Pi to the Fourth Power

My fourth Pi shawl is done, I’m pleased to report, and it even made it just under the wire for Pi Day on Saturday. I cast off around lunchtime and laid it out for blocking that afternoon, and I am well pleased.

(It is also, I should mention, challenging to take full photos of a circular shawl without assistance, so in addition to these I may point out past Pi Shawl posts here and here)

March16-PiShawl5

Having done a few of these, I get a lot of Pi Shawl questions. I thought I would go ahead and answer a few of them in a kind of Pi Shawl FAQ, if you will:

How long does it take to knit a Pi Shawl?

For me personally, it’s taken me between 3 months (this one) and 11 months (last one). I liked having the Pi Day deadline for this because I think it made me work on it a little more regularly than I have for the other Pi Shawls that I’ve done. I’ve done each one with the same yarnover pattern on every 6th round (this is a variation suggested in the Knitter’s Almanac pattern directions), which makes it repetitive enough that it’s really easy to put down and pick up whenever you feel like it without worrying where you are in the pattern. This means that I tend to keep the Pi Shawl on ice for when I need a movie theatre project or a for-when-I’m-waiting-around-somewhere project, and I don’t dedicate myself to it like I usually do for a sweater or other accessories.

At the same time, though, most of the other gals in my group at Rhinebeck this past October also bought yarn to make Pi Shawls, and at least two of them were finished a month later, so clearly your mileage may vary. This is a very versatile project, and pretty easy for a variety of skill levels – no seriously, it is. To me the challenging part of it is just the sheer yardage and commitment involved. Other than that, if you can knit in the round and know how to do yarnovers (or are cool with learing how), you are really really good to go on this.

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Where do I get the pattern?

This is the ‘July shawl’ pattern in Knitter’s Almanac by Elizabeth Zimmerman. If you’ve never encountered Elizabeth Zimmerman’s knitting patterns before, allow me to give them a big recommendation. Much of her patterns and writing in general pre-date knitting blogs by a few decades, and are written not so much as ironclad instructions but as guidelines that can be altered or adapted depending on the yarn weight you’re using. She’ll remind you to pay attention to gauge, to make swatches, and to decide how you want your fit and size to be, and then give you principles to work with. She has confidence in your knitting brain and in your ability to use it. She’s great. Sometimes I will re-read parts of her books before bed just for fun.

The Knitter’s Almanac is written as twelve chapters each for a month of the year, and a pattern for each month. If you had the mind, you could start with the month you’re at and just knit your way through the whole book. I confess the ‘July shawl’ is the only one I’ve done yet, but i have taken a long look at the knitted pants (long underwear ish) in September during more than one cold winter, and there are some nice mittens in there too.

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How much yarn do you need to knit a Pi Shawl?

Well, it’ll vary based on what kind of yarn you’re using, naturally, but the recommendation is for 3-4 4oz skeins of whatever weight you’re using. For each of the 3 fingering weight ones I’ve knitted, I’ve used between 325g and 375g of yarn. The first one I did was laceweight, but I like the fingering weight (or ‘sock yarn’ weight) as a nice light option that is a little more sturdy. I think more and more that my next Pi ‘Shawl’ will actually be a blanket, since a warm wooly circle would be great for the reading nook, and a bit faster than fingering weight. Naturally, your finished size also influences the yardage, so buy an extra skein if you are nervous.

How do I know how big to make it?

The shawl is constructed from the centre outwards, and then you complete it by working a knitted-on border (rather than binding off from the finished edge). So, it’s hard to visualize the complete size of the shawl while you’re knitting it. What I tend to do is hold the centre of the shawl in one hand and the working edge in the other, and when that length is about as long as half my wingspan (from my chin to wrist, more or less), then I stop and work the border. I’m 5’9″ so my shawl is going to be bigger than someone shorter than me, but it also will fit me proportionally which is what you want. Mind you, for a blanket I might just keep knitting it as long as I feel like it if I want it to be cozy.

But how do you wear a Pi Shawl?

I wore one of my other Pi Shawls last October at Rhinebeck, bundled all around my neck and shoulders, since it was a cooler weekend than originally forecast. I can’t tell you how many people stopped and asked me what pattern it was, it was awesome. The other fun part was how many people thought it was some kind of cowl or modern wrap, and then I got to pull it off and reveal that it was in fact a big circle – really this got to be pretty neat. Not bad uptake at all for a pattern that’s four decades old.

This was also neat because I can’t tell you how many people take one look at the Pi Shawl as a big circular shawl and ask “but how would you ever wear that without looking like frumpy and weird?” (I may be paraphrasing a bit there) And the answer dear knitter friends is that you just wear it. Make it in a colour you like that you know you will want to reach for as an accessory, and then wear it however it pleases you to do so: Folded in half over your shoulders; wrapped around your neck like a big muffler; draped whole as a single elegant layer over a fancy dress; a-symmetrically over one shoulder; pinned with a shawl pin. Or, depending on what kind of yarn you’re using, it could turn into a veil (laceweight, with some fun charted lace patterns used in the different sections perhaps?) or a lap blanket (break out the worsted weight wool).

I like browsing the finished Pi Shawl projects on Ravelry every so often, because everyone who does manage to get a “wearing it” shot always looks so happy with it. Finishing one of these is good for the soul.

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There you have it, knitter friends, possibly a lot more about Pi Shawls than you wanted to know, but they are pretty darned neat and it’s hard to resist evangelizing about them just a little. I’ll take a pause before my next Pi thingie (really thinking hard about the blanket option next), but ahhh there will be a next one for sure.

Happy knitting this fine Monday!

