≡ Menu

Review: Traditional Knitted Lace Shawls


First, the facts:

Title: Traditional Knitted (&) Lace Shawls

Author: Martha Waterman

Published twice, by: Dos Tejedoras Fiber Arts Publications, 1993; and then Interweave Press, 1998

Pages: 168 in the 1993 edition, 118 in the 1998 edition

Type: Designing lace shawls


1. Traditional Knitted Shawls
2.  Shawl Materials
3.  Designing Shawls
4.  Shaping Shawls
5.  Shawl Finishes
6. Caring for Shawls
7.  Wearing Shawls with Style
8. Step-by-Step Instructions

Traditional Knitted Lace Shawls

Pattern Size Range: n/a

The In-Depth Look:

There are two things I need to tell you first. One, is that there are two editions of this book, since Interweave Press nicely saved it from its dreaded out-of-print state. And, two, I own a copy of both editions.

This should pretty much tell you right off the bat that I like this book. Or that, really, I love this book. My very first attempt at lace was inspired by this book. So, it’s possible that I might be just a little biased.

Really, though, if you’re at all interested in knitting lace shawls, this is a great book to have. It begins with some general information about the history of shawls in general, knitted shawls in particular, and then talks about what you need to make them. All very routine, however interesting.

But that’s when the good stuff happens. My favorite chapter in the book. The one where she explains how to make different shapes. Triangles, circles, squares, and rectangles. The author breaks down each shape and explains exactly what you, the knitter, need to do to make one. The instructions are clear and easy to follow, as are the diagrams.

She follows this with a stitch dictionary of lace stitches. 75 of them (give or take one or two if I miscounted). There are more definitive stitch dictionaries out there, but seventy-five patterns is a decent foundation to work from. She breaks them out by “type” of pattern–garter-stitch-based, old-shale based, mesh, openwork, large small … and for each stitch, she gives the number of stitches the pattern is worked over (important for fitting one into your shawl).

The next chapter is about edgings because, of course, you need to finish off your shawl somehow (grin). There are 11 stitch patterns and instructions for the different possibilities–fringe, crochet, knitted borders, and lace borders … as well as what you need to do to turn a corner.

The stitch sections are actually the biggest difference between the two editions.
The original version had row-by-row written instructions; the new version has charts. So far as I can tell, the actual patterns are the same, it’s just the presentation that’s different. I don’t know whether you prefer to knit lace from written instructions or from charts, but depending on which version of the book you have, you will get one or the other. Not (unfortunately) both.

The book (both of them) closes with full-on shawl patterns. Eleven of them in the older book; eight in the new one. They’re beautiful shawls, too. Not impossibly complex, and therefore not overly intimidating to a beginner.

In fact, to me, that’s the point of this entire book. It spells out calmly and confidently exactly what a shawl is, what you need to make one, and then all the tools you need to do so. It explains the basic math necessary, how to choose and insert lace patterns, and what you need to do to finish it off. The written patterns at the end–good though they are–are almost irrelevant. In fact, as much as I liked the Kerry Blue shawl, when it came time for me to start my own shawl, back in 1993, I still preferred to browse through the stitch patterns and pick my own rather than use the Kerry Blue pattern as written–even though I had never knit a lace shawl before. She made me confident enough to tackle the challenge on my own–and while I was on vacation, nonetheless.

What are the main differences between the two editions? The layout of the Interweave Press book is tighter, and a little slicker. The text is edited more closely, so that some sections are a little shorter. The Table of Contents sticks to just the main headings, whereas the older edition had sub-headings. But really, it’s the same book. The only real difference, apart from the illustrations, is the way the stitches instructions are given.

Ultimately, this book might not be for everyone. If all you want are ready-to-go shawl patterns, yes, there are some here to look at and they are good ones, but you can find better pattern collections elsewhere. (Victorian Lace Today, or A Gathering of Lace spring to mind.) If, however, you want to make a shawl that’s unlike any other, and need some guidance and inspiration, well! This book is perfect.

I will say, though, that the Interweave Press edition left out my favorite line from the Dos Tejedoras edition. In the chapter on “How to wear a shawl,” she ended by saying,

Another problem shawl wearers encounter is a barrage of unsolicited compliments that can leave you a bit tongue-tied. Practice ahead of time saying, “Thank you! I made it myself,” and you’ll be an accomplished shawl-wearer the first time out!

Isn’t that a marvelous way to end a book? (or a review?)

This book is available at Amazon for $14.93–a bargain, in my opinion.
But then, most of you would probably only buy one copy anyway.

Want to see bigger pictures? Click here.

My Gush: Obviously, I liked it enough to buy it twice, so clearly, this is a favorite of mine. In fact, it’s my “go-to” book for any lace shawl. It’s more of a how-to book than a pattern book, though, so be prepared.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Karen November 4, 2008, 8:09 am

    I have a problem of buying books twice, also. Ravelry is helping me out with my knitting books. Their library listing is fantastic. Of course, you may not have the time to get your many books listed.
    Thanks for the tip on this one. I’m going to order it today. Don’t know how I missed it.

    Please review Estonia Lace.

  • Karen November 21, 2008, 4:11 pm

    It just arrived. I agree with you. The best chapter is about shaping shawls. I probably would not have bought this without your recommendation since I prefer graphed patterns. The information on sampling gauge is also good.
    Thanks again

%d bloggers like this: