Feeling a Little Edgy?
I will discuss several edging techniques, starting with the traditional Shetland technique, since it is my favorite. Then, we'll go on to other possibilities you might want to consider.
Traditional Shetland Technique
Members of the Shetland Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers taught me to make a Shetland-style shawl, stole or scarf, starting with the lace points of the edging itself. Patterns may typically start with 76 lace points, or 120, and the edging is knit in a long "rope" of lace. One lace point is usually one complete repeat of the pattern. You start by casting on, usually with a provisional cast-on, the required number of stitches, and working the edging thusly:
Correct math in this method depends on slipping the first stitch of each straight-edge row which leaves a lovely chain along the top edge. When you have the desired number of lace points, the ends are grafted together, making a continuous circle. (One must be ultra-cautious to not twist the rope of lace - imagine the heartbreak!) The desired number of stitches are picked up along the top edge, in the front loop of the previously mentioned chain, using markers as directed to mark the corner stitches.
Decreases will be made on either side of the corner stitches to form the corners.
Then the border is knit inward, toward the center.
Pros: (a) I plan the knitting of the rope of lace points as a second tier project, and as it becomes more and more mindless, it is a very nearly thought-free exercise. It gets less boring to pair it with other projects. (b) It is easier to knit the edging without having to turn it back and forth, as is done when the edging is knit on last. (c) It makes shaping the corners and getting the edging to hang perfectly around the corners, very easy. (d) Even though you have a lot of stitches on the needle, if knitting in the round, you are always decreasing, instead of increasing. I like that. I have knit big square shawls in something under two months using this method, and that's pretty fast for me. (You may know that I share the title: "World's Slowest Knitter" with Junieann!) (e) Since it's always good not to have a bind off around the edge of a shawl, this method makes a very flexible edge. In the past, production knitters could have one person working edgings while another worked the borders inward.
Cons: (a) Obviously, some folks don't enjoy knitting a long rope of lace points. It might not fit your tolerance level. (b) Others don't like managing a lot of stitches on the needle. I find that it isn't difficult if I use markers lavishly, and only think about one quarter of the project at a time.
The traditional Shetland technique works for any shape of shawl or scarf that can be knitted in toward the center.
Attaching the Edging Last
This is a most popular method, and one that I'm using at the moment, myself. The body of the shawl is knit from the center out, to the desired size, and the live stitches left on the needle. The edging is started, again probably using a provisional cast on and knit back and forth, catching the live stitch from the shawl, with the last stitch of the edging row, in a decrease, every other row.
The lace edging is on the right needle, and the live shawl stitches on the left. As I knit to the end of the row near the shawl stitches, I form the decrease by doing an SSK, which joins the edging to the shawl. Then I turn and knit the edging back. Turning the work gets sort of tedious, but in this case, I like the effect.
The decrease you use depends on which direction you are knitting. If you are knitting clockwise, you do a K2 tog. For counter-clockwise, as I'm knitting here, it's SSK. I believe I am genetically incapable of knitting clockwise, so if the pattern calls for it, I simply knit the rows going the opposite direction.
You might ask, "What do I do when I come to the points?" You experiment and investigate a little bit. (Of course, the writer of the pattern might tell you what to do, too.) A drapey point is formed by allowing some of the rows that would normally be attached to hang loose, symmetrically on either side of the point. You may want more or less drape. There are excellent guides for navigating points using this method in many of the books on lace knitting in the References.
Pros: As always, personal preference counts most. If you like it, do it. One very nice thing about this method is that it allows you to design or knit the body of the project without committing to the edging early on.
Cons: It's a bit tedious to turn the work. I know there are clever knitters who can knit back backwards, eliminating the turning, but I'm not that clever. I don't really know a serious drawback to this method, though.
Knitting the Edging and Body at the Same Time:
Many patterns, especially for lace scarves, direct the knitter to knit the edging and the scarf body in one operation. It usually requires reversing the edging patterns to make for mirror edges, and markers are a must when using this technique. It is very nice to have everything completed at one time.
If you use this method, you want to avoid doing what I once did, when attempting a lace scarf for my aunt. I didn't understand the reverses of the edging, and wound up with a terrible mess. You won't do that, though.
Pros and Cons: Again, this is mainly a matter of personal preference. All you have to do is pay attention.
I know that there are people out there who love to knit edging and shawl separately, then graft the lace edging along the bound-off edge of the shawl. My advice on that is: Do not – I repeat, Do Not – try this at home, all by yourself. You might become crazed and cast yourself upon the needle points. I know I would. I suppose if you really love grafting, it might be possible to graft hundreds of stitches and complete the project without anyone getting hurt.
Pros and Cons: Frankly, I see nothing but cons for this method, but that's just my opinion. I like to avoid a bound off edge on a shawl, and I find it difficult to maintain the amount of flexibility for the edge, using grafting. Not to mention the mental health issues. (You may notice that I have no pictures to illustrate my skills with this technique.)
The Russian Method
I'm not going to say much about this technique. Someone else will address it with far more skill and knowledge than I currently have. Not that it isn't one of my ambitions to complete an Orenburg design. It really is a great technique. You get to practice some short row shaping on the corners, there's no sewing when you're done, and it's gorgeous. Stay tuned for more on this.
Other Edging Options
There is always the option of using a faced edging to finish off a shawl or other project. I was recently treated by getting to see some of Joan Schrouder's simply gorgeous shawls, one of which was finished with a self-faced picot edging. The facing was grafted down on the underside of the shawl. It made an absolutely perfect edging for a shawl that was a little less "fru-fru" than some, and where an elaborate lace point edging would have looked silly. It is a good example of the benefit of leaving the decision regarding edging to the last, when you can better judge what will look best with the body. Since you would eventually have to bind off using this method, you would want to be careful to do a very loose bind off.
So What if You Really Don't Want an Edging at All?
You know, omitting the edging is perfectly OK. Since you wouldn't be likely to just want to bind off the stitches when you're done, though, what do you do with those live stitches?
One often-used technique is a crocheted chain edge. You can experiment with the number of chain stitches between each live knit stitch, and when you have the number that looks right to you, just crochet into the next knit stitch, taking it off the needle. This can give a very delicate edge, or one less delicate, depending on the project. It may be particularly appropriate as an edging to doilies, as well as shawls.
Not The End
The above discussion is not intended to exhaust the subject of attaching edgings. If you have a technique you'd like to add to the list, hopefully with photo(s), we can add it, giving you credit, of course. This is an interactive discussion. How many ways can you edge a shawl?