Stitching Handmade Shawls from Granny Circles

Fabric puffs or "granny circles" are the basic building block the author settled on in this design for her handmade shawls.

| September/October 1980

065 handmade shawl - wearing shawl2

A closer view of one of my handmade shawls, which will top off almost any outfit!


You've probably heard the old adage, "Necessity is the mother of invention"? Well, that cliché certainly holds true in my case! I like to design and sew my own clothes, you see, but I've always had trouble buying coats or sweaters that look right when worn over a variety of skirt and dress lengths. After experiencing the continual frustration of taking up and letting down the hems of my homemade wraps, I was about ready to give up on finding an appropriate "top layer" for my pioneer-style wardrobe ... and then I "discovered" the "granny circle" shawl.

Most of you have, I'm sure, seen examples of traditional granny circle bedspreads made of contrasting rounds of fabric ... all of which are puffed and joined together to form an attractive coverlet. Well, I simply adapted the 200-year-old pattern used to craft those quilts and produced a "new-fashioned" garment that's perfect to wear with dresses, long skirts, or even jeans. My handmade shawl is amazingly easy to assemble ... and it probably won't cost you a single penny to make!

You can, for instance, likely collect free material from your neighbors and kinfolk ... or perhaps dig into your own closets and drawers for outgrown clothing. Your sewing friends might be able to pass along some scraps, too. (In fact, just a little scavenging will probably bring you enough material to make several shawls.) Try to find fabrics in a wide range of textures and patterns ... since the more variety a handmade garment has, the more authentic it will look (our grandmothers took special pride in using no two circles alike). Any light- to medium- weight cotton blend—or woven synthetic—will work fine. (You should, however, avoid heavy polyester, since it doesn't pucker well enough to produce a good circle)

Once you've assembled your material, remove all the zippers, buttons, or other trim and save them for future needs. Then—using a seam ripper or a single-edged razor blade—take each garment apart and iron the separate pieces until they're flat and wrinkle-free.

Cut From a Pattern

Before you actually begin to make the granny circles, you'll need to cut some cardboard models for them. Simply use a compass to draw several four-inch-diameter circles on a sheet of heavy cardboard, and cut the shapes out.

Next, layer four or five pieces of cloth on a flat surface and position one round pattern on top of the stack. (You may want to secure the disk in place with a pin.) Cut around the edge of the cardboard, being careful not to let the layers of cloth slip. (If you find it difficult to produce perfect fabric circles using this technique, you might prefer, instead, to trace around your pattern with a pencil or tailor's chalk and then cut the material on the line.)

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