To Russia with Love

Galina with her collection of Russian dolls wearing shawls as part of their finery.

Editors' Note: We invited Anita Osterhaug, Interweave's editorial director for the specialty fiber group and the editor of Handwoven, to tell us more about Galina Khmeleva's newest DVD, Knitting Gossamer Webs.

I first met Galina Khmeleva in Russia in 1996. My favorite aunt, the one who had started me on needlework when I was eight years old, had passed away and left me a small sum. A few months later, Interweave announced its first trip to Scandinavia and Russia. My dear spouse and friends assured me that Aunt Katy would have been pleased to have me spend my little inheritance learning more about the crafts that we both loved, so I signed up for the tour and set out to explore my Scandinavian fiber-arts heritage. 

The time in Scandinavia was all that I had hoped, and more. We had private viewings of museum collections, from Bohus knitting to historic folk costume and rya rugs. We had classes in Swedish twined knitting and nålbinding, and we visited folk schools, artist's studios and, of course, yarn shops. But one of my most vivid memories of that trip is meeting an amazing woman in St. Petersburg, Russia, who spoke to us with pride and passion about her work with a women's cooperative in far-off Orenburg, near Kazakhstan, and who showed us the most exquisite lace I had ever seen. 

Galina models an Orenburg shawl.

Galina Khmeleva produced one gorgeous shawl after another as she explained to us how spinning the fiber and knitting a single shawl could take six months of work. She told us how the goats that grazed on the steppes of Orenburg produced long, soft, luxurious fiber that was then plied with reeled silk from China and knitted into "gossamer webs," warm and nearly weightless. And she teared up as she spoke of her recently departed mother, who hadn’t been able to afford the luxury of an Orenburg shawl until Galina purchased one for her in her later years. (Galina shares the story in the May/June 2013 issue of PieceWork.)

Demonstrating the Orenburg scalloped edging on a sample mini-shawl. 

In the years I have known Galina, her passion for Orenburg knitting, for the tradition, the craft, and the women who have lived by it, has only grown. She has spent decades of her life sharing the wonder that is Orenburg lace, and it was my great privilege this winter to work with her on a new video that will enable her to share the Orenburg tradition with more knitters around the world. We spent the day in Galina's cozy kitchen as she demonstrated the basics of the Russian style of continental knitting, the clever techniques of Orenburg scalloped edging, the basic elements of Orenburg lace, and how to block and care for your own precious shawls. Galina is an exceptional teacher, but the video is more than technique. In it, she takes us to the steppes of Orenburg, giving an intimate glimpse into the lives and history of its people. Galina takes us on a journey to her native Russia, as always, with love.