Grab a cup of something warm and let me tell you the story of how this shawl came to be.

I would usually start by telling you my idea for the shawl, but the real story of Lichen begins long after I did my first sketches.

This story begins in March 2020, when San Francisco began its shelter-in-place. We and, soon after, many other people in the world halted our regular lives and stayed home in order to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

I had just cast on the prototype for the Lichen shawl, and in those early days of isolation, it became a bit of a talisman to me. It was comfort knitting, a simple biased shape with lots of garter stitch. I didn't need to think very hard, and the stitches were soothing in the midst of a great deal of uncertainty.

Just as it became clear that staying at home was going to last for quite a while, George Floyd, a Black man, was murdered by the police in Minneapolis. His killing sparked the largest civil rights uprising of my lifetime. As a result, many white Americans are finally beginning to understand the relentless system of white supremacy and anti-Blackness in our country and around the world.

With these events and awakenings in mind, 2020 has taken on a particular kind of grief and meaning for all of us.

Through all of this, the Lichen shawl grew on my needles and the yarn colors came alive in my dye pots.

I make my living as a working fiber artist, and this shawl is part of my Beatrix Box subscription, which is a five-times a year box I create for my customers who are hand-knitters. Each box is inspired by Beatrix Potter, the sweet Victorian-era illustrator whose drawings are part of so many baby nurseries. Rather than seek refuge in an idealized past, I focus on her accomplishments relative to the constraints of her time and draw out modern themes.

For example, when Beatrix came of age, upper class white women were expected to marry and keep house. However, Beatrix pursued a career as an independent artist. She earned her own, substantial income and later in life used that income to realize her dream of becoming a farmer.

Which brings me back to the Lichen shawl. I finished designing it in May 2020, still under shelter-in-place mandates. It was clear that my usual way of photographing a design was not possible. So, like Beatrix, I found a new way of doing things.

Six different artists of the global majority worked with me to model the shawl. Two different shawl samples, one purple and one yellow, traveled from artist to artist,  where they photographed themselves in a setting and style of their own choosing.

The creative request I gave was this: photograph your joy.

I am honored to present their portraits to you as part of the pattern, which you can purchase here in my shop or here on Ravelry. Each self-portrait will be shared publicly on my Instagram grid from September 21 to 26, 2020. If you would like to make your own Lichen shawl, you can purchase a yarn kit at my upcoming shop update on Tuesday, September 22.

Our world is full of a great deal of uncertainty, brutality, and chaos felt by all of us yet horribly amplified in the lives of Black people. Joy is both harder to hold and more needed than ever. Feeling deep joy as a person who identifies as Black, Indigenous or as a Person of Color is an act of rebellion and resistance. As a white woman, it is my honor to bear witness to this joy.

Please join me in viewing the self-portraits on Instagram and, when you see them, please take your time with them and revel in Black Joy, Queer Joy, Trans Joy, and, most of all, the joy of resilience.


—Anne Vally
Little Skein in the Big Wool
September 2020