Thursday 7 March 2013

Catherine Wheel Shawls

After my little foray into Catherine Wheel stitches with my Fantascot at the beginning of the year, I discovered I'd got a bit addicted to them and, in order to combat the setting-in of withdrawal symptoms, I thought I'd see if I could make a Catherine Wheel shawl as part of my Lent prayer shawl project.

I am pleased to say the experiment was rather successful and a happier Catherine-Wheeler than Mrs T would be hard to find. In fact, I've made two Catherine Wheel shawls. The first was a bit experimental and has a few odd quirks in it so I'm not sure whether it's good enough to give away, but the second is quirk-free and will shortly be on its way to the recipient I made it for.

The quirks are not so much to do with inaccuracies in following the pattern (although they could well be, knowing you, Mrs T!) as in my control-freak attempts to control how the variegated yarn played out. Instead of letting the yarn do its thing, I thought I could do better and force the wheels to correspond in terms of colour by cutting and reattaching the variegated yarn so that the colour pooled as I thought it should do. Bad idea. The making of my first Catherine Wheel shawl taught me I should not be so silly as to think I could play King Canute and turn back the waves of colour. Rather as with life, whatever my secret aspirations and assumptions, it's out of my control and learning to flow with that, rather than fight it, is rather important. But Mrs T is a self-confessed control freak and the lesson is hard learned! In yarn, as in life! Once I'd realised I was on a wild goose chase in trying to control which colours pooled with which and learned to flow with how it came out, it all fell into place. Ut lana varia, sic vita. Read, mark, learn and inwardly digest, Mrs T! I fear it will take me  a lifetime!

But all things considered, it was a joy to make. As was its sibling!

It wasn't enormously easy to find instructions for making Catherine Wheel crochet stitches, as I found when making the Fantascot, although there are several YouYube videos out there which you might want to cast an eye at, if you want to give it a go, but I like clearly written instructions that I can follow at my own pace and carry around with me in a hard copy and these were less easy to come by. Eventually I found a very clear pattern for a bag using the Catherine Wheel stitch pattern here at Manner's Crochet and Craft blog which I adapted and it's worked very well. The pattern is written in US terms and my notes are also in US terms. If you prefer using UK terms remember that single crochet means double, double means treble and half-double means half-treble throughout.

Both my shawls were made with Stylecraft Harlequin chunky 100% acrylic yarn, The first is in the colour-way Cerise / Turquoise and the second in the colour-way Flame / Forest. Both are beautifully evocative of the firework Catherine Wheel, in terms of the way the colours spark and change. To begin with, I was a bit disconcerted at the way the colour could suddenly change in the middle of a row, let alone within a pair of rows, but actually it rather works, I think. And it's a good metaphor for life itself - unpredictable, mixed and inclusive, in a rag-bag way, of the bright and joyous as well as the more muted and sombre.

A few initial notes that you might find helpful before you start Catherine Wheeling yourself, if you want to give it a go. (I would have done anyway!)

1 The Catherine Wheel pattern emerges over four rows and each of those four rows is slightly different at the beginning and the end so it's worth keeping a note on a piece of paper as to which row you are on.

2 Because the pattern repeats over four rows, I found it quite hard to do entirely from memory and it was very useful to have the written instructions always to hand.

3 For the pattern to work as it's meant to, it's important that the number of stitches in each section remains correct so it's important to count, count and keep counting, although once one has got the hang  of it, the counting becomes more or less second nature, even for a faulty counter like Mrs T. And if Mrs T, with her appalling arithmetical abilities can manage it, anyone can! If you find you are out in your count, I am afraid there is nothing for it but to frog back as soon as you realise or the pattern won't flow evenly.

4 The fabric the Catherine Wheel pattern makes is quite dense (and yarn hungry - the pattern would make a great stash-buster for those of you keen to diminish your yarn-mountains! - my shawls used ten and nine 100g skeins respectively) so bear this in mind when you are choosing your yarn and the length of your starting chain. My first Catherine Wheel shawl is quite heavy, possibly a bit too heavy, so I made the second slightly narrower so that the finished shawl was a bit lighter.

5 The sequence of stitches to make the pattern is (a multiple of 10) + 6 for the ends of the rows  so when you are making your starting chain you need to chain (a multiple of 10) + 6 for the ends of the rows + 1 for turning. My first Catherine Wheel shawl began with a starting chain of 77 giving me a total of 76 stitches and my second, slightly narrower, shawl began with a chain of 67 giving me 66 stitches.

6 It's easier to work the first foundational row of the pattern into a row of single crochet rather than the starting chain so I recommend doing a base row of single crochet before you start on the pattern proper. (Go into the second chain from the hook and remember to chain 1 when you finish the row and turn before you start Row 1 of the pattern proper.)

7 The bottom half of the Catherine Wheel stitch itself (which you form in Rows 2 and 4 of the pattern), is really just a series of half-completed double crochet stitches that are finished by putting the yarn over, one final time, and drawing through all the loops on the hook. I found it easiest to do this in two groups of four loops rather than pulling all eight loops off in one go.

8 Catherine Wheel stitches are addictive - you have been warned!

To make a shawl like one of mine, make a starting chain of 77 or 67 (depending on preference) using a larger hook size than the one you will be using for the main part of the shawl. I always do this when beginning blocks of crochet otherwise I find I always chain too tightly and get a curved rather than a straight bottom edge but if you find this isn't a problem with your tension, you may not need to use two sizes of hook. I used a 10mm hook for the chain and switched to a 7mm one for the rest of the shawl. 

