May 01, 2013

Haapsalu Lace Shawl from Estonia - Issue 3


Photographs and text by Izumi Ouchi

Have you ever heard of a lace shawl that can be pulled through a woman's ring?

In a small Estonian town called Haapsalu are traditional lace shawls so delicate and fine they make us sigh. They are knitted with the finest lace yarn, using indigenous techniques such as Nupps, a bobble-like stitch. The traditional square shawls are usually knitted in pieces - the shawl body and the lace edging - and are then sewn together to complete the garment. The finishing is called "framing," using a wooden board with numerous pins nailed on the perimeter of the frame.

This type of lace shawl became popular in the early 19th century, when Haapsalu was flourishing as a resort destination. At that time, Russian nobles loved wearing the light shawls while walking down a waterfront promenade. At one point, the shawl became so popular that some of them were machine-knit. However, some techniques like nupps cannot be done on a machine, so the craft of handknitting Haapsalu shawls was reborn.

The town of Haapsalu creates many educational opportunities to

keep the craft alive. All girls are taught how to knit in school, and there is also a knitting school in the town. Every summer, the school hosts a lace knitting festival that attracts native fans and those from abroad. A pattern design competition is always very popular. Competitors must use nupps, but are encouraged to mix modern knitting and new techniques.

Knitting a lace shawl is as addictive as knitting socks. It requires skill to make soft and fluffy nupps, and a lot of patience, but I'd like to try knitting one of these shawls at least once.

Be careful not to knit too many nupps - or the shawl will not go through a ring!


1. A seaside promenade where Russian nobles and Tchaikovsky used to love to walk.

2. Traditional square shawls. They have nupps of different sizes. 

3. Triangular shawls and aprons, knit in modern patterns.