By Jenn Watt
With their new book, Custom Shawls for the Curious and Creative Knitter, Kim McBrien Evans and Kate Atherley set out to create the guide they, as experienced and avid knitters, wanted to read – one that balanced technical advice with an infusion of creativity and colour.
McBrien Evans, who owns West Guilford-based hand-dyed yarn studio Indigodragonfly, said she had read plenty of publications about shawls, but hadn’t yet found one that helped knitters with how to modify designs.
“We’ve seen people write e-books about different kinds of shawl shapes and how to form them. We haven’t seen anything out there that shows you how to change those shapes, and how to shift them. … We talk about fabric and how knitted fabric is formed and how everything from the fibre in the yarn you choose, the structure of the yarn you choose, and how you did it – what stitch pattern, what gauge – how that affects the finished shawl and how it looks and how it feels to wear it. Nobody has written about that,” she said.
The idea of writing a book that included not only how to create a unique hand-knitted shawl, and also how to break the rules of making one, had been percolating with McBrien Evans for some time when she connected with her co-author Atherley about collaborating.
“I was having an online chat … with two other designers and one of the other designers started talking about what she thought her next book was going to be and it sounded really similar,” she said. “So the two of us decided to sit down and see what we had. And what we had was very similar, but the extra bits and pieces that Kate brought to the table and the extra bits and pieces that I brought to the table made this a book unlike any other that’s on the market.”
The book includes formulas for creating classic shawl shapes and tips on technical aspects such as increases/decreases, cast-on and bind-off methods, and blocking the work. It then takes that information and provides guidance on how to manipulate it into something novel.
“Kate teaches you how to make a shawl, and Kim teaches you how to make it your own, exactly the way you want it to look and feel,” a description of the book reads.
Shawls are one of the most popular pieces knitters create, McBrien Evans said, because the size can be more forgiving, gauge doesn’t need to be exact and “you’re going to end up with a piece of fabric that is some kind of shape you can wrap around your body.”
But there are techniques that knitters can employ to modify shawls to suit their needs, from changing the dimensions to picking the colours, which Custom Shawls for the Curious and Creative Knitter discusses.
McBrien Evans, whose yarn-dying business includes products with names like “Gorn with the Wind,” “Yamboree,” and “Patina Fey,” is a colour enthusiast and said selecting hues can cause some knitters consternation.
“So we’ve developed techniques for making that easier for them and all of those are in the book,” she said.
Also in the book is a shawl designed around a particularly flamboyant yarn chosen during a trade show trip the authors took together.
“I remember us being at this trade show and Kate grabbing my hand and pulling me over to this one booth and standing there like a five-year-old with one hand pointing at this yarn saying ‘I want this.’ And it was a gigantic skein of neon yellow, really bulky yarn,” she said.
They decided to build a palette in the book in order to use the yarn that had given Atherley such joy.
“It was just, the colour and the size of it, were just ridiculous, but we decided that if we were going to use that yarn in the book that the shawl had to be equally ridiculous and yet wearable. So she ended up knitting this very simple bright yellow triangle that we ended up throwing on a model with a shirt dress … and it was fantastic. It was exactly what Kate would wear,” she said.
Many of the shawls depicted in the book were knitted by the authors themselves, with some assistance to keep the workload manageable. After the photo shoot, they brought their own garments back home.
Because of the tight deadline for publication, McBrien Evans said she was spending four to five hours a day knitting in preparation.
“I felt like I was knitting constantly from the beginning of March until we were driving to the photoshoot [in September] near Boston and I was still knitting one of the shawls,” she laughs.
The cover image of their book ended up featuring one of McBrien Evans’s designs with yarn dyed at Indigodragonfly Studio.
Custom Shawls for the Curious and Creative Knitter can be ordered now with a September release date. You can order the book on the Indigodragonfly website and find information about launch events: https://indigodragonfly.ca/pages/new-custom-shawls-for-the-curious-and-creative-knitter-fall-2020. For local knitters, McBrien Evans will be showing the shawls from the book and hopes to have a copy of Custom Shawls for people to see at the Knit Circle held outside Rails End Gallery in Haliburton on Friday, Sept. 11 from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m., weather permitting. (The Rails End Gallery has a special page for this knitting group: https://railsendgallery.com/ola/services/knit-circle-on-the-patio.)
The book is $34.50 and curbside pickup can be arranged for local orders.