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Pattern: Pi Shawl (“July shawl”, instructions with many variations in Knitter’s Almanac by Elizabeth Zimmerman)
Yarn: Miss Babs Kathadin, colourway ‘holy moly’
Needles: 4.5mm/US #7 circulars

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27 comments

  1. Linda A · ·

    Interesting post, Glenna. I have never understood the concept of buying yarn by weight instead of yardage. Yardage just seems to make more sense to me since weights vary by types of yarn. Clearly, I’m missing something. Would like to get my head around this. Another post maybe to clear the cobwebs?
    Love the color of this Pi. Amazing how much knitting you accomplish. Keep it coming. Love your posts.

  2. I just love your Pi Shawl–I am definitely making myself one…
    what size needles did you use for fingering weight?? Larger than usual or no?? Thanks…hugs, Julierose

  3. Karen E · ·

    I am in.just ordered a hardcover copy of the book.I love the idea of an ongoing “mindless” project. Would have preferred to cast on on Pi day, but now have time to ponder the yarn…….

  4. 379christy · ·

    Thanks for sharing your Fourth Pi. I am inspired to pick up the yarn I was using for my first attempt and try again. I actually got bored with the solid knitting and then became aware that I would not have enough yarn anyway. I will try some sock yarn I have and a little more complicated lace pattern to keep my interest.

    Christy

  5. That looks stunning! The colour is absolutely lovely. I just finished my first pi shawl in time for Pi day as well! It was a gift, so now I’m finding myself wanting to knit one for myself…

  6. I read “Knitter’s Almanac” more or less as a novel a few years ago but never thought I would make a “Pi” until I came across your stunning creations on your blog.
    And by the way, knitting at the movies? Impressive!

  7. That looks amazing

  8. Thanks for the helpful and inspiring post! And that color is stunning. 🙂

  9. What a stunner of a piece. Wear it in good health.

  10. i saw Donna Druchunas with several of her Pi shawls at History Unwound this weekend. She showed me another way to wear a Pi: turn back the top third of the circle, which looks kind of like a collar, and then drape on your shoulders. Looks great. Your Pi is very lovely, and it looks like very tempting mindless knitting!

  11. Genia P · ·

    Wow. Gorgeous!

  12. Lauraline · ·

    Awesome! Every time you post one of your Pi shawl I want ti knit one. Last time I purchased the book (I love the book, just reading it is worth it!), now I might actually cast on.

  13. Reblogged this on two girls walkin' and commented:
    We celebrated Pi Day by buying an enormous Cherry Pie at Costco. Peter ate most of it. I am not a huge pie fan. I am, however, going to knit a Pi Shawl for next Pi Day. I already have spun the yarn and chosen my patterns so this is just the goal I need to get started and aim for completion. Thank you, Glenna C. Oh, and any reminder of the Great Elizabeth Zimmerman is all right by me, too.

  14. Darn you for posting that 1st photo! 🙂 I guess it’s the way the light is hitting it, but it looks like the YO’s are beaded. And now, that’s all I can think about…. a beaded Pi shawl. And currently, I’ve just begun the, “OMG, I’ll be dead from old age before I finish this row” stage of my current pi. Aack! A beaded pi is all I can think about… It would be awfully heavy though… So maybe just beads on that last YO row. Ahhh…. A reason to knit on & something to look forward to. Thank you!

  15. This came out beautifully! I love the color. You definitely should go for the worsted weight blanket, it will be a dream on a chilly evening. 🙂

  16. I just finished my first Pi Shawl (http://ravel.me/juliacarlis/7yc1) and now this is making me want to knit another!

  17. Like Linda A i get confused by weights and more confident with yardage.
    I have been thinking recently about knitting a Pi shawl but….I wonder how to block it! can you help?
    Thank you for your post and blog, I discovered it recently and love it !

  18. I started my first pi shawl for pie day and only about 5 days in I’m up to the second last section. I’m making a lace pi – one of the special 100 anniversary ones – Camping… It’s incredibly addictive.

  19. lesfisch2010@gmail.com · ·

    Congratulations on finishing your Pi shawl by Pi Day. Were your ears burning? I mentioned you more than once at History Unwound, and your challenge (and your over-achieving friends!!!). Anyhow, I have now cast on a fancier Pi shawl by Donna Druchanas…and we will see how long it takes me (I am still knitting on my first one…) ;-D

  20. Kristi Petersen · ·

    Every time you mention one of your Pi shawls, I feel the need to make one, and have even bought the EZ book so i can get started. Well, I have officially purchased all the ingredients to make the Shipwreck Shawl, which I have come across a few times in the past, but didn’t realize until yesterday that it is yet another version of the Pi shawl. Yikes! Incorporating 5,000 beads sounds like a daunting task, but I’m going to believe it will be worth it! Thanks for the inspiration! All of your projects are so beautiful!

  21. […] with roving -a beautiful mess pi shawl knitting tips -knitting to stay sane circle centered granny squares -vicki brown designs crochet baby bunny […]

  22. That’s so pretty! 🙂

  23. Reblogged this on and commented:
    Looking at Glenna’s Pi Shawl makes me want to cast one on myself!

  24. Thank you for this post! It’s so inspirational. I’ve never wanted to knit a pi shawl until now…I even went over to ravelry and looked at your others (all gorgeous of course!)

  25. Thanks so much for this post. I love your blog and patterns. You are an amazing knitter. A Pi Shawl is my next project. PS. I’m at the New York Sheep and Wool to. Love it!! Its the only show I do all year.

  26. […] or just in case I have unexpected time and don’t want to sit idle. Plain ribbed socks and Pi Shawls have been my go-to projects for knitting at the movie theatre. (You don’t have to knit at the […]

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