Martha’s Lace Mystery

People create needlework for many purposes, from practical to ceremonial. Items which are preserved and passed down from generation to generation tend to be from the latter category. Through the generations, even when origins may be muddled or lost, the pieces remain, treasured but not always understood. My family on my father’s side came to America in the 1600s. They were Quakers searching for religious freedom in the New World. Through the centuries, they produced samplers, lace edgings, quilts, and shawls. Among the treasures is a sampler embroidered by Deborah Dawson in 1789, along with the marriage contract from Deborah’s Quaker wedding, handwritten and signed by all attendees.

Lace: The beautiful and intricately knitted shawl that was passed down to the author’s cousin. The family is trying to determine who knitted the shawl. The author’s great-great- grandmother Martha Moore Thomas Morris is one possibility. About 64 x 63 inches (162.6 x 160.0 cm). Photograph by Joe Coca.

The beautiful and intricately knitted shawl that was passed down to the author’s cousin. The family is trying to determine who knitted the shawl. The author’s great-great- grandmother Martha Moore Thomas Morris is one possibility. About 64 x 63 inches (162.6 x 160.0 cm). Photograph by Joe Coca.

One year, my cousin Martha went through her things and sent me a large box of needlework. Among the items was a large, intricately knitted shawl. Unlike the sampler, the shawl had no convenient signature or date to guide me as to who created it. I showed the shawl to Donna Druchunas (see Donna’s project that follows), who was intrigued. Together, we consulted Myrna Stahman, who is an expert on lace knitting and shawl construction. She identified the yarn as wool and thought the construction had Shetland elements, but she found it quite original. Donna and I decided to see if we could reconstruct the shawl, so that a new generation could create one like it.

Donna Druchunas’s lovely scarf includes several of the motifs from Cousin Martha’s shawl (see preceding article), including the border and the mesh design. Photograph by Joe Coca.

Donna Druchunas’s lovely scarf includes several of the motifs from Cousin Martha’s shawl (see preceding article), including the border and the mesh design. Photograph by Joe Coca.

I went back to Martha to see if we could figure out who might have knitted this shawl and for what purpose. There were a few clues. One was that Martha came into possession of the shawl, so the knitter was likely a direct relative of hers, all of whom were staunch Quakers.

Anne’s complete article and the instructions and charts for Donna’s companion project are in the May/June 2015 issue of PieceWork.


ANNE BERK was certified by The Knitting Guild of America as a Master Knitter in 2003. Anne has designed for many yarn companies, taught classes nationally, and has written patterns and articles for many publications, including PieceWork, Sockupied, ColorKnit, and Twist Collective. Interweave produced her intarsia DVDs, Inside Intarsia (2010) and Intarsia InDepth (2012). Her book, Annetarsia Knits: A New Link to Intarsia (Clackamas, Oregon: Double Vision Press, 2014) is a reference book on intarsia. Anne also is an optometrist in private practice in Portland, Oregon.


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