Shawls have a tendency never go on forever when you’re knitting them. Particularly when doing a top down shawl, where every row gets longer, and when you’re half way through the instructions, you’re only a quarter of the way through the knitting. Eventually, though, you will find yourself on the very last row. Probably after a weekend netflix marathon of something that doesn’t require complete attention at all times. At the moment, that’s Grey’s Anatomy for me.
Hooray, you’re finished at last!
Except you’re not, you still have to get the darned thing off the needles. Best queue up that next episode, you’re going to be here a while.
My favourite teacher in school used to tell us there was more than one way to skin a cat. I assume that’s true, but I’m no skinning expert, and I’m guessing neither was he. Still, for most things in life, there’s more than one way to get the job done, and casting off a shawl is no different. Here are three ways I like, and some of the patterns I’ve used them on.
The Stretchy Bind Off Tight binds offs are a pain in most knitting, but when you’ve spent weeks on a lace shawl, a tight bind off will restrict that most wonderful of transformations, blocking. Sometimes it’s sufficient to be extra loose with the cast off, or cast of using bigger needles, but there are some specific ways of casting off that add a little extra stretch.
The one I use most of the time is from the Gail/Nightsongs pattern. I quite like this pattern, hence I’m on my fourth iteration, but I’ve used the bind off described in this pattern in a few other lace shawls. This is a free pattern, so you can check it out for yourself, but the basic gist goes like this: knit the first two stitches, slip both back onto the left needle (purlwise, no need for twisting), and the knit them together through the back loop. Now you have one stitch on the right needle, and a bazillion stitches on the left. *Knit the next stitch, then slip the two stitches from the right needle to the left, and knit them together through the back loop*. Now you have one stitch on your right needle, and a bazillion – 1 stitches on the left. Repeat the part between the * *, until you run out of stitches. Snip the end, pull it through the last stitch, and Bob’s your uncle, you’re finished.
Although this is one of the quicker methods, it still can take a while. If you do need to stop for a bit, I recommend slipping the stitch from the right needle back onto the left needle for safe keeping. That solo stitch can become loose when you’re not looking, and it’s jumped off the needle behind my back when I take a break on more than one occasion. I like this bind off for a number of reasons. It’s versatile, subtle enough that it won’t disrupt most patterns. It’s easy once you know it to fall into a rhythm so it can be brainless knitting. You’ll come across it and variations on it in a bunch of patterns, and it’s a great one to have in your knitting arsenal.
The Knitted On Border This has got to be one of the prettiest ways to finish a shawl. I’ve done some lovely patterns with knit on borders, mostly paid patterns, such as Evenstar, Paisley Swirl and Shoulder Shawl in Syrian Pattern.
The pros: So pretty, often doesn’t involve an actual cast off so there’s that.
The cons: They can take forever and sometimes they involve picking up stitches, which can be annoying. You may remember the fight the Paisley Swirl shawl put up when it came to its border, but it was so worth it in the end.
The only free pattern I’ve done with a knit on border is Par un Matin de Printemps. It’s a really beautiful pattern, but sadly was one of the most frustrating knit on borders I’ve ever done. It was only a few stitches wide, so I had to constantly turn my work, but it lacked the striking visual impact of other knit on borders, so it didn’t feel like an effort well spent for me. I would highly recommend the pattern, but not for this feature.
The Crocheted Cast Off
Oh, my current nemesis.
I’ve only done this one once before, on the Vernal Equinox Shawl. In this one, the right knitting needle is replaced with the trusty crochet hook. Basically you crochet a chain of a certain length, then crochet into the next stitch or stitches on the left needle, chain away again, and then crochet back into the next set of live stitches. In the case of the Vernal Equinox shawl, the crochet chains were always the same length, and either two or three stitches were crocheted together at a time. This is visually a great way to bind off a very open shawl, but it’s definitely one to file under a design choice. If the pattern doesn’t already call for it, it’s not necessarily the best way to cast off a particular pattern.
On the other hand, when it works, boy does it work. It gives a very light, airy edge to a shawl, and gives plenty of stretch for blocking. I’m currently casting off my half hexagonal Spider’s-Web Shawl with a crocheted cast off, and I am not enjoying it. It’s not too slow, taking days rather than the weeks that a knitted on border would take, so I’m hoping to have it finished before the end of the week, but the crochet is putting a lot of strain on my hands. I really don’t want to give myself a knitting/crochet injury (again!) so I’m taking it in short bursts. I keep promising myself it will be worth it.