The Haapsalu Shawl: Rhapsody in Knitting

Knitting a Haapsula shawl

Sometimes a piece of knitting grabs you and won't let go. For me, those pieces have always been beautiful lace shawls. I've knit several lace scarves, but never a shawl; I'm intimidated by knitting that much delicate lace—what if I mess it up?

I know all about lifelines—running a piece of yarn through your stitches every now and then so you have a solid place to rip back to if necessary—but somehow those don't give me enough confidence.

I got a new book the other day, The Haapsalu Shawl: A Knitted Lace Tradition from Estonia by Siiri Reimann and Aime Edasi, and the combination of amazing and beautifully presented patterns and directions has finally given me the confidence (and inspiration) I need to proceed with a shawl.

Here's a little inspiration for you from the authors of the book.

Haapsalu, located on the shore of the Baltic Sea, is a small Estonian town which received town bylaws in 1279. Being surrounded by the sea on three sides, this quiet town is known as a health resort with curative mud. It is also famous for its medieval Episcopal Castle, the dwelling place of the most celebrated ghost of Estonia, the White Lady.

Legend has it that a maiden of Estonian blood was walled alive in the half-finished wall of the baptistery; although forbidden, she had continued to live in sin with one of the cannons. The poor woman's soul couldn't find peace and thus, for centuries she has appeared in the baptistery window to prove the immortality of her love.

About the same amount of recognition has been brought to Haapsalu by its hand-knit lacy scarves and shawls. One often speaks about delicate Haapsalu lace shawls, yet what this airy needlecraft really is about, what makes it different from other lacy shawls and how to knit them—these are the questions frequently put to knitters of Haapsalu.

With this book we hope to introduce the culture of the Haapsalu shawl to a wider audience and encourage anyone interested in handicraft to try out shawl knitting.

The tradition of the Haapsalu shawl and the town which has given its name to this tradition are inseparable. Therefore, together with the shawls, we will try to introduce you to the atmosphere of this small town as well as its celebrated ladies.

Kind reader and handicraft lover, the book you are holding in your hand has captured the secrets of the Haapsalu shawl and there is nothing left but hope that you, too, will enjoy knitting these lovely shawls as much as we do.

—Siiri and Aime from Haapsalu

This book is truly like no other knitting book I've seen. It does just what the authors hoped it would, combining the sense of place that is Haapsalu with the history and technique of its eponymous knitted shawl.

The Silvia Pattern for a Haapsalu Scarf or shawl. For a larger photo, chart, and for the chart key, please click here.

Basically, each shawl (or scarf) is comprised of a lace pattern and an edging pattern, and the book takes you through the math that's necessary to come up with the number of repeats and the size of the shawl you want. It's pretty simple—really!

Most of the lace patterns are based on items from nature. My favorite, though, was designed in 1992 to commemorate the visit of Sweden's Queen Silvia. It's the Silvia Pattern, a variation of the classic Haapsalu Lily of the Valley design.

I've included the Silvia Pattern for you at right. Try knitting a swatch with a lace-weight merino on size 2 1/2-4 US needles (3-3.5 mm). There's also a larger PDF version of the chart and a chart key available here—it's a lot easier to see when you have a bigger chart to follow!

What is a nupp and how do I make one?

One of the traditional stitches used in many Haapsalu shawls is the nupp (we call it a bobble). Here are the directions for working a nupp.

Knit into stitch, leaving it on the left-hand needle, * yarn over, knit into original stitch again, repeat from * two more times—seven stitches from one stitch.

If nupp is increased on right side row then purl all nupp stitches together on wrong side row.

If nupp is increased on wrong side row then knit the nupp stitches together through the back loops on right side row.

The Haapsula knitting masters include a hint with the directions, too:

In order to get a beautiful nupp, stretch the loops of the nupp so that they are even and long enough. This makes it easier to purl or knit them together on the following row.

This is just a taste of the shawls of Haapsalu, there's so much more to learn—and fair warning: you'll want to set aside an afternoon to enjoy The Haapsalu Shawl thoroughly—the time will fly by as you immerse yourself in the knitting of Haapsalu.



