Madame Phelps Shawl/Shawlette

I pray that most of us encounter a teacher like Madame Phelps at least once in our education.  Madame Phelps was my high school French teacher.  I entered her classroom at a time in my life when I was probably at the peak of teenage attitude, when my family had undergone a major change, when I felt so lost those hours I was at school.  Basically, I was a bright student of hers who didn’t care a bit about her class.  I took it because I liked languages, but I did poorly because I thought it wasn’t one of the “important” subjects.  It was merely an elective.

Madame Phelps, however, showed up to class with enthusiasm every day.  I can’t even remember one day she didn’t wave her arms around with her dark, curly hair piled on her head and flow-y skirts whipping around and make topics from French history to conjugations of irregular verbs come to life.  She plead us with her eyes for us to understand the nonsense coming out of her mouth each afternoon.  At first, she was merely entertaining.

It was in my second year of her class when she fought me to get to me.  She knew I wasn’t giving her my all.  She knew I wasn’t always telling the truth.  She didn’t know all of my inner problems and anger at that time, but I don’t think it would have mattered if she did.  She expected my best, and I don’t think I could have come up with an excuse that would have satisfied her.  The phone calls and meetings with my parents, the after school time she spent with me over issues I thought were too little for her to make such a fuss about, all of it added up to a teacher who made a big fuss in my life over things most teachers would just let pass.

She fought me, in order to fight for me.  She refused to let me drown in my teenage sorrow.  Now, 15+ years later, I can’t remember too much French, although I still dabble in it here and there…every few years.  Sure the language came in handy in college since I studied literature that would have random paragraphs in French with no translation in sight. 

Most of all, I remember her.  I remember her lessons.  I remember her passion and determination.  I remember what she thought I was capable of doing.

This shawl is dedicated to all those teachers out there who fight for their students.

This shawl started by finding this lovely stitch for this lacy border that is called “Versailles” and all I could think of when I read that name was the King Louis the XIV and his elaborate life.  I wondered if ladies in his court actually knit this design.  I remember his life the way Madame Phelps taught it.  I remember the excitement and terror of the French Revolution that followed.  Most of all, I remember my teacher.  So it only seemed appropriate that this pattern is named after her.

So now to switch gears and tell you about this new pattern, and the fun Knut and I had taking pictures for it.

 We waited for dusk for some good lighting.  There were a lot of mosquitoes in our yard…as I’m swatting here.

…and here.

I made the first shawlette shallow in some really pretty Madelinetosh Tosh Merino Light yarn in the colorway “thyme.”  It was lovely, and is a lovely fingering weight yarn for a shawl.  With multiple swatches and the final product, I used about 1.3 skeins.

It’s so much fun to wear.  We had to sneak in a few belly shots too, while we were at it.  I mean…I had make-up on and got my hair cut, so why not go crazy.

The second one I did some variations, which I lay out in the pattern.  I made the back much deeper so it hangs much lower.  This time I bought my yarn locally, using the “just in” yarn at my local yarn store: Malabrigo Sock.  I had a really, really hard time deciding between all the colors, and Silje strongly persuaded me to go with the purple.  I’m so glad she did.  I think the actual colorwave is called “abril.”  There’s a tad more yardage in these skeins, and I think I knit and stretched the yarn a bit because, when I left off the last 2 rows of the bottom ruffle, I could squeeze the whole shawl out of one skein.  I wouldn’t guarantee that this would happen every time, though.  Seriously, I had about 10 feet of leftover yarn, so that’s not much wiggle room.

Like the teacher, this shawl will stretch the advanced-beginner.  It’s good to know how to do short rows, although the garter stitch ridge covers up loads of mistakes.  I learned a new stitch for this pattern: p2tog-b.  If I can learn a new stitch, so can you, and it’s really not that hard.  There’s about 50 demonstrations on how to do it on YouTube.  My tech editor generously charted this lace pattern for the pattern as well, for those who prefer to knit lace using charts.  I hope to be like you some day when I’m ready to learn that new knitting skill.  I’ll get there.

Finally, for your amusement,

one more belly shot, with me standing at 16 weeks into the pregnancy outside our chicken coop.  Knut calls me the pied piper because the hens are always following me around when I’m outside, and I’m the only one in the family that happens to.

Goldy, one of my girls, came over to my feet and wanted to be picked up so I had to indulge.

When I saw these pictures, I said “I look like some weird bird lady with an obsession for knitting.”  Before Knut could mutter “if the shoe fits…” my mom who was visiting said “and that’s the real ‘Nerdy Gerdy.'”

This pattern can be purchased below by clicking the “buy” button, or on Ravelry.  A pdf file of the pattern will be automatically delivered to your inbox upon payment.  There’s a KAL (Knit A-Long) for this shawl/shawlette going on over on Ravelry, and the first 10 people to finish and post pictures on their Ravelry project page will earn a rebate for the cost of the pattern, or a choice of any of my other patterns for free.  I’ve never hosted a KAL before, so I went a little crazy.


  1. Heidi says

    oh my goodness! SO beautiful -the shawl and YOU. I just love those pictures, and it makes me sad I can’t kiss your belly. What a beautiful life, Gretch. So proud of you.

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