to be rude, so turn it back onto them by doing nothing. Then swish off into the sunset, wearing your shawl like a superhero cape, because that is who you are now.

What if my friends and family think I’m weird?

Then they’d be right. Knitters, like all the best people, are generally pretty weird.

While my immediate response is “to hell with them”, I’m aware it’s not that simple. Disregarding the criticism (or even gentle mockery) of those closest to us can be really hard.

There are two parts to this answer. Firstly, do you think that your nearest and dearest haven’t already noticed the knitting? Because they have. Whether it’s picking stitch markers out of the hoover or accepting that you won’t head out for the day without a half-finished sock in your bag, knitting quickly becomes a part of life. With this in mind, why should wearing a shawl be any different to wearing an amazing hand knitted jumper?

The second part of my answer is about how people perceive knitting as a craft. Knitting still has a bit of an image problem, especially when it comes to laymen (or muggles, if you prefer). Despite huge amounts of evidence to the contrary, some people still believe that knitting is purely an activity for the old and uncool, and is mainly made up of grandmothers churning out baby clothes (as if there were something wrong with this).

These people’s heads would explode if you told them about Stephen West, or the Pussyhats, or the, um, eclectic range of patterns in the “whimsies” section of Knitty.

Now, while my first line of defence is still “who cares about those people?” with a side order of “‘fuck off’ is already a complete sentence”, there’s something important I’d like to share with you.

Over the years, I’ve met a great many people with what could be described as niche interests. Not just knitters, but Morris dancers, early music lovers, LARPers, model train enthusiasts, brass band nuts and dedicated fan fiction writers, to name but a few.

And I’ve observed an overarching trend with these people, and how I respond to them. When I encounter someone who is doing (or talking about) that one thing that they love and are really good at, they come alive in a very real way. This gives them the kind of magnetism that means that I can’t help enjoying their company, even if I know nothing at all about the interest in question.

Sometimes I want to be friends with these people. Sometimes I want to be them. Sometimes I want to be on their face. I have been known to have difficulty distinguishing between the three, but that’s besides the point.

The point is that the joy and total absorption that comes when you engage with your passion makes you more sympathetic, not less.

And yes, wearing your handiwork on the regular may get you a reputation. But is there anything wrong with being “the one who’s always wearing amazing shawls”? It’s definitely better than “the person with questionable hygiene who always stands too close” or “the knuckle-cracker”, so I will take that label with pride.

Really, this has been a long and unusually earnest way of making a simple plea:don’t let your knitwear languish in cupboards and drawers. No more saving it for special occasions. Do what you love. Free the shawls.

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For illustrative purposes, a quick photo of me wearing a big shawl, taken by the Yarn Widower.
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3 thoughts on “The Shawl Manifesto”

  1. I thoroughly approve of this. People are going to stare no matter what you do, so you might as well feel great while they do. Great job!

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  2. Bravo! *thunderous applause* I love my shawls, I wear them very often, and so far, I’ve had more good reactions than bad. As for the rude ones, my favourite reply is “I’m sure you meant well, dear”, said with a big smile and sometimes followed by a pat on the shoulder, and then I just walk away. 😀

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  3. The first thing I do when planning what to wear on a business trip is to choose what shawl I want to wear. Then I plan the undergarments – note distinction from underwear – that work with them. I have always enjoyed the compliments or even the inane comments that come. Sure fire way to find like-minded spirits, and a good conversation starter. I just have to remember not to bore for 🇨🇦!

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