I finished the shawls, when they were almost the requisite length of 60"/ 152 cm, by making one more Row 2 from the pattern and then added a row of hdc stitches to give a neat finish. You need to even out the stitches along the row so you end up with the same number you started out with but it's not too critical because it's the last row. I worked one hdc into each sc stitch, three into the first chain space of each wheel, one into the CW spoke and another into the centre and then two into the second chain space of each wheel which gave me the same number of stitches I started with and made a nice, neat, even edge into which to hook the fringe. You can see the final row in the pic below in the soft green colour.

I added a fringe by cutting 12" / 30 cm lengths of yarn. The number of lengths being twice the number of stitches to make the fringe in both ends. I simply folded each strand in half and pulled through each chain / stitch loop with a hook and secured with a simple slip knot. I then misted the fringe, which was slightly curly from being yarn at the end of the skein, with a light spray of water, gave it a light press through a cloth with a medium hot iron and trimmed it with scissors so that the lengths were all even and fall in a lovely silky waterfall from the shawl ends.

Have fun, if you decide to give it a whirl! The fabric the Catherine Wheel stitch makes, would be great not just for a shawl, but for a bag or a cushion cover or anything where you want a textured quite dense fabric. As well as being visually appealing, it's incredibly tactile which I love.

But remember, I did warn you, -

Catherine Wheeling is addictive!

 - just so as you know what you might be getting yourself into!


  1. I think difficulty in counting is probably the nail in my crochet coffin - I am not blessed with the capacity for accurate counting at all!
    Love the shawl in all its glorious colours.

  2. your shawls are truly amazing!! I also made some for lent for my nan and mum but mine are nothing like yours mine were just simple V shawls. I am however going to make one like yours and i so love all the yarn you have been using. You have a great eye for choosing colour and that's something I definately fall down on, so hope you don't mind I am going to make one in the same wool for myself. Ps I wish you would do a tutorial on how to do the fringe at the bottom it looks so lovely neat and even.
    love all your posts and come to visit often, just don't know how you get the time to make all these items.Very therapeutic though all this craft work don't you think?


  3. You make the most beautiful shawls. And the colors your chose are just so eye-catching. I love this C.W. stitch and will be adding this to my to do list. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Dear Thomasina
    The colours here are absolutely stunning - perfect for a grey, dull day. They have brightned up my outlook no end and I'm sure the lucky recipient/s will love them. Congratulations on another beautiful project.
    Best wishes

  5. That is incredibly pretty. The fringe is fantastic! Really think this kind of stitch is probably beyond my fledgling skills, and you have done well to persevere over such a project. Quirks schmirks. Life ain't nothing without a few quirks.

  6. I just found your blog and had a nice visit with my cup of coffee. Your prayer shawls are just beautiful. What an inspiring idea for Lent!
    Happy crocheting to you!

  7. These are STUNNING! The colors are so beautiful, and the stitch brings out the changes of color is a lovely way. Congratulations, Elizabeth!

  8. Esto es divino!!! todo a quedado hermoso, los colores el punto y el proyecto me enamore que abrigado ☺ besitos.

  9. Gorgeous! I love the rich jewel colours in the first picture, but I also like the softness of th second shawl too.....I bet the recipients of these will be bowled over!

  10. You have such a great eye. I love the spring colors. I started crocheting a hat last week, but ended up working on my knitting projects and putting the hat aside. I do need to pick it up soon.

    I've also been working on a hat design and am almost ready to post it on my blog. I'm a bit behind with posting as the math for the hat and the knitting has taken every spare moment. Looking forward to this summer's visit. . . .

  11. I like the firework effect of the different coloured yarn. I find the fact that US and UK use the same names to describe different stitches rather baffling; do Europeans have yet another set of terms?

  12. These are GORGEOUS! Love the colorway (I need to get my hands on some of this yarn!) and I love how you fringed the ends. So lovely!

  13. So gorgeous! I loved the first one, but the second one.....I'd love to see you model that one -- it is stunning! I'm like you, I almost always prefer written instructions. Having to watch a video makes me feel so impatient.

  14. Such beautiful colors. They make me smile. A lot.

  15. Absolutely beautiful. And the fringe really sets off both shawls - I like the way they are like perfect, rippling rainbow waves. Really beautiful, honestly.

    Gillian x

  16. The first thing that makes my heart beat a little faster is the gorgeous array of colours........I really did catch my breath, and the lovely fringing gives just the right finish to a beautiful shawl.
    Kim x

  17. Wow! So much delicious colour and texture. They're gorgeous :)

  18. Thank you all so very much for your kind comments about my Catherine Wheel shawls. I hope you too have fun with the Catherine Wheel stitch, if you give it a go. If you run into any hitches, please feel free to email me and I'll do my best to help! Not an expert but after making two of these shawls I have probably encountered most glitches along the way! E x

  19. Well, I am so glad I followed the yellow brick road to your blog! Your catherine wheel shawls are exquisite. Absolutely love the colours you used. I am completely inspired... lucky recipient i say x

  20. I missed this post somehow. These shawls are just beautiful. Your Lenten shawl idea is really lovely too, much more spiritual than giving up chocolate. You are a lovely lady. And your writing style continues to amuse me, thank you!

    Helen xx

  21. So glad I found your blog, even if I did get it wrong the first time! This shawl is amazing!! I love the Stylecraft yarn, I have enjoyed using their Special DK, so will have to give this one a try too. I must add this to my to do list, which gets longer by the minute ........ if only I didn't have to work! Not done Catherine Wheel stitch before, so another learning curve, so exciting! Rowen@Coastal Colours x


Thank you so much for taking the time to visit me at Mrs TT's and comment. I love to read what you write.