The Haapsalu Shawl – A Knitted Lace Tradition from Estonia
I love this book from Siiri Reiman & Aime Edasi published 2009 by Saara Publishing House. In this article I want will take a deeper look at this publication. If you have some experience in knitting and you want to begin knitting lace, then you have to have this book, cause the authors will give you detailed instructions how to knit your first lace shawl.
Haapsalu (German and Swedish: Hapsal; Finnish: Haapasalo) is a small Estonian town which received town bylaws in 1279. It is located on the west coast of Estonia. In the 19th century, Haapsalu became famous for its shawls, a delicate craft made by local women.
The History of the Haapsalu Shawl
Siiri Reiman & Aime Edasi talking about the History of the Haapsalu Shawl and sorting out the different sources suggesting serveral versions concerning the beginning of the lace knitting tradition in Haapsalu.
One legend, still famous today in Haapsalu, about a party held in 1859 on the name day of the Russian Empress. The Empress was presented with a cobwebby shawl packed in a coconut shell. When the shawl packed out, it veiled the lady from head to toe. Such beautiful delicate shawls became desirable for many noble ladies.
By the end of the 19th century the shawl knitting became an essential source of additional income for many families. All female family members were engaged in knitting. girls were taught to knit at an early age – in some families even young boys helped with the knitting.
During the First World War lace knitting declined, but began once again when Estonia became an independent republic.
The plan to sell lace shawls outside from Estonia was interrupted by the Second World War and the following political and social changes. But Haapsalu scarves and shawls were successfully displayed in many handicraft exhibitions including the shows of 1936 in New York and 1938 in Berlin.
The tradition of lace knitting almost vanished due to the Second World War and the following Soviet occupation. In the 1950s, working to the existing older masters and the strong tradition, a local association of knitters were formed.
In the 1960s it became impossible to fulfill the ever-increasing demand of the vast Russian market by hand knitting and so the decanter sections of the shawls began to be made by knitting machines. Only the lace edges were made by hand. According to Silvi Saarloo this marked the decline of Haapsalu shawls.
The decline ended in 1966 with the beginning of the Haapsalu branch of UKU craft cooperative. It was initiated by Haapsalu handicraft teacher, Leili Leht, who organized seventy or eighty women to work at the cooperative.
Incorporation of the textured technique called nupp (button or bobble) in the shawl was in demand more often as this was proof that a shawl was hand knitted. This was the beginning of a new dawn for Haapsalu shawls.
Yarns for the Haapsalu Shawl
In most cases Haapsalu Shawls are knitted of white yarn. Historically natural black and grey yarn have also been used.
- The shawl is usually knitted from soft, fine two-ply wool yarn. Single lambs wool yarn is also suitable, although knitting a shawl and sewing on the lace edge is more complicated, as this yarn tends to break easily. Fine merino yarn is also used.
- Depending on the size, pattern, thickness of yarn and tension of knitting, about 70 – 100 grams of yarn should be calculated for one shawl. The average yarn has about 1400m (1100 yards) in 100 grams.
- Haapsalu master knitters work with short single-point wood needles. The usual needle size is No 3-3,5mm (US 2,5 – 4), this being determined by the thickness of the yarn and tension of the individual knitter.
- For knitting the lace edge of a Haapsalu shawl it is recommended to use longer wood needles or circular bamboo needles.
- In finishing a Haapsalu shawl, an adjustable frame is used on which the wet shawl is blocked and air-dried.
Haapsalu Shawl and Haapsalu Scarf
A Haapsalu shawl is always rectangular. A Haapsalu scarf is always square.
A Haapsalu shawl is characterized by a distinct arrangement of patterns.
The shawl consists of:
- a center section with the basic stitch pattern, bordered on all sides with a garter-stitch frame;
- a separately knitted lacy edge of which the bind-off is later sewn onto the main piece.
The Haapsalu scarf consists of:
- a fine-patterned openwork center section and the big rich border pattern that are separated and surrounded by a garter-stitch frame
- a separately knitted lace edge of which the bind-off is later sewn onto the main piece
How to knit a Haapsalu Shawl
Siiri Reimann and Aidme Edasi provide a detailed description how to calculated the stitches for the center section, how to knit this center section and how to calculate stitch count for lace edge They also describe how to knit the lace edge and finally how to join the lace edge to the center section. They give detailed information’s for finishing the shawl.
Before providing a huge number of stitch patterns they describe how to read the charts of the pattern, because the patterns in this book are all charted.
To see some pictures of Haapsalu shawls look here at Pinterest.