The Astolat Shawl is a triangular shawl worked from the top down, beginning with a garter tab cast on and increasing evenly to create a symmetrical shawl. The lace pattern resembles shields with a heart border along the bottom to represent the unrequited love of Elaine of Astolat for Lancelot.
Pattern includes both written directions as well as charts for the lace.
Skill Level: Advanced Beginner
Skills needed: knitting, purling, yarn overs, decreases (knit two together; slip, slip, knit; and slip one, knit one, pass slipped stitch over), knitting through back loop
US 5 / 3.75 mm 32” (80 cm) circular needle
2 stitch markers
Thank you to my test knitters (wendylinjohnson, pittmom2013, megknitsalot, JTKnitterSan, chau7, hoppinglark, Bikerbitch69, and MrsN2itiv) and tech editors (kwunder and kettleandstring) who provided valuable feedback.
About the Name
The Fair Maid of Astolat is probably better known as the Lady of Shalott, from Tennyson’s poem and Waterhouse’s painting. But Astolat is used by Sir Thomas Malory in his Morte D’Arthur. And in that text, her story is as follows: King Arthur has called for a great tournament to be held, but when he asks Guenevere to accompany him, she refuses to go. Lest rumors should start that she has stayed behind because Lancelot has also stayed behind (healing from a previous wound), she chastises Lancelot and tells him that he should follow Arthur and go to the tournament. Lancelot arrives in Astolat and declares that he will fight in the tournament as an unknown, asking his host to bring him an unknown shield. The host’s daughter, Elayne, sees Lancelot and falls in love with him, asking him to wear her token during the tournament. Lancelot is hesitant to do so as he has never worn a love token before (since he cannot make public his adulterous love of Guenevere), but since he wants to be unrecognized at this tournament, he accepts Elayne’s love token since it would further disguise him. He also entrusts his shield to her care.
Lancelot acquits himself well in the tournament and the other knights wonder who he might be, suggesting that he seems to move like Lancelot but couldn’t be Lancelot because of the shield and love token. Unfortunately, during the tournament Lancelot is accidentally wounded in the side. Still not wanting people to know who is really is, Lancelot is taken by Elayne’s brother (who had served as his squire) to a hermitage to have his wound mended. Meanwhile, Arthur has asked Gawain to find out who the mystery knight was. Gawain speaks to Elayne and finds out that although she has no idea who he is, she is in love with that knight. She does admit to having his shield and Gawain persuades her to show it to him. Along with his identity, Elayne learns from Gawain that Lancelot has been wounded and she rides out to find him. Once she does, she stays by his side and tends to his healing. Gawain tells the other knights of Lancelot’s identity and they all marvel that he was wearing a love token, but when Guenevere hears of this, she is quite wroth (to say the least). But it takes Lancelot a good time to heal (over a month) and Elayne stays by his side the entire time.
Once Lancelot is well enough to leave, Elayne takes him to her father and asks if Lancelot will wed her. He refuses. She then asks if he will take her as his paramour (mistress). He refuses. She says that she will die for love of him. Lancelot explains that he’s just not the marrying type and that Elayne shouldn’t take it personally. Instead, she should find another man more worthy of her. Elayne swoons and Lancelot, not knowing what else to do, departs (to go explain himself to Guenevere). Elayne feels betrayed and has a letter written in which she accuses Lancelot of treating her badly but asks for prayers from him and from others after her death. She asks her family to place her on a bed on a barge, with the letter on top of her, and send the barge down the river. Arthur and Guenevere see the barge and find Elayne’s body, with the letter, which Arthur reads aloud to the assembly. When Lancelot is told of the letter, he says that Elayne loved him “out of measure” and that he never did anything to lead her into believing that he would marry her. Guenevere chastises him, but he still claims innocence and arranges to have Elayne buried in a manner suitable to her estate. (Tennyson’s poem was set to music by Loreena McKennitt, a beautiful and haunting melody. Another musician, Heather Dale, has also recorded a version of the story, a song that is one of my favorites, ”Lily Maid.”)