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How to Unravel a Shawl

by Lauren Busser


The shawl is a scalene triangle that measures 80” in length at its longest point. You made it for her last Christmas after she looked at the similar one you made for yourself and called it pretty. 

It was draped over a hanger in her otherwise empty closet with a note that it would have been “too sad” to take this with her. You assume the necklace you bought her for her birthday, and the novelty measuring spoons also fall into that category. So much for being like sisters. 

It’s splayed over your lap now with the long end over your left thigh and the right end on the floor. Your cat lays on the shortest end, her hair mixing with the hair of your former friend’s dog. 


You bought two balls of expensive, naturally dyed merino wool and silk yarn for the project. It was spun into a thin lace weight that felt like the delicate crystalline strings of cotton candy when you worked with it.

She liked naturally dyed things. This one was dyed with indigo. It stained your hands so they looked like a large bruise as you worked, and you washed them frequently to try to hide the evidence. 


The needles were dark and had impossibly low contrast to the blue yarn. It would have been easier with tips that allowed for sharper and more precise work, but that wasn’t something that you thought of at the time. 

Now you think of the hours spent working on this shawl and wished you’d made it easier on yourself. 


Gauge is important. It’s always important. It helps with size and proportion, but you didn’t pay attention and began knitting anyway. It didn’t matter. You had 200 yards over what the pattern called for. 

She and you were never exactly a match on paper. You were dark. She was light. You were calculated and organized. She was wispy and chaotic. You always imagined the twisted soul that put you together in a college housing office your freshman year. 

She’s the one that found this apartment. She bounced into the bar where you worked and showed you the listing. It wasn’t an ideal part of town but the rent was cheap and she thought the bleak warehouse could be a home. You choked back your protests as she proclaimed her love for the space, and signed the two-year lease with her. 

Sitting here now, you’re bitter you never spoke up. This will be your home for six more months. 

Pattern Stitches and Techniques 

You run your finger over the edge of the yarn. A picot bind-off made for a pretty, pointed edge. It reminds you of the way the roof leaked during the first big storm. Rain seeped through the cracks in the ceiling, collecting in pots that you found at a yard sale. 

“We might be able to plug it up with a tampon,” she said. 

“Do you really think that’s going to work?” you asked, shaking your head. 

During the next storm you came home to her attempting to plug the hole with a Q-tip. 

“A tampon won’t work!” she said. 

She succeeded in something that looked like a plug twenty minutes later, throwing her hands up triumphantly. A line of raindrops ran down the cotton swab once it was saturated and continued to fall onto the floor.  


At one corner of the shawl, fumble for the end you wove in. Slowly undo the slip-knot that holds this shawl together. Fold the end under the loop and away you go. Watch as the picot binding slowly unwinds until it doesn’t exist. 

Then the eyelets disappear. 

Stop to wrap the yarn back into the ball periodically so that the delicate lace weight doesn’t tangle.

Remember all the hours you spent reading the chart:

Purl across row.

Follow Chart B to introduce lace section.

Slip one, knit two, knit two together, knit to marker, make one right, slip marker, knit one, slip marker, make one left, knit to three stitches from the end, knit three.

The ball of yarn gets bigger in your hand and the shawl is starting to look a bit like a stingray. 

Your memory is not so easy to erase. If only you can take back that night of crackers and wine and a giant game of Jenga. If only she hadn’t fallen on top of you and giggled for a moment before brushing her lips against yours. 

If only it had stopped there. 

You watch as each stitch comes undone and try to forget the look on her face when she woke up the next morning. She wrung her hands and looked at you regretfully. And when you tried to talk about her feelings she clamped down and retreated into herself making excuses about being drunk and not herself.

The shawl disappears before your eyes and you mentally imagine that night fading with it. Think about the events of the night going backwards like the picture on an old television screen. Then back further to the lease signing and meeting her at all until the shawl is string again. Just potential. Nothing tangible. 


You set the backs of the two chairs together and move them a foot apart. Your cat jumps up and sits in the seat of one of the chairs as you wind the yarn around them. Soak the yarn for twenty minutes in tepid water. Wring out the access. Hang in a dry place with towels underneath it to dry, weighing it down with a hanger if necessary.

She didn’t look at you for weeks after that, and then one day you came home from the bar to find her gone. Just a note. 

The yarn dries overnight, and then you take it in two hands twisting it until it falls upon itself, tucking one end into another. 

Store until the memories of her fade. 

Lauren Busser is a writer of fiction and nonfiction and an Associate Editor at Tell-Tale TV. Her work has appeared in Popshot Quarterly, Bending Genres, formercactus, FIVE:2:ONE magazine’s #thesideshow, Bitch Media, and Brain Mill Press – VOICES. When she’s not talking about writing or television you can find her knitting or working on a novel. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, or her website.

Lead image: “knitting needles” (via Flickr user Peacock Modern)