Sunday, April 14, 2013

Knit, Purl Estonian Style.

An Estonian knitted lace shawl with the classic Lily of the Valley pattern. (Image from letissierdesigns.com)

I've been knitting since I was a very, very young child; my mother was my first and only teacher. My love for knitting has been a life long one and once I caught the bug from my mom, I advanced by teaching myself to read ever more complex knitting patterns and producing one sweater after another.


 Nowadays, I don't knit as much as I used to - too many other distractions. Like many knitters, I have my share of unfinished pieces :-) No matter how long between projects, I am always interested in learning about knitting techniques and patterns and if something strikes my fancy, I will pick up a skein of yarn, a pair of needles and try my hand at a new technique.

Since my trip to Peru in 2006, I've not traveled to any country that has a tradition of knitting. That will change with Estonia and I am thrilled!  I have discovered Estonian lace knitting!

Nupps (Image from knittingbeyondthehebrides.org)
Estonia has a long history of knitting and is home to some of the oldest knitted artifacts in Northern Europe, dating from the end of the 13th century.  Knitting, particularly of mittens, gloves and socks, has played a major role in Estonia's customs and traditions for hundreds of years.

On the west coast of Estonia is the resort town of Haapsalu, famous for its 13th century castle ruins, curative mud baths, and pleasant beaches.  Prior to Soviet occupation of Estonia, Haapsalu was a sleepy little settlement.  Once the Russians arrived, it was transformed into a popular destination for tourists and a flourishing resort town.  The women of Haapsalu,being industrious and creative, began a cottage industry of knitting lace shawls, known as *Haapsalu sall* that has continued to present day. 
 
Most Haapsalu lace patterns are created on a stockinette-stitch pattern which means knit the front row, purl the back row and the most distinctive feature is the *nupp*.  I describe a nupp as a looser and more oblong looking bobble though the technique to create a nupp is very different.  To make a nupp you knit a stitch, leaving the stitch on the left hand needle. You then *yo; k1* into the same stitch eitehr 5, 7, or 9 times.  On the wrong side,  all the nupp stitches are purled together so you're back down to the one stitch.

The women knitters of Haapsalu did not stop with nupps.  Using some very imaginative variations of knit, purl, yarn overs and purl togethers, they have come up withe some amazingly complex and beautiful patterns.  Check out this article on http://www.knittingbeyondthehebrides.org/lace/estonian.html for some examples.  The photos below are two examples extracted from the article which was written by Faina Letoutchaia.

Nupps outlining a simple cross design

Tiny flower-like shapes created by K3tog; (yo, k1) 4 times.
On the next row (p3tog) 3 times.

A beautiful flower pattern created using a combination of  star stitches.

I just think the patterns are simply beautiful....the stitching techniques are incredibly complex and speaks highly of the skills and talents of the women of Haapsalu. It's no wonder their lace shawls are so highly prized.  I would be over the moon if I get the opportunity to have one of the women show me a few of even the most basic of the stitches.


Otherwise, I can always just treat myself to a few skeins of the lace yarn and pick up a pattern book.  The challenge will be translating the European pattern instructions on the American ones that I'm accustomed to.  It would be horrible if something got lost in translation - luckily (believe it or not), there are translation guides available :-)