Thursday, 2 December 2010

When is a shawl not a shawl?

Traditional Shetland shawls

Traditional Shetland shawl

Contemporary Silk and Stainless Steel shawl, Habu yarns NYC

Contemporary shawl knitted and pin blocked by Linda Craik

Contemporary shawl knitted by Linda Craik

Contemporary shawl knitted by Linda Craik

Contemporary shawl knitted by Linda Craik

Unattributed, Swedish Wingspan shawl

Mixed media and technique by Las Lopez

Strip shawl by Las Lopez

Fringed shawl by Las Lopez

When is a shawl not a shawl? When it looks like this. . . .

I have been waiting for the weather to turn before posting about these. With this type of traditional accessory, context is everything to keep it current. Suddenly, shawls are not just practical to keep out snowy chills, cover the face in frosty breezes but covetable as the gift season arrives.

On the Shetland Isles of Scotland there is a wonderful tradition of knitting heirloom shawls for newborn babies that are so fine they can be passed through the mother's wedding ring (see top images). As a light weight, gossamer layer, these intricate, laceknit pieces are very insulating as the pure wool fibre and the hole patterened construction trap air to warm the baby or neck. Highly skilled, Shetland women passed pattern and technique down through the generations. After knitting, the shawls are stretched out (blocked) to allow the pattern to be shown to its full potential. The Isles tradition still thrives but these skills are being reinvented by young textile designers across the world.

In the depths of winter, it is inspiring to find that shawls now have a colour drenched, fresh face and currently created in new weights, textures, shades and finishes. Narnia inspired ? Useful in other seasons and contexts too? Yes . . . Kate Moss, Angelina Jolie and Madonna have all been photographed recently in shawls - the ultimate transitional season piece.

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