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The Chameleon Shawl

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Melvenea Hodges Apr 20, 2020 - 8 min read

The Chameleon Shawl Primary Image

Laceweight Chameleon Shawl. Photo by George Boe

Handspun cotton can be used to create cloth with a cool, silky drape or a project that is as warm and luxurious as cashmere. However, spinners often shy away from using handspun cotton for knitting. They may say that it doesn’t have the loft and elasticity of wool or that it is hard to spin into a consistent yarn.

As with all fibers, these challenges can be managed with practice and skill. My best advice is to experiment by spinning many different types of cotton on many spindles and wheels. Creating the best cotton yarn for knitting is a creative spinning challenge. As you become comfortable with cotton, you’ll discover its strengths and weaknesses as well as your preferences.

The Chameleon Shawl can be adjusted to suit different yarns and gauges, making it a perfect project to pair with your handspun cotton explorations. The pattern is designed as a formula that allows you to use your senses and intuition to guide shawl construction. I call it a “chameleon” because it can adapt to whatever cotton yarn you spin. Add as many visual changes as you want by changing yarn colors or stitch-pattern intervals.


The laceweight version makes a stylish spring wrap. Photo by George Boe

Spinning Notes

For a laceweight shawl, spin about 3 ounces or 700 yards total; for fingering weight, spin about 4 ounces or 400 to 500 yards; and for a worsted weight shawl, spin about 10 ounces or 200 to 400 yards. This is not a hard-and-fast rule. You can knit this shawl large enough to wrap yourself into it like a cocoon or small enough to tie comfortably around your head or neck as a dainty kerchief. I like a nice versatile size of about 27 inches deep in the center with 6 feet across the top edge. You can spin and knit a chunky shawl or make it fine enough to slip through a wedding ring. You can use one color of fiber or mix and match as you please.

There are a number of ways to spin cotton, but I usually use a supported long draw whether I am using a wheel, supported spindle, or drop spindle. Long draw can be used to create lofty yarns, but the fiber needs to be well prepared so it drafts freely. Choose a fast ratio on your wheel or a spindle made for speed; you’ll need to accumulate twist quickly. Draw your fiber out, stretching your fiber-supply hand away from the spindle or wheel. Once you have an arm’s length of soft singles yarn, hold it for a few seconds as twist continues to accumulate and strengthens the yarn. Gently tug the fiber to help coax out any slubs.

To learn more about spinning cotton for knitting, read “Spinning Cotton for Knitting: Advice from a Cotton Lover” by Melvenea Hodges in Spin Off, Spring 2020. —Editor


Fiber 3 (10) oz cotton.
Yarn 2-ply; 700 (400) yd; 22 (12) wpi; laceweight (worsted weight).
Needles Laceweight: Size 4 (3.5 mm): 32" circular (cir). Worsted weight: Size 11 (8 mm): 32" circular (cir). Adjust needle size if necessary to obtain the correct gauge.
Notions Markers (m); removable m; laceweight: size F/5 (3.75 mm) crochet hook; worsted weight: size L/11 (8 mm) crochet hook; tapestry needle; optional shell beads and sewing thread.

Gauge 21 (11) sts and 32 (19) rows = 4" in St st.
Finished Size 55 (63)" wide and 25 (26)" tall.

Visit for terms you don’t know.


  • This triangular shawl is worked from the center neck down and outward to the points.
  • Instructions are written for a laceweight shawl with changes for the worsted-weight version in parentheses.
  • The shawl can be made larger or smaller by working more or fewer repeats of the garter eyelet and stockinette sections.
  • A circular needle is used to accommodate the large number of stitches.

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