Nancy Bush Shares Her Passion For Estonian Lace

Note from Sandi: Ever wonder if famous designers look back on their early designs and say, "I would do that differently today"? We wondered this, too! Over the years, Nancy Bush, author of Interweave's new book Knitted Lace of Estonia: Techniques, Patterns, and Traditions, as well as the classic Folk Knitting in Estonia, has brought us dozens of patterns from this small but lovely European nation. We asked Nancy to take a look at a design she published seven years ago in the pages of Interweave Knits magazine, and to share with us what she has learned since then about Estonian lace knitting–and how she might go about knitting that same scarf differently now.

So please give a warm Knitting Daily welcome to Nancy Bush!

Greetings Knitting Daily Knitters!

I have been in awe of all of those knitter-bloggers out there, as it seems to me that there aren’t enough hours in the day to get all the knitting I want to do done, let alone read about it and write about it as well. But, now Interweave has given me this chance to see what it is like, I am already having fun!

I love talking, writing and thinking about Estonia and Estonian knitting, so am delighted to get the chance to share my passion on Knitting Daily.

When I designed this scarf (titled Estonian Lace in the Fall 2001 issue of Interweave Knits), I was a novice Estonian lace knitter. I had studied shawls I had purchased in Estonia, made numerous samples and played around with a number of shawl and scarf ideas. Today, after working for 3 plus years on my new book, Knitted Lace of Estonia, I feel I am no longer a novice. Perhaps not yet an expert, but definitely someone with a bit more knowledge than before and also with some opinions.

Now that I know what I know about Estonian lace knitting, there are a few things I would do differently if I was making this scarf again. This isn’t to say that it isn’t fine the way it is, but I think all of us go through the moment when we realize that it could have been done differently, for whatever reason. That is the place I am at today.

First, this scarf was inspired by a way of creating scarves and shawls in Estonia that I consider ‘modern’. In the traditional way of making a shawl or scarf in Estonia, if there is a lacy, scalloped edge it is attached by sewing. The center is knit first, set aside and the edge is knit, usually in two pieces, and then sewn to the center piece. I was rather horrified when I realized this, as the idea of sewing the edge to the center was not a happy thought for me. This construction made sense, when I realized that the early shawls were knit on short (9 or 10 inch long) single point handmade wooden needles. The edges were made on these same needles (some edges can have 250 stitches – on half!). In the original text for the pattern, I stated that the scarf follows the design of the (traditional) Haapsalu rätik or Haapsalu shawl. This, I now know, is not true, as it follows the design of a modern version of these traditional shawls, originally made in Haapsalu (a town on Estonia’s west coast).

My first experience with knitting Estonian shawls was a lesson I had with a master knitter in Tallinn, Estonia, my friend Hilja Aavik. She spent the day with me and taught me how she made her wondrous ‘modern-style’ shawls. She taught me how to make a nupp (button or knob – rhymes with soup) – a bobble-like feature in Estonian lace patterns, and also how to add a lacy scalloped edge onto a shawl or scarf, by picking up stitches and knitting the edge onto the center. I assumed this was how it was done, countrywide ever since these shawls were first made in the early 1800’s. As I studied further, asked questions and stared at shawls, I learned that this way of adding an edge was ‘modern’ and logically was ‘invented’ (no one knows by whom) with the coming of circular needles. These needles allowed  all the stitches around the shawl to be picked up onto one circular needle. Then the edge is knitted, circularly and the corners are mitered (using increases) as the knitting progresses. The outer edge is bound off, with doubled yarn for strength and stability.

