Skip to main content

Making My First Shawl Using Excel

I have always been drawn in by pretty shawl patterns, particularly with the gorgeous designs being released all the time. I decided to have a go at writing my own which would be light weight and using basic stitches to making it a more mindless task than the more elaborate designs. 

The pattern took a lot of time to complete, as I was learning a lot at the same time as writing it. I would focus on it for a few weeks, make some good progress, then put it off a couple months. 

This made the shawl sit in an interesting place in my mind as it developed through some strange times, starting to realise I was unwell, moving apartments, the bushfires starting in Australia, my brother getting married. Such a jumble of emotions and stories woven into this pattern.

(10 minute read)

It was so lovely to then wear to my brother's wedding, even though it was late Spring by then and fires raging all around. 

Photo of a white woman (Sarah) standing on a grassy space with trees, wearing a purple dress and a purple and pink crochet shawl.
Shawl's first outing

This process started around May 2019, at which point I was teaching myself filet design. I've always thrown myself in the deep end so why not write a pattern using a new technique? I also wanted this to start from the point and work up, which gave me the flexibility of size since I wasn't sure what yarn I would use on the final design. 

I started with deciding on the number of increases for the rows to grow correctly and learning to create shapes by creating gaps. 

Combining these trials with the newly learned filet designs was important, so I didn't settle on a base pattern that didn't work with the diagrams.

Work in progress crochet triangle shawl in purple acrylic yarn, with the ball of yarn above with label "Marvel soft 8 ply". The crochet hook attach at the top of the triangle of crochet.
Learning filet / lacy designs

I drew from several sources for motifs to include. I liked the idea of a diagonal grid growing with the shawl. Dragonflies and flowers were popular from the Call the Midwife blanket and similar, but I wanted to add more. 

I trawled many free patterns and ended up writing the butterfly design myself. The flowers were loosely based on the diamond grids in a CAL from ACC group, however I did adjust some counts and positions to suite the yarn and hook I was using. 

I started with using yarn from my stash and tested out how the shapes will work together. Marvel Soft 8ply was a staple as it was easy to work with and at the time was regularly available from Spotlight, but is now discontinued. 

Work in progress crochet triangle shawl in purple acrylic yarn, with the ball of yarn above with label "Marvel soft 8 ply". The crochet hook attach at the top of the triangle of crochet.
Drafting ideas of patterns

Once I had tested and confirmed each motif, I was ready to start the first draft shawl for real. By the time I started, I was surprised the yarn was still workable from being undone so many times. 

The initial drafts had planned every square to have a design, but it was fast becoming too busy. Instead starting to a checker design with the motifs in rows. I really liked this, but it still felt a bit sparse yet repetitive.

I continued through until I had run out of purple, then moved on to beige as it complimented it nicely. 

An angle photo of crochet purple shawl laid flat on carpet, the shawl has flower and butterfly motifs in a grid pattern.
Big progress testing how the patterns interact

At this point we were getting into Winter and working on finishing this was becoming easier. There's something about working on a blanket or shawl when it's cold, having it warm you as you work along the row. 

Though that lift and flip can certainly make for chilly moment!

As the beige came to an end, I was still determined to stay with my stash, and found a lighter version of it for the border. This didn't make it into the final design, but I love how picot look on this one off!

Crochet purple and beige shawl on a lap with a hand holding the top of it and a crochet hook. There is a motif of a dragon fly in the pattern with a grid pattern surrounding.
Shawls are great winter projects

With the first draft complete, I was really happy with the ideas of this pattern coming together. 

Leaving some squares without a motif allowed the shapes to stand out more. This wasn't the final design, but for this yarn and as a trial run I loved it. 

This would later become a gift for my mum, mock ups are still made with love even if they can be improved upon next time. 

A finished crochet shawl in purple and beige with a cream border. The shawl has a pattern of a grid with butterfly, flowers and dragonfly motifs in the grid.
First shawl draft

This was when I left the pattern for a couple months to work on other patterns and tutorials. Then picked it up again, not wanting to forget it all and have to start again. 

I started working through writing the pattern out as a full. Until this point I was referencing each of the smaller design patterns as I worked through, never writing out the complete line pattern.

This was fine for the first section of the pattern, but once I was four squares along it was very difficult to keep track of what row of squares I was up to, and where each design sat in the row. 

I had a notebook I doodled the grid onto and colour coded ideas of the layout. This helped me picture how they would line up together - making sure to space out the larger holed motifs. 

I started typing out the pattern as I normally would; but started losing track of counts and making mistakes of counts. 

