How to knit a shawl

A step-by-step tutorial on the best ways to knit a shawl and many viable alternatives and different constructions methods

So, you want to knit a beautiful shawl to keep you warm on a chilly evening or something extravagant for a special occasion but you don’t know how? Well, this tutorial comes with all the details you ever need and more. First, I’ll show you how to knit a shawl the easy way and then, further down, there will be 8 more ways.

a simple triangular shawl with stripes in blue and yellow

Preferences differ and there is not THE one best way to knit a shawl. Also, not all have to be in lace. If you pick a nice colorway, a simple shawl in garter stitch can look quite stunning and will be fast and easy to knit! So, don’t let that intimidate you.

Let’s dive right into it and show you everything you need to know about the most common shawl knitting patterns. And don’t forget to check out my latest shawl-pattern specifically designed for beginners and those who need to rely on written instructions.

Note: I earn a small commission for purchases made through links in this article.

Instructions: How to knit a shawl

someone showing how to knit a shawl

You only need to know two easy stitches to finish a simple triangular shawl pattern: the simple knit stitch and a yarn over. With those two, you can knit a beautiful triangular construction that is very easy to keep track of as you knit it bottom-up.

  • CO 3 st
  • WS: knit across
  • RS: K1, yo, knit across, yo, knit
Active Time 4 hours
Total Time 4 hours

Tools

  • Circular knitting needles with a long cord. I am using double-pointed needles for demonstration purposes only

Instructions

  1. Start by casting on three stitches with a longtail cast-on.

    starting to knit this shawl by casting on three stitches
  2. Turn around and knit across all three stitches (row 1 will be your wrong side).

    knitting across the return row
  3. Turn around and knit one stitch, yarn over, knit one stitch, yarn over, knit one stitch. (5 stitches)

    knitting, knit, yarn over, knit in the second row
  4. Turn around and knit across the wrong side. Consider placing a stitch marker so you can easily keep the two sides appart.

    knit across the return row
  5. Turn around again and knit one stitch, yarnover, and then knit across until you are one stitch before the edge, add another yarn over, knit one. (7 stitches)

    doing a knit, yarnover, knit across, yarn over, knit in the next row
  6. Repeat rows 4 and 5 over and over again until you've reached the desired length.

    continuing with these steps until the desired length of the shawl is reached
  7. Bind-off loosely by using a needle 1 or 2 sizes larger or pick the stretchy bind-off of your choice.

    bind-off the shawl loosely

Notes

For a neater edge, you can also introduce a selvage stitch. In this case, I would propose to knit the shawl like this:

  • CO 3 st
  • R1: Sl1p wyif, k2
  • R2: Sl1p wyif, yo, k1, yo, k1
  • WS: Sl1pwyif, knit across
  • RS: Sl1pwyif, k1, yo, knit across, yo, k1
  • ...etc

Also, feel free to exchange the yarn overs for any increase of your choice. Pick a kfb, or a backward loop increase, if you feel that's easier for you to knit or you prefer the look for that stitch. Be careful when picking an increase that makes use of a strand or stitch one row below (like M1R or KLL). This often constricts the fabric a bit and may not be what you want.

Now, this is only the most basic way to knit a triangular shawl. The pattern is super simple to follow and I feel the construction is very intuitive. Pick a nice knitting stitch pattern and it will look awesome.

starting the simple triangular shawl with a transition triangle to add a border

If you want to knit a border, you need to knit a transition triangle at the beginning like this:

  • CO 3 st
  • R1: k3
  • R2: k1, yo, k1, yo, k1
  • R3: k5
  • R4: k2, yo, k1, yo, k2
  • R5: k7
  • R6: k3, yo, k1, yo, k3
  • R7: k9
    Then transition to the repeat I showed you before but knit your border stitches before the yarn over.
  • R8: k3, yo, k3, yo, k3
  • R9: k11
  • R10: k3, yo, k5, yo, k5
  • ..etc

So first, you increase around a center stitch until you have enough stitches to accommodate your border stitches and the first row of the shawl pattern, and then you transition to increasing the center along that border. Naturally, you can use this to knit wider borders as well and/or add a selvage stitch of your choice. Just repeat in the manner of rows 6+7 a couple of more times.

