We put a lot of time and care into our beautiful handknits, but it can be hard to figure out how to style them. I did a podcast about a year ago on how to style handknit sweaters, which you can see here if you like
What I want to talk about today, though, is styling shawls. Many of us make dozens of shaws or scarves and never wear them. Not because we don’t want to, but because we’re not sure how.
How many times have we put on a shawl, carefully arranging it across our shoulders, and down the front, not wanting to crumple or tie our masterpiece or do anything that will hide our fabulous stitchwork.
Then we look in the mirror and know it’s all wrong. At best, our careful arrangement looks fussy and frumpy. At worst, it's affected. And fiddly. I mean, how can we get anything all done, whether shopping or going out to dinner, when the slightest movement threatens to displace everything, and we're fussing with our accessory rather than focusing on the moment.
In all fairness, it’s not our fault. Designers style and photograph their samples in a way that puts the pattern and all of the stitch work on display. They understand that it’s important forthe knitter to see the size and shape of the shawl, the stitch patterns, and any colorwork, very clearly before deciding whether or not to buy the pattern and knit the project. The shawls are shown hanging wide, or carefully arranged across shoulders to give maximum detail so we can make an informed choice. But, you know, I think those dramatic photos can sometimes even put us off knitting a project simply because we can’t imagine ourselves wearing the piece as shown. My advice? Remember that pattern styling and photographs are not real life. Not my life, anyway.
How to style a handknit shawl?
How do we get away from fussy and frumpy, affected and fiddly?
Here are two simple strategies
Get some je ne sais quoi The first strategy is to adopt the French way of dressing that looks both fabulous and effortless. The have a phrase for it - je ne sais quoi. The literal translation isI don’t know what, but it means the way of wearing things so that it looks like you didn’t really try. Like tying an Hermes scarf casually around their neck with a tee shirt and jeans.
It is literally, the opposite of careful arrangement - take your shawl and scrunch it up a bit. Put it on in a way that feels useful and comfortable without the least consideration to whether anyone will see your stitchwork. Maybe give the ends a tie around your neck at the front, or knot it at the back bandana style. If it’s large enough, try putting the point in the front, bringing the tails to the back around your neck and tying them around your neck in the front. The key here is not to worry about showcasing it as they did in the pattern photo. Your accessory is for your benefit. Like beautiful lingerie no one else sees, it’s enough for you to know how fabulous it is.
Large, lightweight, symmetrical shawls and scarves are easy to wear casually scrunched, but what about smaller shawls, or those small asymmetrical things? Or the heavier pieces with colorwork, brioche in DK or worsted weight? They’re not well-suited to tying and need some support to help them stay in place.
Get some chic support. The strategy for both small pieces and heavy pieces is the same. WE need something to keep them in place or we’ll be messing with them all the time and we might even lose them. I’m talking about one-skein projects, like thePanorama Stole and large heave ones like Andrea Mowry’s Nightshift and Inclinations and Louise Robert’sOctopus Garden Shawl. These are really too heavy to be tied, but they have to be affixed somehow so you can enjoy your creation and still get on with your life
Shawl pins are great, and I have a ton of them in my collection. They’re like a piece of jewelry that’s functional as well as beautiful. I have some glass and ceramic ones I love, but I'm never relaxed when I wear them, and my look lacks je ne sais quoi. There’s always the risk that they’ll come undone and go crashing to the floor. Ask me how I know this.
For the last 10 years, my favorite shawl pins have been by Laura Bellows of Jul Designs. Laura’s designs have a wonderfully modern yet timeless aesthetic. She uses white bronze and leather as well as other materials to craft stunning pieces that enhance but never compete with your shawl and your whole outfit.
Jul shawl pins and posts are cleverly designed to be easy to place but secure enough for you to go about your day without worrying that your shawl will slide around or your pin will fall off.
Shop Jul pieces here, and be sure to watch my interview with Laura on YouTube as she demonstrates how to style your shawls so they will look effortlessly beautiful and feel secure and give that whole je ne sais quoi