I was at work one day when inspiration struck: what if I made a spreadsheet?

I use V-Lookups for validating data, and concatenate for building queries when it’s lots of simple rows. So I took these principles and started planning out the design. Changing the written pattern of each smaller design to fit in a cell per line. Having another grid with mapped the way the smaller squares would fit together. Before finally building a fairly manual table to look up between both lists to make the full design.

Concatenate the list together and I had the pattern continuing as long as I wanted, without writing out any more code.

It is still somewhat manual and took several hours, but this table saved me unmeasurable time and mistakes.

A screenshot of Microsoft Excel zoomed out too far to read but shows text in various cells creating a right angle triangle.
Excel isn't just for numbers

A screen shot of Microsoft Excel, with it zoomed out so much the text is dots, but creates three triangle shapes in the cells with text.
Sometimes it gets a bit out of hand

It's really hard to show how the table worked; the above it more to represent that mount of data it was manipulating to then create the text output. But amazingly enough - it worked! The last row was copied and dropped into Microsoft Word without formatting; then applied a number format of "Row x" where x was incrementing number. Finishing off with a few tweaks / find & replace to correct for specific bits that were too hard to code. 

I did a small trial run to confirm it worked in effect, using more stash yarn Marvel soft 8 ply. I didn't have enough yarn or patience to do the full shawl, but I worked through enough of it to confirm that spreadsheet worked, then it was time for the real one.

A crochet shawl in progress using hot pink yarn with a grid pattern and butterfly and flower motifs.
Trial run of new plan

I used the Paton's Summer Swirl yarn in purple and pink, because they're my favourite colours. I'd picked up a few of them on sale the year (or two?) before and was never sure what to do with them. The yarn is so different to what I'd normally work with. 

But I started working on it, and once I got the first dragonfly in, I knew it was right. 

This started going with me everywhere. It was the only way I knew I would stick with it. A single piece item like this is so different to my normal projects. I like things you can have small wins on, but this didn't quite hit that in the same way.

In late October we had a family reunion with most of my aunts, uncles, cousins & their kids. We took over a caravan park for a long weekend and all hung out. 

Of course, I brought my crochet with me, since we were outside consistent mobile. I spent chunks of time chatting with family while working on the shawl. So now the shawl is finished when I look at it, I just remembering those moments.

The next few shots are from that trip, the drive up, the gorgeous beach behind the caravan park we took over, the water tank that definitely caught my attention thanks to painted cracks. It was a lovely time away which we don't get to do often.

A photo taken by the passenger in a car of her lap, holding a work in progress crochet shawl in cotton purple yarn, it has a grid pattern with butterfly, dragonfly and flower motifs. The centre console of the car can be seen to her right and there is sun cutting across her lap.
Crochet and cruising

A sunny beach with flat waves and wide open horizon.
Travel and sun

The side of a large concrete water tower with a painted message "Relax, take the pressure down, Nambucca Valley" with painted cracks around it. The photo is a bit blurry from being taken from within a moving car.
Terrible, but perfect pun

A photo along a beach which gradually curves away; to the left is the water, to the right is bushland. The sky is a stunning blue ombre to white along the horizon.
Oh, how I miss coastal living

Back home and I was finally on the home stretch. I had decided I would wear the shawl to my brother's wedding, which was only a few weeks away. 

I was so excited when I got to the pink section, knowing the end was soon. This also met me with a new conundrum though; how to finish off the pattern? 

I wanted there to be some flexibility so someone else following wouldn't run out of yarn before the pattern ended, or have a heap left over. 

A crochet shawl work in progress scrunched up on a couch next to a box marked "Patons Summer Swirl" which has the remaining yarn in it.
Getting close to the end

I decided to make the last few rows a simple design of half double crochet; so the maker can continue to their heart's content and if there is discrepancy on the yarn length (from the yarn itself or tension difference), there's a simple way to make up for it.

I will admit, I didn't expect to have such a tidy amount of yarn left over; that last row was a classic yarn chicken. 

The last corner of a crochet shawl with the tail of 20cm or so, which is all that was left of the yarn at the end.
What an ending

At long last, it was finished. The shawl was complete and I had the absolute satisfaction of laying it out to revel in end. 

There were some final tasks to publish the pattern; formatting, notes, photos, introduction, etc. 

I also made guides for each individual motif, so they can see how they work up individually before tackling the full pattern. Thankfully I was able to adapt my spreadsheet again to make those in the same method rather than typing out. 

