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Shawls have been worn by fashionable women for centuries and make a stylish complementary addition to winter and summer outfits. Find out more about womens shawls in this brief guide:
A shawl is the name given to a piece of fabric that is specifically designed to be wrapped around the top half of the body, with no fastenings or sleeves. Shawls have been worn by women for millennia as protection from the cold and as a form of adornment.
Machine-made shawls are usually much cheaper than handmade shawls as they are mass-produced and often made of inexpensive fabrics. To the casual observer, the differences may be negligible, but the fabrics used to make a machine-made shawl may be inferior, and the details of the shawl may be less ornate that a hand-woven version. The main two varieties of machine-made shawls are machine-woven and machine-knitted.
Machine woven shawls result in a stitch that is extremely tight, weaving many strands closely together to form a fine fabric with barely any visible gaps between the threads. The threads used are also much finer and more delicate than the threads used for machine knitted shawls. The result is a shawl that is light, silky and airy- perfect for a summertime cover-up.
Machine-knitted shawls use a single thread to knit the entire garment via the knitting process- a complex sequence of loops and knots. This is very similar to hand-knitting, although the end result is much finer than hand-knitting, but they are often less individual, complex and unembellished than hand-knitted shawls.
Handmade shawls take a long time to produce because of the laborious method of manufacturing the item from start to finish. A handmade shawl is often a work of art, made from the highest quality fibres, such as angora and alpaca, and made from techniques that have evolved over centuries. Such items are imbued with history and culture and often command a high price when sold in boutiques.
Hand-woven shawls are perhaps the most unusual type of shawl. They are often made with a comparatively simple pattern, but may feature highly attractive embellishments, such as fringes and beading.
Hand-knitted shawls are often soft and fine compared to machine-knitted shawls. This is because high quality wools are much easier and pleasanter to work with than coarser stuff, as well as resulting in a superior product.
This is the synthetic fibre that is most commonly used in machine made shawls. It is cheap to produce, and makes thick fibres, ideal for creating chunky knits. It is ideal if you want a bulky shawl as a fashion item, but acrylic is a poor insulator, so not so good if you need a shawl to keep warm!
There are many grades of cotton used for shawls, from cotton that feels like linen to the highest quality Pima linen that resembles silk. Ideal for lightweight summery shawls.
These are natural fibres produced from the wool of various animals, such as goats. They are very expensive compared to other fibres, but this is because of their qualities; they are excellent at insulating, incredibly soft to the touch, and strong and supple. These fibres are used in luxury shawls, such as Pashminas, which can command incredibly high prices.
Fringes and tassels are a popular way of embellishing shawls and are often featured in traditional Irish and Spanish shawls. Shawls with fringes should be handled with extra care, to avoid damaging the fringe, especially during washing- hand washing with care is usually recommended.
Beads and sequins are frequently used to make shawls look attractive. They can be woven into the body of the shawl, or individually added on to the finished garment, although they are likely to be lost over time.