A Love Letter to Galina Khmeleva & the Orenburg Lace Shawl

One of the best parts of my job as a video producer for Interweave is getting to know the instructors. And by “know,” I mean not simply sharing meals on sets and following their Instagram feed. I mean becoming friends with them, going to their house, and shoving knitting to one side of the couch so that I can sit and pet their cat. I mean exchanging recipes and gossip, and trading cakes for garden produce. I mean being able to make fun of someone to her face, while deeply respecting and loving the person she is.

Before I met Galina Khmeleva in person, I knew only that she was Russian and knit beautiful lace. I expected a wise and kindly grandmother type. I got, instead, a tough businesswoman with a sharp tongue, strong opinions, and a hugely generous heart. Galina, who grew up in Stalinist Russia, lives today in Fort Collins in what looks like Hansel and Gretel’s cottage. It was while producing a video workshop on the Orenburg Warm Shawl that I got to know Galina and understand her devotion to Orenburg lace and the women who knit it.

Meet Galina Khmeleva

An Orenburg warm shawl.

An Orenburg warm shawl.

Galina is largely responsible for documenting and helping preserve traditional Orenburg lace knitting. Known as “gossamer webs,” Orenburg shawls are knitted from the handspun down of Orenburg goats. Though measuring as large as 4 feet on each side, shawls are fine enough to be drawn through a wedding ring. (Trust me, for I have seen Galina do this.) The story behind the shawls is fascinating. Frail as they look, these shawls supported a cottage industry in rural Russia for decades. Entire villages would knit shawls for export, and the small stipend that the Soviet government paid the knitters was enough to support a household. Remarkably, there were no written patterns; women memorized lace motifs and passed them down to daughters, granddaughters, and nieces, who had already learned how to spin incredibly fine yarn for the shawls at an early age.

A true gossamer web.

A true gossamer web.

Orenburg shawls are magical. A 4-foot-wide shawl weighs just a few ounces, and the cobwebby structure floats with the slightest breath of air. The playful names of the lace motifs—“mouse prints,” “cat’s paws”—belie their formal arrangement in a piece. Serrated edges give each shawl an even more gossamer appearance, yet they are stunningly warm.

Galina’s passion is more than just an appreciation of beautiful shawls and respect for the women who knit them; she has made keeping this tradition alive her life’s work. In addition to her workshop, we wanted to create a portrait of Galina that does homage to her and to the knitters of Orenburg. You can watch it via the video link at the beginning of this article. Interested in the workshop itself? Here is a preview:

Watch a preview of the The Orenburg Warm Shawl.

The Orenburg Warm Shawl is a new, streamable course that you can watch at your own pace anywhere, anytime, on any device. Want more bang for your buck? Subscribe to Interweave’s online workshops and tackle new techniques without leaving the house. For $9.99 a month, you can binge-watch to your heart’s content. Knit, crochet, spin, weave . . . hone a craft, or learn a new one. Watch videos from great instructors, and access and download plenty of supporting materials such as charts, photos, and worksheets. Interact with other students via our chat boards, and post your finished assignments to a shared gallery so that others can see your work. We’re adding new workshops every month, so why not sign up today?

Never stop learning,

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