The final stats surprised even me:

  • 5583 words
  • 24 pages
  • 38 photos 

An angled photo of the crochet shawl flat on a couch cushion; the shawl is gradient from pale purples, to darker, and changes to pink towards the top. There is a design created by holes of a grid with motifs of butterlies, flowers and dragonflies within.

So the shawl was done, the pattern in final works, and I had a wedding to attend.

This is when things got scary in Australia.

Some fires had started around the time of the trip mentioned earlier. They had been early for the season, and raised eyebrows, but no alarm bells were ringing yet. 

But a month on, they were still going, and were bigger. This was late November 2019. We didn't really know how bad it was going to get (they continued until late January and caused unbelievable destruction). 

I live in Sydney; which was well south of where the fires were happening (roughly 450km). Yet we had several days where the skies were completely full of smoke; below are some photos of my walk to/from work at the time. 

A suburban street in Sydney, a jacaranda tree in full purple glory of bloom, the sky is muted and ugly brown from thick smoke.
What an end to a year

A local park with dried grass and temporary fencing around, the sky is muted and dark despite harsh sun trying to poke through. The park looks dismal and angry.
Unfortunate omen

The same park from the last photo, with still dry grass and a temporary fencing around, but the sky is now bring vibrant blue with white horizon, and the grass is harshly lit by the sun.
For comparison, a clear day

The wedding was up the coast again, and right between two hot spots. 

Luck was on our side, the weather shifted and they were brought under control just before the wedding and we were able to attend. A week later was a different story, but sticking to some positives. 

The name of the pattern ended up coming from my mum’s family, who we had been visiting. Her mum had been a crafter and it felt right to have that connection the family. 

Sarah is standing in a grassy clearing surrounded by trees, she is wearing a purple and pink crochet shawl and purple dress. She is standing facing away from the camera at an angle looking to the left.
Warm shoulder

Check it out now on my Ravelry store.

Here’s some final photos of it, taken at my brother’s wedding, just after the ceremony before we headed up to the reception. It was a beautiful space, though a tad too warm for a shawl (even one of light cotton).

Sarah is standing with her arms out in a T holding the corners of the shawl she is wearing. It is crochet cotton yarn in a gradient from pale purple to dark purple to pink. It has filet design of a grid with motifs of flowers, butterflies and dragonflies. She is standing in a grassy clearing surrounded by trees.
Sudden realisation how hard posing for a shawl is

Sarah is standing with back to the camera looking down, her arms are raised slightly as she rearranges her shawl. It is crochet cotton yarn in a gradient from pale purple to dark purple to pink. It has filet design of a grid with motifs of flowers, butterflies and dragonflies. She is standing in a grassy clearing surrounded by trees.
Just a quick rearranging, trying not to drop it

I'm starting to mull over this being a future crochet along with a video tutorial, drop a comment below if you'd join in!


Popular posts from this blog

Making Long Lasting Cotton Dishcloths With Crochet

Every household has the ongoing need for washing up, even if you have a dishwasher there is a need for sponges and dishcloths for keeping things clean. The ones in the shop are made to be replaced, often made of plastics which degrade over time and end up leaving residue on your dishes and going down the drain. I found I was forever replacing them, never feeling they were clean even when I washed them. I decided to find what all the fuss was about from others with cotton crochet dishcloths, and have to say the rumours are true: they're awesome. I recommend 100% cotton for things like this as it is absorbent, can be cleaned in boiling water and will not fluff. Acrylic is not as absorbent and will melt or stretch under heat. As it breaks down it will also put more plastics in the water, which we are learning is causing all kinds of misfortunes. When it's time to wash them, simply throw them in the machine with your clothes on the next cycle. If they are greasy or stained, try so

The Making of a Crochet Triceratops Plushy

 Many years ago I made a triceratops pattern, it started off all kinds of goofy before developing into what I had imagined.  I really wanted it to have the pointed beak and stand on four legs, as so many other patterns are more of a teddy style.  I had a lot of fun trying it in different yarns, my favourite will always be the Dancing Baby DK from Ice Yarns in rainbow, but it's unfortunately no longer available. It took a few tries to get it right, but being stubborn pays off sometimes. With such pretty colours what's not to love?  I have had the written pattern up on Etsy and Ravelry for a few years now, but have been asked many times for a video tutorial. I understand how daunting plushie patterns are to start, my heart was warmed by my testers, many of whom had never crocheted a plushie before and still jumped in! The time has come though, and the full tutorial is available free on YouTube now, with full instructions on screen to help teach reading a pattern along side the st