If I was going to design this scarf today: I would first state that it is done in the ‘modern’ method used in Estonia, not the traditional one. I would begin it exactly as I did those many years ago and knit the center in the same way. However, I would knit more rows of the center, or make it longer by quite a bit, as I think 55 to 60" finished would be a better length than the 46” that this one measures. Then, when picking up the lacy edge, I would pick up more stitches than I originally did, maybe 10 stitches more across the top and bottom of the scarf (so, instead of picking up 32, I might pick up 42 sts on each if the scarf is being made to the original 46" length). I also would pick up more stitches from the sides, maybe adding in an extra 20 sts total on each side (so 222 instead of 202 for the original length). If I were making a longer scarf, then I would of course need to pick up proportionately more stitches–perhaps even more than 3 stitches picked up for every 2 edge stitches. These added stitches will give a bit more ‘drape’ to the edges and the edge will stretch easier in blocking.

I am happy to have a chance to think about this pattern again and to give it a ‘new life’ on Knitting Daily.

— Nancy Bush

Download the original Estonian Lace Scarf pattern for free 

P.S. from Sandi: We also have Nancy's stunning Estonian Summer Shawl pattern for sale in our online store! This triangular shawl has an all-over Lily of the Valley lace motif and would make a spectacular wedding shawl.

Editor's Pick: Knitted Lace of Estonia

Estonia is a tiny country in Northern Europe; set on the shores of the Baltic Sea, it is neighbor to Latvia, Finland, Sweden, and Russia. We knitters know about this beautiful country through its rich local knitting traditions, brought to us with passion and dedication by Nancy Bush, author of Interweave favorites such as Folk Knitting in Estonia, Folk Socks, Knitting on the Road, and Knitting Vintage Socks. Nancy's newest book from Interweave is the gorgeous and fascinating Knitted Lace of Estonia: Techniques, Patterns, and Traditions.

It's no secret to Knitting Daily readers that I am a lace knitting junkie. I've seen a lot of books on lace knitting, but this one is special. How special? Special enought that I sat down and read it cover to cover as soon as I got it (work deadlines? what work deadlines?) and then carried it around in my knitting bag for weeks, so that I could pull it out and look at it whenever a wave of Lace Lust hit.Yeah, it's that good. Want to see for yourself? Take a look inside the book.

Look for Nancy Bush's books at your local yarn shop or purchase them in our online store. But try your local yarn shop first–local yarn shops are the heart of our communities, and they deserve your loyalty and your business. 


Sandi Wiseheart is the founding editor of Knitting Daily. She is now the author of the popular Knitting Daily blog: What's on Sandi's Needles.

Knitting Lace: Knitting Daily Presents 7 Free Knitted Lace Patterns

Are you addicted to lace knitting? Or maybe you've admired some of the gorgeous knitted lace patterns out there and want to give lace knitting a try? Here are seven of Interweave's top knitted lace patterns, gathered together in one FREE ebook for you.

Whether you are a first time lace knitter, or a seasoned expert, you'll enjoy the timeless beauty of knitting lace. Get these stunning projects that will continue to inspire, and be loved for generations to come. You'll want to make every one of these lace patterns, so download your free eBook now and get started (and don't forget to tell a friend so they can enjoy their own copy!)

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13 thoughts on “Nancy Bush Shares Her Passion For Estonian Lace

  1. I downloaded the pattern and can hardly wait to get started on it. I love lace. I’ve got the materials set aside so that I have this lovely project to do while getting through an 8 week recovering from minor surgery that’s taking place in a few days. It helps that I’m working on a pair of laceweight socks right now that are promised for Christmas. Keep up these articles – I love them. Thanks

  2. I saw Nancy’s new book in person at the Black Sheep in Salt Lake along with a Norwegian Wedding Glove, a featured pattern in the newest edition of Piecework. BREATHTAKING. All of it is simply stunning. Thanks for the inspiration Nancy. You are simply amazing.