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Knitting Daily Blog
Kathleen Cubley

About Kathleen Cubley

Hello daily knitters! I'm the editor of Knitting Daily. I've been obsessed with knitting for about ten years now and my favorite projects are sweaters. I like the occasional smaller project, but there's nothing like yards of stockinette with a well-placed cable or a subtle stitch pattern here and there. I crochet a bit now and then—especially when I need to produce a baby blanket in time for the baby shower. I've been in publishing for 20 years and I'm finally exactly where I want to be: at the crossroads of knitting and communication. I live in Spokane, Washington and when I'm not knitting I enjoy gardening, snuggling with my dogs, swimming, reading, and playing in the snow in the winter. But, really, I'm pretty much always knitting!

12 thoughts on “The Haapsalu Shawl: Rhapsody in Knitting

  1. Lifeline! NOw you tell me! I knitted two lace scarves and attempted a lace wimple with so frogging and frustration that I gave it up. So do you just weave the “lifeline” back and forth around the stitches?

  2. The shawl at the top and the lace pattern given are both gorgeous. I was wondering what is the pattern of the shawl at the top? It looks different from the Silvia pattern given. Also, I wish there were more pictures from the book. I am interested to see what the other patterns/scarves/shawls look like.

  3. I’d heard of running a thread of differently colored yarn to use as a go-back-to place when I get in trouble, as Kathleen mentioned today, but that didn’t work when I was working in the bee stitch. Even if I can’t pull out several rows at a time, I usually can “backstitch,” undoing one stitch at a time–but not with the bee stitch! Is there a way to do that so I can perhaps get beyond the tenth row of an afghan without having to start all over?

  4. When knitting lace, I find that there is usually a row that is simple – all knit or all purl. After knitting this row, take a tapestry needle and some smooth contrasting (color fast!!!) thread or yarn and slip this thread through each loop. If you are using a circular with a hole for a tightening key, you can string a long loop of thread through this hole and thread your lifeline as you knit the simple row.
    Actually, a life line can be threaded through any row that you know has no mistakes but I find that a row with many YO’s is tricky to pick up from a life line. If the lace pattern has no totally simple rows, then you’ll just have to pick a row that you know how to pick up and thread a lifeline through that row.
    Weaving around the stitches would not help as it would not stop that row from unraveling. Hope this helps.

  5. If I wanted to use the stitch patterns from the book (or any other stitch dictionary) to design a shawl and then sell that finished pattern (compliation of stitches and patterns), how would I know which stitch patterns were old enough to be copy-right free? ie. there are many Lily of the Valley patterns out there, so it would have to be “free domain”?

  6. Hi! You may want to correct the link to Interweave Store: the old link has Haapsula, but there shuld be Haapsalu (they have corrected it in the Store).

    Really reccomend to buy this book! I’m knitting my first shawl, it’s already so beautiful.

  7. Is it possible for someone to compare this book to Nancy Bush’s Knitted Lace of Estonia? I can only afford one of them, and have only seen the Bush book in person (so far).

  8. Hi, Elaine,
    both of the books “Haapsalu sall” (“Haapsalu shawl” in Estonian language) and also Nancys book “Knitting lace of Estonia” belong to me.
    I’m glad, I’ve both of them, cause Nancys book helped me a little to understand the other one. Only the chart key in the Estonian edition is written in english.
    But I’m glad with the “Haapsalu sall” in general. It’s such a huge ressorce of lace knitting pattern with cobweb yarns, I prefer to knit with.
    No full shawl pattern describtion, you can create your own shawls.
    And on top, if your having the “Pitsilised Koekirjad” from Leili Reimann (also in estonian; editions from 1976/1987) like myself, then your lace library is really great, I guess.
    On ravelry there are two groups, I’m a member, who knit estonian and discuss the books. It’s “Estonian knitting- estlandse breitechnieken” and “Knitting Estonia”.
    Maybe this is helpin’ a bit.
    Happy knitting to all with the lovely “Haapsalu shawl”.

  9. THanks. I’m thinking this new book would be better, then. I almost never make someone else’s pattern. And I do have a downloaded pattern from the Bush book. I think I’ll knit it, to work through the shawl construction properly, then get the new book so I can design my own.

  10. I love the Queen Silvia pattern. In fact I just knit that shawl this summer and it turned out beautifully. However, the nupps do slow you down some even when you get the hang of them.