The more shawls I design, the more emails I get from people saying their shawls came out too small. When I ask if they checked their gauge before beginning I always get one of two answers. The first is, no, they didn't check their gauge because it's a shawl and figured it didn't matter. This is and isn't true. Sure, a shawl doesn't need to be an exact size, but you do want something around the size you thought you were going to get. The needle size listed on patterns is telling you what the designer used to achieve the necessary gauge. Under the needle size there's always a note (at least on mine and most other patterns) saying "adjust needle size if necessary to achieve correct gauge". Never assume that the number of stitches you get using a size 7 needle is the same as someone else. If your shawl came out too small because you picked the listed needle and just went with it than it's pretty safe to assume you knit tighter than the designer and should have gone with a larger needle.
The second answer I get to the gauge question is yes, they checked their gauge, but the stitches just looked too sloppy using a large needle on fingering weight yarn so instead of using the size 7, 8, or 9 needed to get 4.5 stitches per inch they decided to use a 4 or 5 so the stitches looked better. Not a good idea. Remember, this isn't a sock or sweater we're talking about knitting here. For those items yes, you'd want the stitches to look beautiful and defined right from when you knit them. Shawls don't work like that. Not the lacy kind.
Now the BUT that can throw people off. If you chose a different yarn than listed in the pattern you might not want to knit at the suggested gauge. You do still want to be knitting loosely, but exactly how loose could vary. For instance, if a pattern calls for Socks That Rock medium weight (fingering), but you have a gorgeous skein of Schaefer Anne (also fingering) you might not want to knit the Anne at as loose a gauge as the Socks That Rock (STR) because STR is a much fuller, thicker fingering weight than the Anne is.
The photos below show the Solar Flare shawl knit in 1 skein of Polka fingering weight yarn. I knit it using size 6/4mm needles and getting a pre blocking gauge of 18 stitches to 4 inches (4.5 stitches per inch). In the before photo the shawl measures 49" along the wingspan and about 12" deep. Once it's blocked it measures 72" along the wingspan and 18" deep in the center. The wonders of a good blocking!
|Solar Flare before blocking|
|Solar Flare after blocking|