The Haapsalu Shawl: Rhapsody in Knitting

Knitting a Haapsula shawl

Sometimes a piece of knitting grabs you and won't let go. For me, those pieces have always been beautiful lace shawls. I've knit several lace scarves, but never a shawl; I'm intimidated by knitting that much delicate lace—what if I mess it up?

I know all about lifelines—running a piece of yarn through your stitches every now and then so you have a solid place to rip back to if necessary—but somehow those don't give me enough confidence.

I got a new book the other day, The Haapsalu Shawl: A Knitted Lace Tradition from Estonia by Siiri Reimann and Aime Edasi, and the combination of amazing and beautifully presented patterns and directions has finally given me the confidence (and inspiration) I need to proceed with a shawl.

Here's a little inspiration for you from the authors of the book.

Haapsalu, located on the shore of the Baltic Sea, is a small Estonian town which received town bylaws in 1279. Being surrounded by the sea on three sides, this quiet town is known as a health resort with curative mud. It is also famous for its medieval Episcopal Castle, the dwelling place of the most celebrated ghost of Estonia, the White Lady.

Legend has it that a maiden of Estonian blood was walled alive in the half-finished wall of the baptistery; although forbidden, she had continued to live in sin with one of the cannons. The poor woman's soul couldn't find peace and thus, for centuries she has appeared in the baptistery window to prove the immortality of her love.

About the same amount of recognition has been brought to Haapsalu by its hand-knit lacy scarves and shawls. One often speaks about delicate Haapsalu lace shawls, yet what this airy needlecraft really is about, what makes it different from other lacy shawls and how to knit them—these are the questions frequently put to knitters of Haapsalu.

With this book we hope to introduce the culture of the Haapsalu shawl to a wider audience and encourage anyone interested in handicraft to try out shawl knitting.

The tradition of the Haapsalu shawl and the town which has given its name to this tradition are inseparable. Therefore, together with the shawls, we will try to introduce you to the atmosphere of this small town as well as its celebrated ladies.

Kind reader and handicraft lover, the book you are holding in your hand has captured the secrets of the Haapsalu shawl and there is nothing left but hope that you, too, will enjoy knitting these lovely shawls as much as we do.

—Siiri and Aime from Haapsalu

This book is truly like no other knitting book I've seen. It does just what the authors hoped it would, combining the sense of place that is Haapsalu with the history and technique of its eponymous knitted shawl.

The Silvia Pattern for a Haapsalu Scarf or shawl. For a larger photo, chart, and for the chart key, please click here.

Basically, each shawl (or scarf) is comprised of a lace pattern and an edging pattern, and the book takes you through the math that's necessary to come up with the number of repeats and the size of the shawl you want. It's pretty simple—really!

Most of the lace patterns are based on items from nature. My favorite, though, was designed in 1992 to commemorate the visit of Sweden's Queen Silvia. It's the Silvia Pattern, a variation of the classic Haapsalu Lily of the Valley design.

I've included the Silvia Pattern for you at right. Try knitting a swatch with a lace-weight merino on size 2 1/2-4 US needles (3-3.5 mm). There's also a larger PDF version of the chart and a chart key available here—it's a lot easier to see when you have a bigger chart to follow!

What is a nupp and how do I make one?

One of the traditional stitches used in many Haapsalu shawls is the nupp (we call it a bobble). Here are the directions for working a nupp.

Knit into stitch, leaving it on the left-hand needle, * yarn over, knit into original stitch again, repeat from * two more times—seven stitches from one stitch.

If nupp is increased on right side row then purl all nupp stitches together on wrong side row.

If nupp is increased on wrong side row then knit the nupp stitches together through the back loops on right side row.

The Haapsula knitting masters include a hint with the directions, too:

In order to get a beautiful nupp, stretch the loops of the nupp so that they are even and long enough. This makes it easier to purl or knit them together on the following row.

This is just a taste of the shawls of Haapsalu, there's so much more to learn—and fair warning: you'll want to set aside an afternoon to enjoy The Haapsalu Shawl thoroughly—the time will fly by as you immerse yourself in the knitting of Haapsalu.



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