I have a design published in the new Rowan Magazine! It is a simple triangular shawl or “Sontag” knit up in three tasty shades of Rowan Fine Tweed.

(shades Wensley, Bedale, and Dent)

The garment is named after Henriette Sontag — a German singer, who brought this kind of shallow, front-crossing shawl to the attention of fashionable Victorians. The OED describes a “Sontag” as “a type of knitted or crocheted jacket or cape, with long ends which are crossed in front of the body and tied behind, worn by women in the second half of the Nineteenth Century.”


Curiously, I have been unable to find an image of Sontag sporting her signature garment . . .here’s a better representation of a Victorian woman wearing the shawl-style in question:


Receipts for Sontags (also called “cache coeurs”, or “bosom friends”) are to be found in many women’s magazines from the 1860s onwards. They are, in fact, one of the first styles of shawl to be written up in modern pattern form.


But Sontags aren’t just Victorian. Here, for example, is a very similar garment being modelled in the Missoni A/W 2012 collection.

(I have strong feelings about high Fashion’s use of exceptionally thin models, and, confess to a degree of discomfort about this image.)

Mashing up these Victorian and contemporary influences, I came up with my design. Rather than being worked from side-to-side, my shawl is knit top down. It begins with a garter-tab cast on, and, following a simple stripe sequence, uses paired increases at the centre and outer edges to create a shallow, elongated triangle with front-crossing points. Optional ties can then be added to secure the garment around the waist.

This is the result:


My Sontag design appears in the magazine’s ‘Folk’ story, under the name ‘Nepal Wrap.’ If you’d like to knit it, Rowan 54 should be hitting shelves (and the doormats of subscribers) very soon!

64 thoughts on “Sontag

  1. W O N D E R F U L
    you know I’m going to get it as soon as possible!!

    your faithful reader,

  2. A lovely design. I look forward to my magazine popping through the letterbox soon. I wonder what the first page that I will turn to will be…. X

  3. Your designs are all so wonderful….I’m looking forward to trying this one when I can get a copy of Rowan’s latest issue.

  4. How lovely!! My German grandmother used to knit many of these for herself and her friends and I myself have designed a few over the years. Lovely for me to see someone as well known as you has picked up on the idea and has now told so many others about Henriette Sontag and her shawls.
    The colours in your shawl are gorgeous and I look forward to seeing it in the new Magazine.

    Best wishes

  5. This is so very beautiful and might just be the reason to buy the new Rowan Magazine. (I lost interest after the last two editions). And thank you for the nicely told historical background *s*

  6. Bosom friends! i howled laughing……just what i need as trying to get into certain undergarments with a wrist in a cast is akin to a Houdini act :) love it, thanks as always and will, of course, get the new
    Rowan. can’t knit but i will be at the ready when i can !

  7. I love the historical background! Well…everything you do, really…

    Ever since I first watched Babette’s feast back in my college days…I’ve admired that look…and since then, I’ve knitted triangular shawls to wear in that fashion :-)

    I’d love to see a photo of you in it!

  8. I have been looking for a pattern for a shawl that wraps around the waist and in garter stitch and, Kate, you just answered my quest! Thank you so much. Love the tassels and the stripes. Can’t wait to knit it! Love your blog and your designs.

  9. Smashing Kate! I’ve made a couple of the Danish tie shawls that Spin Off published years ago. Very fun to make and wear. I like that yours can tie in the front. Great idea and congrats!

  10. I have been quite taken with the Rowan magazines for a while and look for back issues at yarn stores, even picking some up at Liberty of London on a recent trip. Congratulations on having a beautiful pattern in a beautiful publication.

  11. Pattern looks good! I adore the Fine Tweed. I’m disappointed that you felt you needed to make a comment about the model’s physique though. Totally out of keeping with the theme and tone of the post, and it’s very unfair to pass judgement on the physique and lifestyle of a person you’ve never met.

    1. Thanks for your comment. The truth is that I feel slightly uncomfortable associating my design work with some feminine stereotypes promoted by catwalk fashion – which to me this Missoni model unfortunately exemplifies. My remark was, I suppose, meant to establish a degree of ironic distance from that image, and was directed at an industry rather than an individual.

      1. Ah, I understand where you’re coming from there. I think your intent was valid, even if I found the delivery to be jarring. (Your posts are always very thoughtful and well-written, otherwise I might have just sighed and moved on.)

        It’s an interesting point, actually: that a person who designs beautiful garments and sells patterns might worry about being (negatively) associated with a company that sells clothing. My first instinct is to say that a person interested in your designs, drawing as they do on traditional shapes and techniques, would probably never think of you in the same industry as someone who sells ready to wear influenced by current fashion trends using modem fabrics. But why shouldn’t you? You’re both making garments and selling them as part of a story. The main differences are style and scale, not quality or professionalism.

        I’d never made that cognitive leap. Now you’ve given me some food for thought. Thank you!

      2. Upon reflection, I agree with you that the tone of my remark was misjudged & have altered it to more accurately suggest my misgivings. Thankyou!

