Sunday, February 25, 2007


If you have a low tolerance for ranting, feel free to tune back in tomorrow. I can't promise I'll be done by then though.

March 1 will mark the beginning of the Civil War shawl knit along. Let me begin by saying that I love knit alongs and that this is a very pretty shawl.

"Very pretty shawl," she said through gritted teeth.

"Nothing is wrong with this pretty, circular, lacy shawl or with anyone who joins the knit along," she said, tension rising.


This makes me absolutely crazy. Here's the basic problem: shawls during the civil war period were not circular, nor were they as lacy as this one is. Here are two images (culled from ebay over the years) of Civil War period women wearing knitted shawls:

I know two shawls don't prove anything, but hopefully you get the idea. I have looked at period pattern books, period images, and extant shawls from the period. The "Civil War Shawl" is simply not a Civil War shawl.

I know I risk sounding like a pedant, but I don't think the designer should call this project a "Civil War shawl." To me, a Civil War shawl should be of the style worn between 1861 and 1865. You know, the dates of the freaking Civil War!

Go ahead and call it "old-timey shawl," and just to prove I'm not a pedant, I'd even accept "victorian shawl." Even though Queen Victoria's reign was from 1837 to 1901, the term "victorian" has come to mean all kinds of things. Basically any shawl that is pretty and lacy, and has flowing folds of fabric could be considered "victorian" with a small "V."

Really, I'd be totally okay with "victorian shawl."

The reason, it seems, that the "Civil War shawl" got its name is that it was knitted for a friend of the designer, a friend who is a Civil War reenactor, and who I'm sure is a lovely woman who donates to charity and is kind to small children and kittens. But that doesn't make the finished object a Civil War shawl.

Let's do a survey, shall we? From the following four photographs, can you pick which ones are the reenactors and which ones are the real women who lived during the Civil War?

Choice A

Choice B

Choice C

Choice D

Two of these women are Civil War reenactors, but they look about as much like women from the Civil War as George Bush looks like a "real president." Or in other words, they look about as much like real Civil War women as the "Civil War Shawl" looks like a Civil War shawl.

Someone could easily spend countless hours in this KAL, only to find that she cannot wear the shawl as she thought. She can wear it to a wedding, or church, or even over her sweatpants, but she should never, ever wear this to a reenactment.

Not much I can do about it all, of course, except pass along this advice. If you are interested in making a Civil War shawl, find a pattern printed in a ladies' magazine like Godey's or Peterson's between 1861 and 1865 (or even several years earlier). Then knit it.

Oh, and don't even think of using acrylic.

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