This basic triangular shawl, however, doesn’t look all that good when knitting stripes or whenever you want to incorporate different knitting stitch patterns into one design. That’s why smart knitters, invented quite a couple of other ways to construct a shawl. Let me show you how

1. The basic top-down triangular shawl

a swatch with a basic triangular shawl knitted top down

For all those who love to knit stripes and shawls with different textures, this basic top-down shawl will be the gold standard. It’s super easy to knit, even though the construction is a little bit less intuitive. But once you’ve knitted 20 or so rows, you will see your shawl emerge and things will start to make sense.

someone knitting a basic top down triangular shawl

The basic idea is that you knit two triangles at the same time next to each other. The result will be a shawl where you gradually build up the final edge one row at a time.

Here’s the most basic repeat:

  • Co 3 stitches
  • Row 1 (WS): knit across
  • Row 2 (RS): k1, yo, k1, yo, k1 (5 st)
  • Row 3: knit across
  • Row 4: k1, yo, k1, yo, k1, yo, k1, yo, k1 (9 st)

From here, you can stick to the following repeat:

  • WS: knit across
  • RS: k1, yo, knit across until you are one stitch before the center, yo, k1, yo, knit across until you are one stitch before the edge, yo, k1
a top down triangle started with a garter stitch tab cast-on
The same pattern but started with a garter stitch tab cast-on to add a border against curling

Important: If you want to add a border or a selvage stitch, I recommend starting this construction with a garter stitch tab cast-on. Otherwise, you end up with a lump of fabric at the center.

2. Simple triangle shawl top-down

a simple top down shawl pattern shaped with decreases

The two ways to knit a shawl I showed you so far all relied on increases. But you can definitely also construct your fabric using decreases for a different look and feel but ultimately creating the exact same shape. In this case, you have to start at the outer edge and cast-on a lot of stitches. Here’s how:

  • CO an even number of stitches and as many stitches as you want your shawl to be wide. Make sure to pick a stretchy cast-on or cast on around 2-needles.
  • WS: k1, SSK, knit across in pattern, K2tog, k1
  • RS: knit across in pattern
  • Last row: SSK, K2tog

Decreases often look a little bit neater. On the negative side, it also means you set the final size of the shawl with your cast-on. If you knit bottom-up, you can basically continue until you feel your shawl is big/wide enough. You don’t have this advantage when knitting top-down. So, please keep that in mind!

3. Reverse bottom-up shawl

a reverse top down triangular shawl swatch

You can also invert the basic triangular shawl and knit it the other way round. In this case, you could use the centered double decrease for a very decorative central ridge. On top of that, you don’t need to start with a garter stitch tab cast-on either. Here’s how to knit it:

  • CO an odd number of stitches with the stretchy cast-on of your choice
  • WS: knit in pattern
  • RS: k1, SSK, knit in pattern until one stitch before the center, CDD, knit in pattern until 3 stitches before the edge, k2tog, k1
  • Last WS row: k1, k3tog, k1
  • Last RS row: k3tog

Note: If you use this pattern and introduce a border/selvage stitch (e.g. you start your rows like this sl1p wyib, k3, SSK,…), you will have to bind off the last few stitches for a neater transition and a straight edge.

4. Wingspan shawl

a simple wingspan shawl pattern in yellow yarn

If you want to knit a shawl that is a little bit more shoulder-hugging, then the wingspan shawl pattern can be a very beautiful alternative. It places 6 increases for every 2 rows. 4 on the right side and another 2 in every wrong side row. This is the repeat:

  • Co three st
  • R1: kfb, k1, kfb
  • R2: k2, yo, k1, yo, k2,
  • WS: k1, kfb, knit in pattern, kfb, k1
  • RS: k1, kfb, knit in pattern until 1 st before the center, yo, k1, yo, knit in pattern, kfb, k1

Instead of increasing the center with a (yo, k1, yo), you can also place the double-increase of your choice. At the edges, however, you need to use an increase that you can place in every row. So, things like M1R& M1L or KLL & KRL are not possible, while yarnovers may look a little bit too loose.

5. Asymmetrical shawl

an asymmetrial shawl pattern swatch

The asymmetrical shawl is perfect for those who love wrapping their shawl around the neck but don’t want to knit endless rows until there’s enough width to be able to do so. By knitting a shallower triangle and adding a slight curve, you can produce a very yarn-efficient and fast-to-knit design. Here’s the pattern:

  • CO 5 st
  • WS: knit in pattern
  • RS: k1, k2tog, knit across in pattern, KFBF, k1

As before, you may exchange the knit front, back, and front again with any other double increase of your choice. The basic idea is to combine it with a decrease to achieve a sloped edge – the rest is up to your creativity!

