When speaking of Estonia with foreigners, most reactions range from clueless to have heard of it... maybe. However there is a whole group of people from very different countries, USA to Somalia who know exactly what that mysterious Estonia is. Surprisingly to many, they know it through lace. Estonia, specifically the town of Haapsalu, has a long history of lace knitting, Haapsalu shawls being the finest example.
This intricate craft dates back to the early 19th century and is still going strong. With the new internet era, these shawls are being knitted in Asia, Africa, Europe and USA. Without a doubt this goes to show the unique value of the craft.
Traditional Haapsalu shawls are made of very thin white wool, usually 1-ply, with 3-4 mm needles. They measure quite long and wide yet the mark of a true traditional shawl is that it should fit through a womans wedding ring. Another characteristic is the edge lace which is knitted separately and then attached to the shawl as opposed to the usual method of knitting everything in one piece. Also many of the main patterns have nupps which are basically bobbles. One shawl can have thousands of small bobbles and still fit through the wedding ring. These shawls have very specific rules of appearance and work techniques.
Despite the scary mind bogglingly difficult look, it really isn't bungee jumping to learn how to make yourself one. All you need is to know the basic stitches of general knitting, get some needles, yarn and arm yourself with patience to have a successful experience at knitting lace. All of that with the added bonus of people turning green with envy at your superior skills!
Today shawls are being made following the old traditions as well as giving a new twist to the craft by using different materials, colors, edging methods and so on. While it could be argued to be a bad thing, creativity and innovation also can help to keep the old traditions alive.
To learn more about the history of the shawl and learn to knit one, Saara publishing company released a book Haapsalu sall by Siiri Reimann and Aime Edasi. The English version of the book is titled Haapsalu shawl and can be ordered through their international sales and shipping department –
tiina @ saara.ee
This book is a true delicacy with its beautiful layout and mouthwatering pictures (pictures with this article also from this book). It features a wide range of different patterns, quite a few of which have never been published before, all wrapped into a gorgeous book that is a work of art on its own. This surely is a gem for anyone interested in lace knitting. Or interested in having a pretty book in your shelf to show off to guests.