Exploring an Uncharted Shape: A Crescent Shawl Recipe

By popular demand, Martha shares her choose-your-own-adventure method for knitting her crescent shawl.

Martha Owen Aug 10, 2022 - 10 min read

Exploring an Uncharted Shape: A Crescent Shawl Recipe Primary Image

Martha modeling her circular shaped shawl before it heads to the dyepot. Photo by David Liden

The Crescent Shawl shawl pictured in Spin Off Spring 2022 was knitted using handspun of different origins, textures, and colors. My article was all about dyeing knitted shawls to illustrate the gifts of piece dyeing—the process of dyeing a textile after the work is done. Some have kindly asked for a pattern!

For today, I'll show you how to create an uncharted shape from your own imagination of colorful comfort. Sample this recipe; it's one to be tried, tested, and remade until it is just right! When you get started, tell yourself, "This is the first in a series—I've got this! Martha is going to help!"


Handspun or special yarns 2–8 oz depending on size; use cobweb, fingering, or sport weight.
Needles bigger than what you would use for stockinette fabric on your yarn; we want a netting look; 2 straight, and one 24"–36" circular of matching size.
Notions Markers; tapestry needle

Special Stitches

YO Selvedge At the start of a row, put the needle under the working yarn before knitting the first stitch. This creates a YO at the beginning of the row—inc 1 st.
Method: Ahem! Here we go! Try this unusual uncomplicated edging:
CO 3 sts, turn.
Edging row 1 Knit.
Edging row 2 Yo, k to end—1 st inc'd.
Mark the start of the plain knit rows.
Rep rows 1 and 2 until you have 10 sts on the needle.
BO7, k2—3 sts rem.
Yo, k3.
Repeat from Edging row 1.
The important feature of edging is the YO edge loop.
Continue until you have 19 wedges, about 2½ yd long. BO 9 (all sts), do not break yarn.


Use the circular needle to pick up stitches along the edge of the wedges. Photos courtesy of author unless otherwise noted

Start Body

The edging has a big loop on one side and a point that forms when you bind off part of a row. Turn so that the straight/loopy edge faces up. This loop gives us a place for picking up stitches and provides the correct proportions for the main body of the shawl.

Using your long circular needle, pick up and knit into the loops along the straight edge of the border. Stay in garter or you can do a design innovation for a few inches: change to a textured stitch, change colors, or try a simple openwork repeat such as k5, *k2tog, yo, k5, repeat from * across, k5. Work the pattern of your choice for a few inches.

Choose the public side and mark your shawl with a locking stitch marker or scrap yarn. This is the side of your “doing something” rows. Continue knitting until 6"–7" from picked-up stitches. Count and write down the total number of stitches. An even number is handy.

Measure from where stitches were picked up for the body.

Set up for shaping

K5, clip/tie a marker around the needle, add another at the center, and then mark a gusset area. Place markers 10 stitches before the center and another 10 after the center, and lastly, place a marker 5 stitches before the end.

Begin shaping

Dec row (RS, the "do something" row) K5, slip marker (sl m), k2tog, work to 2 sts before gusset m, k2tog, sl m, work to center, sl m, work to second gusset m, sl m, k2tog, work to 2 sts before marker, k2tog, sl m, k to end—4 sts dec’d.

Next Row (WS) Knit to end. As you go along think this: “Okay, 4 decreases per row and knit back. Got it.” After alternating these rows a few times, move the decreases geographically. For the next dec rows, k2tog somewhere after the first k5 and somewhere before the first gusset marker, not exactly where you did it last time, and again, near the other 2 decreases (not inside the center gusset area yet)—4 sts dec'd. Continue to work WS rows even.

There are other secrets to be unveiled to get the crescent shape. The gusset/middle section will be a trapezoid, meaning, smaller at the neck and wider at the bottom.

More shaping

Gusset Shaping At 9" from the picked-up sts, do your first gusset decrease. On RS rows, work 2 additional dec in the center section, once on either side of the center marker—6 sts dec'd.


Add Dramatic Wing Decreases to Gusset Decrease At 10", include these: k5, sl m, k2tog, *k3, k2tog, rep from * to the first gusset marker, do two extra gusset decreases, on either side of very center, sl m, *k3, k2tog, k3, k2 tog, etc. until 7 sts rem, k2tog, sl m, k5. NOTE: Work a mirror image idea on this row. Note how many extras there are before the first gusset marker and knit the same number after the second gusset marker and then begin the k3, k2tog again. Make things fit.

Continue your rhythm, doing 4 dec per RS row.

Add Second Dramatic Wing Decreases to Gusset Decrease
At 11" begin drama again: *k2, k2tog, rep from * as best as you can fit in, plus 2 extra gusset decreases near the center. At 12" work 2 more gusset dec. This is the unique shaping which is hard to fathom until you have tried it. Since we moved the location of the decreases, we get a rounded crescent shape.

The body is now finished but the edging continues using short rows.

Set Up K5, rem m, k1 (from the body of the shawl), turn. K2tog, k4, turn. *K6, turn. K2tog, k4, turn.*

Rep the short rows from * until you see the other edging marker. Rem m and STOP knitting. Slip the 5 sts from the body of the shawl onto a double pointed needle. Do the same with the 5 edging sts. Break yarn leaving a 10" tail. The tail will be attached on the outside/right side of the shawl edging.

A Skill Building Finish: GARTER Kitchener St Thread the tail onto your yarn needle. Our goal is to use a big-eyed sewing needle to create the garter fabric. Arrange stitches so five face five. Garter Kitchener—see

Working the garter edging of the shawl


Sew in ends, wash gently, and pin out while still damp. Leave until dry. This finishing step is what makes a shawl look like a shawl and not a wadded-up hankie. If you knit with wool, the shawl will maintain its pinned-out shape when dry. Pin it out every time you wash it, and when you do, you can make adjustments to the shap each time—another wooly gift! Put on your shawl and smile.

For me—with my own handspun, needles, and ideas—the flow very often takes over and I don’t really, really remember exactly what I did!

Try to understand that your dramatic decreases and gusset decreases are adaptable to each length of shawl you create. Your edging and length are variable, so to get the trapezoid and crescent wing shaping we do in our recipe, you might need to adjust the number of decreases and the number of rows that occur between them. You made a change that didn't come out right? Okay, start again, but if possible, don't rip out the previous attempt right away. This will guide your next shawl, and you can re-use the yarn later.

The idea and backstory for my pieces starts with adventure; following knitwear to lonesome places, being inspired by cultural examples of spinning for knitting, and learning about people who need sheep for daily survival. I started refining this crescent shawl shape by making a traditional Faroese/Icelandic shawl with a Shetland shawl twist. Traditional construction uses garter stitch and does not have a sculpted surface. There are 4 regular decreases per row when it starts decreasing. There are also other dramatic decreases and give it a “winged” shape.

The shawl sits neatly on the shoulders and functions as a head or shoulder or baby wrap. After a lot of experiments (all of which could be worn, mind you), I continue adapting the crescent. This is my idea of having fun!

Martha Owen is a resident artist in spinning, knitting, feltmaking, dyeing, and surface design at the John C. Campbell Folk School ( in Brasstown, North Carolina. Her adventure in spinning and natural dyeing began at this very school in 1978. Since 1980, her extended family has included sheep, Angora rabbits, Great Pyrenees, and border collies. Also a banjo player and known to tell a story or two, Martha’s interests in sheep, wool, music, and dance have carried her literally and joyfully around the world. Her children say she is a wool nerd, but her sheep say she is outstanding in her field! Find her on social media @marthaowenwoolens.