In all of the top-down Faroese-style shawls I can remember seeing, the increases are done with Yarn-Overs (YOs). There is also often some sort of eyelet bottom border, as in Jackie E-S’s Dolly Faroese Shawl, and research tells me that most Faroese-style and genuine Faroese shawls have the center panel set off with YOs. But I don’t particularly like the look in all designs, and think that I’d like this shawl to be as solid as possible, so I am trying it with no decorative holes. That is why I am using EM1s instead of YOs. Of course, if someone wanted the holes, it would be a simple matter to do a YO every time the pattern says EM1. This would give a line of holes beside each border, and another pair of lines setting off the center panel.
It’s easy to understand how this tradition of using YOs came about. First, if you’re doing a top-down shawl, a YO is an easy increase. The first shawl I ever made was the standard triangle, in which you start with three stitches at the bottom point. From then on, the directions are “K1, YO, K to end.” This is an effortless way to increase one stitch every row, and as the shawl grows, it acquires a decorative row of holes along both edges. There are similar triangle shawls in which the decorative increases are done up the spine rather than at the edges. Too bad triangle shawls prefer to remain flat triangles, and insist on slipping off your shoulders. They also only warm those shoulders, in the brief time they are there. If I’m cold enough to want a shawl, then I want it to warm my entire back, but a triangle shawl is busy dwindling to nothing down my back, and can’t do a thing about actually keeping me warm.
So, it’s easy to see how YOs are used when a shawl is constructed by increasing. But traditional Faroese shawls are worked from the bottom up, and decreased along the way. Did the Faroese women of a century ago, knitting heavy-duty working shawls to keep themselves warm in the blustery cold, where there is always an ocean wind, really feel the need for pretty lacework on these shawls? Of course not. My theory is that stitch markers are a modern invention, and the equivalents, such as a loop made in contrasting-color yarn, weren’t often used in the 1800s. So, a line of YOs would be easy to see, and would serve as a stitch marker for where to put the decreases, without having to count all those hundreds of stitches in every row. It’s easy to get lost in all that garter stitch. I imagine that from there someone did decide to insert a few rows of eyelets near the bottom, to break up the monotony and add a little decorative flair to go along with the vertical eyelet lines. But I’m pretty sure that the original intention of the vertical YOs was a practical decision, not an artistic one.