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Knitting a Haapsalu Shawl

Apr 25, 2014

There's something special about a knitted lace shawl. The ethereal quality is so feminine, and there's a connection to the past, both in the knitting and the wearing. Designer Nancy Bush is synonymous with knitting lace shawls, especially Estonian shawls.

An example of a Haapsalu Shawl
In Interweave Knits, Spring 2013, Nancy wrote a tutorial about how to design and knit a Haapsalu shawl. Haapsalu is a town in Estonia with a rich knitting tradition.

The term Haapsalu rätik (Haapsalu shawl or scarf) seems to be a universal title for a lace shawl or scarf in Estonia. In Estonia, a true Haapsalu rätik is square, while a triangular shawl is known as a kolmnurk rätik and rectangular shawls or scarves are known as sall. All are made with openwork lace patterns, whether traditional or newly designed, and if there is an äärepits or lacy edge for a traditional style, it is always knitted separately and sewn to the completed center section by hand. There is much more to these shawls than meets the eye. It is the small details that make them so interesting and fun to knit. —Nancy Bush, Interweave Knits, Spring 2013

Some of these details include:

• Choosing a stitch pattern for the center panel of the shawl. (Nancy has so many beautiful patterns in her book Knitted Lace of Estonia.)
• Knitting the "frame"—several rows of garter stitch knit around the center shawl pattern. The lace edging will be attached to this frame.
• Choosing and knitting the lace pattern for the edging.
• Attaching the lace edge to the center block of the shawl.

As you can see, a lot goes into knitting a Haapsalu shawl! But it's worth it.

There are some techniques that are helpful to know, as well. Two techniques that Nancy uses when knitting her shawls are knitting nupps—the bobble-like bits that add so much texture to Estonian shawl patterns—and a stretchy bind off that's traditional in Haapsalu shawls.


A nupp ("knob" or "button" in Estonian) is a bobble-like feature found in many Estonian lace patterns. Nupps are made up of 5, 7, or 9 stitches. Typically 7 stitches are used with fine- to medium-weight yarns, 5 stitches for thicker yarns, and 9 stitches for the finest yarns. There are various ways to make a nupp, but I consistently use the following method.

To make a nupp on a right-side row, increase in a stitch by loosely knitting into the marked stitch, leave that stitch on the left needle, *yarnover and knit the stitch again (Figure 1); rep from * until you have 5, 7, or 9 stitches, ending with knitting the stitch to secure the last yarnover (Figure 2; 7 stitches shown). On the next row, purl the cluster of nupp stitches together (this is why it's important to work loosely) to return to the original number of stitches (Figure 3). An older variation is to make the increases on the wrong side of the work and knit them together through the back loop on the right side.

When working in rounds (as in when working a knitted-on edging), work the nupp increases on one round, then work the decrease on the following round by knitting the 5, 7, or 9 nupp stitches together through their back loops.

K2tog Bind-Off

The Estonians use a "k2tog" bind-off for all their lace knitting. The bind-off for the center of a shawl is worked with a single strand of yarn, as is the bind-off for the lace edge that will be sewn onto the shawl (the cast-on for this edge is worked with the yarn double). The bind-off for a lace edge that was picked up and knitted onto a center is worked with two strands held together.

Slip the first stitch, knit the second stitch, *knit these 2 stitches together by inserting the left-hand needle into the front of them from left to right and knitting them together through their back loops with the right needle (Figure 1), then knit the next stitch (Figure 2); repeat from * until all of the stitches are secured. Cut the working yarn and pull up the last loop to secure the end of the bound-off stitches.

These shawls are so lovely, with such historical significance. I love these bits of historical knitting lore, and I find so many of them in the Beyond the Basics feature in Interweave Knits.

Get all of the issues from 2013 in one collection! You'll get over 120 patterns and four Beyond the Basics articles, plus much more. Get your 2013 issues on CD or download your collection today.


P.S. Do you love knitting lace shawls? If you have any tips for us, leave a comment and share them!

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on Apr 27, 2014 7:06 PM

I found that the easier way to make a nupp is to k into front of the stitch, k into back of the stitch, seven times (rather than do a yarn over).  On the Purl side, I slip the first 6 stitches back onto the right hand needle, P the 7th and then PSSO all the stitches, one at a time.  This makes for a neat nupp.

But I like the suggestion of using a much smaller needle to Purl the increased stitches.  

I have been using a very fine silk yarn with a size 6 needle to make my granddaughter a prayer shawl in Estonian Lace.   The nupps were a challenge, but one that has been mastered and the prayer shawl is almost finished.  Now I am going to make myself one.

knitting grandma

hc1951 wrote
on Apr 26, 2014 10:14 AM

I knitted a beautiful nupp-filled shawl in merino laceweight yarn then meticulously blocked it out to full size only to find it shrunk back to the original size within a month. Did I do something wrong?

EllenF@3 wrote
on Apr 25, 2014 1:37 PM

When I made an Estonian lace scarf I used a size 0 needle for the purl 7 together on the back side of the nupps. BTW, the center of the scarf was not too challenging (once I started using the smaller needle for the nupps) but the border corners were very tricky.

on Apr 25, 2014 9:51 AM

I have made several pieces from Nancy's book since it was originally published. My biggest tip is on making a nupp. I found it difficult to slide my needle back into the nupp on the purl side, especially when making the larger pieces on a circular.

So, rather than wait until the next row to complete  the stitch, I pass the stitch, yo, stitch etc portion of the nupp back to my left needle and knit together to "close" the stitch. When I encounter the nupp stitch on the purl side, I slip the stitch, with the yarn in front. This also helps to keep the nupp pushed forward on the right side when the piece is complete and blocked.

Connie@59 wrote
on Apr 25, 2014 9:07 AM

I find using Highlighter tape  on the lace charts makes it easier to read the row.

mariiikene wrote
on Apr 25, 2014 7:05 AM

Haapsalu sall is nice indeed. Just making myself one. I live in Tallinn and I´m Estonian.

It is so funny to read "nupps" - because plural for "nupp" is "nupud" in Estonian :))) But it is ok, just had a good laugh :D

PS we call it almost always "Haapsalu sall" (means Haapsalu shawl) even if it is triangular or square shape. Haapsalu rätik is less used, usually when you want to point out that is it not rectangular.

Greetings from Tallinn