Nancy Bush Shares Her Passion For Estonian Lace

Note from Sandi: Ever wonder if famous designers look back on their early designs and say, "I would do that differently today"? We wondered this, too! Over the years, Nancy Bush, author of Interweave's new book Knitted Lace of Estonia: Techniques, Patterns, and Traditions, as well as the classic Folk Knitting in Estonia, has brought us dozens of patterns from this small but lovely European nation. We asked Nancy to take a look at a design she published seven years ago in the pages of Interweave Knits magazine, and to share with us what she has learned since then about Estonian lace knitting–and how she might go about knitting that same scarf differently now.

So please give a warm Knitting Daily welcome to Nancy Bush!

Greetings Knitting Daily Knitters!

I have been in awe of all of those knitter-bloggers out there, as it seems to me that there aren’t enough hours in the day to get all the knitting I want to do done, let alone read about it and write about it as well. But, now Interweave has given me this chance to see what it is like, I am already having fun!

I love talking, writing and thinking about Estonia and Estonian knitting, so am delighted to get the chance to share my passion on Knitting Daily.

When I designed this scarf (titled Estonian Lace in the Fall 2001 issue of Interweave Knits), I was a novice Estonian lace knitter. I had studied shawls I had purchased in Estonia, made numerous samples and played around with a number of shawl and scarf ideas. Today, after working for 3 plus years on my new book, Knitted Lace of Estonia, I feel I am no longer a novice. Perhaps not yet an expert, but definitely someone with a bit more knowledge than before and also with some opinions.

Now that I know what I know about Estonian lace knitting, there are a few things I would do differently if I was making this scarf again. This isn’t to say that it isn’t fine the way it is, but I think all of us go through the moment when we realize that it could have been done differently, for whatever reason. That is the place I am at today.

First, this scarf was inspired by a way of creating scarves and shawls in Estonia that I consider ‘modern’. In the traditional way of making a shawl or scarf in Estonia, if there is a lacy, scalloped edge it is attached by sewing. The center is knit first, set aside and the edge is knit, usually in two pieces, and then sewn to the center piece. I was rather horrified when I realized this, as the idea of sewing the edge to the center was not a happy thought for me. This construction made sense, when I realized that the early shawls were knit on short (9 or 10 inch long) single point handmade wooden needles. The edges were made on these same needles (some edges can have 250 stitches – on half!). In the original text for the pattern, I stated that the scarf follows the design of the (traditional) Haapsalu rätik or Haapsalu shawl. This, I now know, is not true, as it follows the design of a modern version of these traditional shawls, originally made in Haapsalu (a town on Estonia’s west coast).

My first experience with knitting Estonian shawls was a lesson I had with a master knitter in Tallinn, Estonia, my friend Hilja Aavik. She spent the day with me and taught me how she made her wondrous ‘modern-style’ shawls. She taught me how to make a nupp (button or knob – rhymes with soup) – a bobble-like feature in Estonian lace patterns, and also how to add a lacy scalloped edge onto a shawl or scarf, by picking up stitches and knitting the edge onto the center. I assumed this was how it was done, countrywide ever since these shawls were first made in the early 1800’s. As I studied further, asked questions and stared at shawls, I learned that this way of adding an edge was ‘modern’ and logically was ‘invented’ (no one knows by whom) with the coming of circular needles. These needles allowed  all the stitches around the shawl to be picked up onto one circular needle. Then the edge is knitted, circularly and the corners are mitered (using increases) as the knitting progresses. The outer edge is bound off, with doubled yarn for strength and stability.

If I was going to design this scarf today: I would first state that it is done in the ‘modern’ method used in Estonia, not the traditional one. I would begin it exactly as I did those many years ago and knit the center in the same way. However, I would knit more rows of the center, or make it longer by quite a bit, as I think 55 to 60" finished would be a better length than the 46” that this one measures. Then, when picking up the lacy edge, I would pick up more stitches than I originally did, maybe 10 stitches more across the top and bottom of the scarf (so, instead of picking up 32, I might pick up 42 sts on each if the scarf is being made to the original 46" length). I also would pick up more stitches from the sides, maybe adding in an extra 20 sts total on each side (so 222 instead of 202 for the original length). If I were making a longer scarf, then I would of course need to pick up proportionately more stitches–perhaps even more than 3 stitches picked up for every 2 edge stitches. These added stitches will give a bit more ‘drape’ to the edges and the edge will stretch easier in blocking.

I am happy to have a chance to think about this pattern again and to give it a ‘new life’ on Knitting Daily.

— Nancy Bush

Download the original Estonian Lace Scarf pattern for free 

P.S. from Sandi: We also have Nancy's stunning Estonian Summer Shawl pattern for sale in our online store! This triangular shawl has an all-over Lily of the Valley lace motif and would make a spectacular wedding shawl.

Editor's Pick: Knitted Lace of Estonia

Estonia is a tiny country in Northern Europe; set on the shores of the Baltic Sea, it is neighbor to Latvia, Finland, Sweden, and Russia. We knitters know about this beautiful country through its rich local knitting traditions, brought to us with passion and dedication by Nancy Bush, author of Interweave favorites such as Folk Knitting in Estonia, Folk Socks, Knitting on the Road, and Knitting Vintage Socks. Nancy's newest book from Interweave is the gorgeous and fascinating Knitted Lace of Estonia: Techniques, Patterns, and Traditions.

It's no secret to Knitting Daily readers that I am a lace knitting junkie. I've seen a lot of books on lace knitting, but this one is special. How special? Special enought that I sat down and read it cover to cover as soon as I got it (work deadlines? what work deadlines?) and then carried it around in my knitting bag for weeks, so that I could pull it out and look at it whenever a wave of Lace Lust hit.Yeah, it's that good. Want to see for yourself? Take a look inside the book.

Look for Nancy Bush's books at your local yarn shop or purchase them in our online store. But try your local yarn shop first–local yarn shops are the heart of our communities, and they deserve your loyalty and your business. 


Sandi Wiseheart is the founding editor of Knitting Daily. She is now the author of the popular Knitting Daily blog: What's on Sandi's Needles.

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