  3. I received the book in the mail last week and have spent hours and hours reading and re-reading. I have many knitting books in my library, but this one will always be one of the first I grab for projects. I do have one question though, in the 2nd page of the book (the page isn’t numbered as it is part of the preface) there is a picture of a shawl that is made using the one of the versions of the Greta Garbo heart pattern. This is the most beautiful shawl I’ve ever seen (and I have hundreds of shawl patterns). I am in love with this shawl, however, after searching the book cover-to-cover several times, there is no pattern included for making this shawl. Is (or will) this pattern be available separately? If so, how can I get my hands on it? I’ll pay any price!

  4. Whew! I have knit many pieces in yarn overs, Aran patterns and such but do not feel qualified to attempt such an involved and intricate project as depicted in Nany’s book. But God bless her for her inventive designs. Personally, I have been working on a pattern that has so many yo’s and k2tog that it looks crochet instead of knit and since I never learned to knit, I love that. Knitting is great this time of year.

  5. If I WERE (almost always, unless the “if” is somehow possible)
    Why? Because it’s the subjunctive “If I were (but I’m not)”. It’s the only manifestation of the subjunctive left in English, but it’s still there. Witness the use of it once within the text – why abandon it elsewhere?

  6. Very disappointed in TV Lace program on Nove 24th. Saw a beautiful pink stole on the “dummy” . Comment was that the patterns were available for download, but I found no sign of that pattern.
    Found the phone number of “Yarmmart” only to learn that
    a/ The pattern was NOT available either on the net or for purchase
    b/ The yarn was not available in the US, only in Europe.

    What use is it showing things we cannot make no matter how much we may wish to do so?

    The program is rushed, 4 segments in less than 60 mins, with little or no information on the yarns. thicnkess or fineness or the amount of yarn (by yardage ) required

    “Yarnmart” is only for those who shop on line, the colours (on line) hard to see, and no information re the thickness of the yarns themselves..

  7. I made this scarf for my mom for Christmas this year… after a few false starts due to needle choice (finally settled on sharpened bamboo needles) and yarn choice (kidsilk haze – a tough one for this pattern!) I was victorious! See the results on Ravelry:

    It took a few repeats to finally get in the swing of it, but I wouldn’t be scared to try it out – but don’t try it with mohair at first! 🙂

  8. After reading your wonderful blog from Nancy Bush on Estonian lace knitting,
    I found it to be a very interesting and helpful blog. I have been a huge fan of Nancy’s since buying her book on Estonian Lace Shawls. This has to be the best book ever written on Lace Shawls and I was thrilled to see at the end of Nancy’s blog an area where you were allowed to download the original Estonian Lace Scarf pattern by Nancy Bush and published for free in the Fall issue of 2001 interweave knits magazine.
    Sadly I was denied a free copy of the scarf, why I do not know ? particularly since it does say that you can download the free pattern. Is there a reason why the free pattern has been denied ? Otherwise please thank Nancy for her inspiring blog and I’m grateful that your site invited her back to discuss more on this wonderful type of knitted lace.
    I have enjoyed reading through your well written and maintained knitting site, and I congratulate you and your team on all the hard work and effort that you all put in.
    Thankyou for reading my comments, regards from down under, Chris C.

  9. I am making this scarf from the 2001 Fall issue and I am stuck on the edging…. wish someone had a written direction of it instead of the chart …. don’t know where the stitches on the right side of the corner stich come from…… if I just knit them from those there it makes my count off..can someone help me with this…..

  10. The estonian lace scarf by Nancy Bush’s free pattern’s link is not working . How can I get the scarf pattern, because i like the lace pattern.

  11. I am embarking on the Maikell Shawl. Has anyone had a problem obtaining the correct gauge? I am using Lacey Lamb which I was told is a true lace weight yarn and cannot come anywhere close to the gauge even using a 7 needle. I am not a particularly tight knitter. I finally decided to just go up one size to a 4 for the small needle. However, I am concerned that the shawl will end up being too small since I have more stitches in my gauge than is called for.

  12. Why I can’t have this pattern free to download ??? As it is promised on several places?
    I would need it very soon, working for a gift.
    Thank you.