      3. I don’t know in what way you have altered your original criticism of this anorexic model, but I champion the idea that you are critical of her, I boycott companies who sell their products this way and the more people that speak out the better. I completely disagree with your critic. Please keep speaking out against this grostesque look with its awful implications for women.

  12. Beautiful! And thank you so much for the history. I was picturing Susan Sontag….who would have looked smashing in this wrap!

  13. I adore the rustic, earthy tones and the shape is wonderful. Just love your modern reflections of historic costume. Will we get to see this on you soon?

  14. I will be very interested to see the cast on your spoke of for this design, when my Magazine hits the doormat. It is really a lovely Sontag and I am such a fan of Rowan Tweed. Congrats, Kate! And thank you for giving me yet another reason, to continue my love of Rowan! lol

  15. I love to see traditional garments being rediscovered/reworked/reviewed. Shawls were a really practical item that could be both functional and pretty. It made me chuckle to read the words ‘bosom friends’.
    p.s, Should you ever be in Rouen I heartily recommend Les Macarons de Grand’ Mere Auzou……27 flavours of melt in the mouth loveliness.

  16. Glad you have a design in the new Rowan mag. I have a huge affection for Rowan as it was my main wool and pattern provider when I started knitting intently. However I haven’t bought the mag for years now as they and I parted company on taste. I much prefer Scandinavian and Japanese design. I always look at the new mag hoping I’ll want to buy it but the designs seem a bit staid! And the styling is sometimes bizarre. One of the last mags I bought I couldn’t quite figure out what was the knitted item in the photo! Not good :)

  17. I had no idea that the “Sontag” was a named style – that wrap-around-the-waist shawl configuration has always seemed a purely practical idea to me, one spontaneously invented by peasant women throughout Europe. Perhaps Henriette Sontag took an old standard garment and made it newly chic to the Victorian middle class.

    That inimitable Rowan photostyling! Candles and oddly-braided hair: not unlike the “Eco Romantic” spread in Rowan 38.

  18. I love this style of shawl. In the US they are sometimes called “heart warmers”, though “Bosom Friend” gave me a good chuckle. The tassels are a wonderful touch.

  19. Lovely! Can’t wait for my copy to arrive. Definitely on my “to do” list. By the way, really liked the new “paper dolls” and “catkin” on display at Woolfest on Baa Ram Ewe stall.

  20. Thanks for the historical background – I too didn’t realize it was named for a person (but of course makes complete sense). I also thought this style of shawl (wrap around the waist to the back) was a more traditional scandinavian approach, so that’s just one more piece of info to put in the hopper.

    I love the rustic colors – well done!

  21. Congratulations on getting a design in Rowan! And as for skinny models, I once looked like that because of genes. Notice I said “once”. Now my daughter looks like I used to. Now granted, they make the effort to do that, and that’s where the problem lies. Anyway. I’m happy for you in getting you pattern published,

    1. Hope you realise is emphatically not the model’s body type per se that I object to but rather the way the fashion industry says “this is how you need to look to wear these clothes.”

  22. Beautiful design and post.

    I actually investigated the Missoni looks and am really curious how they are constructed. In the few photos I could find, there doesn’t seem to be any evidence of ties, in the front, or the back. Smooth in the front and almost like a shrug in the back. Hard to know if they have been styled to hide the ends, or if they are some sort of in the round construction. Any thoughts?

  23. I found another site on the Missoni wrap and saw that it is hooked (or clasped) in the back from the two ends.

  24. HI Kate- I can’t find a place to write to you about problems with a patter so am doing it here. I hope you (or someone) can respond to as I am traveling thru Australia (from USA) for a few months and want to work on this. Stevenson Sweater, size 4. Done with rib, start chart row one with 264 std, decrease on row one of chart (white) to 260 std. k 3 rows which puts one on row 5 white again, decrease that row to 260 sts or 130 between markers both side. Problem is next row, row 6 is the 3 white 3 orange, but neither 260 nor 130 divide by 3 evenly !! How am I to account for this? Stop the pattern at the first marker? Then start again but this also ends up uneven and looks bad. What have I done wrong? Desperate especially since the other project I am carting half way round the world is northmavaine hap and seem to have left the sk of light green at a place in the daintree rainforest and I will never see it again. Maybe I can buy some J and S in Melbourne.

    finished Puffin before I left and ti came out perfect. Thanks- Meredith

  25. Simple, elegant and practical and, as usual, your wonderful selection of vintage images is a delight. I’ve seen these types of shawls before but not truly understood how they were meant to be worn. The tassels give it that little touch of interest that makes one look twice.

  26. Just came across a pattern from Ostrobothnia, the Swedish-Finn area near Vasa, Finland that is very similar. They referred to it as a Hjartevarmare or ‘heart warmer’. The pattern is from the late 1800’s and is used in the folk costume of in a region just south of Vasa. I’ve also seen it used with the folk costume for Bergen, Norway. I love the way fashion is never really new, but always reinvented!

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About Kate Davies

writer, designer and creator of Buachaille (100% Scottish wool)