6. Five-point shawl

a swatch with a five-point shawl pattern

Another very shoulder-hugging construction is the so-called 5-point shawl. Sometimes also called crescent shawl. It’s another pattern that uses 6 (and sometimes even 8) increases per row but places them a little bit differently. The result will be a shawl that you can wear almost like a cardigan or poncho. This is how you knit it:

  • CO 5 st
  • R1: knit in pattern
  • R2: k1, [yo, k1, place a stitch marker] 3 times, k1
  • WS: knit in pattern
  • RS: knit in pattern up to 1 st before the first marker, yo, k1, slip marker, yo, knit to 1 st before the 2nd marker, yo, k1, sm, yo, knit to 1 st before the 3rd marker, yo, k1, sm, yo, knit in pattern until end of row.

This is another pattern that can greatly benefit from a garter stitch tab cast-on if you want to add a nice edge.

7. Half-circular or pi-shawl

a swatch with a half-pi shawl pattern

The pi-shawl might be the greatest unvention of Elizabeth Zimmerman. While pi might have given you troubles in school, it is actually a very easy thing to use for knitting once you realize: double the diameter means double the circumference.

So, if you double the stitch count every time you double your row count, you will knit a beautiful circle. Here’s how to use that knowledge for a half-circular shawl:

  • Co 5 st
  • R1: knit in pattern
  • R2: k1, *yo, k1* (7 st)
  • R3-5: knit in pattern
  • R6: k1, *yo, k1* (13 st)
  • R7-12: knit in pattern
  • R13: k1, *yo, k1* (25 st)
  • R14-25: knit in pattern
  • etc.

So, every 1, 3, 6, 12, 24, 48, 96,… rows you place a row where you increase every single stitch. Yarn overs are particularly effective here as they give your fabric additional room to breath.

This rule of thumb is a crutch and normally you would have to do very detailed calculations to knit a perfect half-circular. This construction, however, has the advantage that you end up with a lot of rows of plain knitting in between that you can fill with any pattern you desire.

8. Faroese shawl

a simple faroese shawl pattern construction

The Faroe Islands are a beautiful little archipelago in the North Atlanic Ocean associated with Denmark. They do have their very unique knitting tradition where shawls are featured prominently. Here’s a very basic take on their traditional designs:

  • Start with a garter stitch tab cast-on 2 st wide & 10 rows high
  • Knit across and pick up 5 stitches in the middle and 2 from the other edge.
  • RS: k1, yo, knit up to the start of the tab, yo, place a marker, knit to the end of the tab, place a marker, yo, knit across, yo, k1
  • WS: knit in pattern

The smart part about this design is that the garter tab creates a very shallow center portion that lets your shawl drape neatly around your shoulder. So, this kind of shawl is meant to be worn more like a shrug. They often add beautiful tassels and gradually widen the central tab for even more wearability.

Last notes on knitting a shawl

Now, I really want to highlight that the above list of patterns is meant as a basic blue-print. You can definitely follow the repeat to knit a beautiful shawl. At the same time, I urge you to make your own modifications. Add a nice selvage stitch, add a nice border, and the fill the central part with the design or knitting technique of your choice.

As a result, this post is more meant as an overview and a source of inspiration. I want you to understand the constructions and not so much make you repeat my patterns word for word.

The simple triangular shawl means 2 increases on the edges, while the more elaborate version places 2 on the edges and 2 in the center. Add 2 more increases on the edges in every wrong side row, and the result will be the wing span shawl. Change up the position of these 6 increases, and you will knit 5-point shawl, and so on.

So, with these last words, I wish you a lot of joy experimenting with yourself and knitting the shawl of your dreams! Many knitters find it very fun because it can be exactly as challenging or relaxing as you want it to be. How great is that?

Anyway, that’s how to knit a shawl. Comment below if you need any help or have any further questions

how to knit a shawl - a step-by-step tutorial for beginners preview picture

3 thoughts on “How to knit a shawl”

  1. Hi Norman! Thanks for such a comprehensive tutorial and the matching video is fantastic! I think I have spotted a small error for the five point shawl. On the last row, after the final stitch marker is slipped shouldn’t there be one more yarn over? I seem to be getting no growth on that outside panel.

    Reply
  2. Normal you are nothing short of totally awesome!!
    I have been racking my brain trying to work out how to knit a bottom up shawl from the lace edging. I have spent ages on the internet googling how to do this.
    I first saw your video on hacks for knitters yesterday and that was pretty special too, anyway, back to your shawl info here… thank you so much for your explanations on knitting stuff. You have the knack of being able to explain something in a clear manner which helps beginners without making us feel silly. 🙂

    Reply

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