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Estonian Lace
Faina Letoutchaia


I do not think there is any need to introduce Estonia land of reserved northern beauty on the Baltic seashore. I love Estonia, I have very fond memories of Estonia. I used to spend my summer vacation in a small village of Narva-J suu, where the Narva River brings its waters into the Baltic Sea.

Estonian knitting is very particular in its techniques and patterns. Nancy Bush popularized Estonian knitting techniques in her book Folk Knitting in Estonia: A Garland of Symbolism, Tradition and Technique. This book describes some very unusual knitting techniques in color and texture knitting. Later, Nancy Bush published several Estonian lace patterns. These patterns popularized the nupp technique, creation of a small flower bud out of one stitch, and its most popular application Lily-of-the-Valley pattern. And last year a book Maigl chen: Variationen eines Traditionellen Strickmusters (Lily-of-the-Valley: Variations on Traditional Lace Patterns) by Dorothea Fischer was published in Germany. All these publications have brought to the attention of American knitters the wonderful world of little known Estonian knitting techniques and patterns.

I would like to go a little bit further in this direction. For this article I am going to discuss very particular lace knitting techniques and applications of these techniques for design. I am not going to discuss the history of Estonian lace knitting because of the lack of reliable references available to me.

The main source of Estonian lace stitch patterns and techniques is the book Pitsilised Koekirjad by Leili Riemann, published by Kirjastus Monokkel in 1995; known in American lace knitting community as Estonian lace book. Unfortunately, I learned in January 2006, that the book went out of print. The book is in Estonian; stitch patterns are charted using European chart symbols, different from what is standard in the US. Merike Saarniit generously provided lace knitters with translations of symbols. You can download the translation from this page: Estonian Symbol Translation

In the technique descriptions I am going to rely on my memories, since these techniques were known in Russia, and descriptions from Russian knitting reference book I have in my private knitting library.

The most prominent feature of Estonian lace knitting is the successful combination of openwork and texture. The very basic technique is a familiar one making a nupp. To make a nupp you knit a stitch, do not take it off the left hand needle; and then follow the sequence *yo; k1* into the same stitch as many times as desired. You can make any odd number of stitches, depending on how fat you want your nupp to be. On the next row all the nupp stitches are knit or purled together.

nupps
Nupps


The nupps are used in combination with yarn overs and decreases, as in Lily-of-the-Valley, or on their own. For example, nupps may be used to outline some geometric lace design, such as diamond; or nupps might be used to form diamonds in place of yarn overs alternately with lace diamonds. This adds a new dimension to the simple lace pattern and may turn plain pattern into a stunning design.

nupps2
Nupps outline simple cross pattern.


Nupps are also used to add interest and enhance some organic, wavy lace designs, they are added to leaf and flower lace shapes. These additions are not always charted. The exact positioning of the nupps is left to the knitter. It gives a knitter a lot of opportunities for creating her (or his) own variations.

nupps/leaves
Leaf pattern enhanced with nupps.


Nupps are also included in decreases k2tog, do not take stitches off the needle and continue to making a nupp through two stitches. Nupps really look very lovely on a background of the fine lace. They give an impression of pearls thrown on the lace.

Estonian knitters did not stop here. What would happen if we apply the same technique of making several stitches out of one to a group of stitches? First, of course, if we start making a nupp knitting three or more stitches together it will pull on the fabric. Then we do not absolutely have to work all the new stitches together on the next row. Instead can knit or purl new stitches one at a time. And we can always use this technique in combination with decreases, or for increasing the number of stitches.

Interesting textural accents are created when a multiple of original stitches is made and on the next row new stitches are decreased in groups. For example; nine new stitches are made out of k3tog, on the next row these new stitches are worked as k3tog 3 times. It makes groups of thick, raised purled bumps on the right side of the fabric. It may be used as an allover pattern or to follow lace patterns in the same way as nupps.

Tiny flower-like shapes created by K3tog; (yo, k1)4 times.
On the next row (p3tog) 3 timesm


A number of interesting patterns are created just making 3 stitches out of 3; or 5 stitches out of 5 and then purling all stitches on the next row. Depending on how many stitches you use between these cluster, or star, stitches, you will have different look. If you use needles much larger then you ordinarily use for the yarn, you will have lacy effect; if your needles are relatively small for the yarn, you will have nice textured fabric. These star stitches are also used as a background for lace patterns and included to fill spaces between lace repeats or inside lace patterns.

Nupp Outline
Diamond filled with star stitches and outlined by nupps.


Estonian knitters use these star techniques to increase or decrease the number of stitches in lace patterns. If you pull five stitches together and make only three new stitches you have made a double decrease. If you have two yarn overs five stitches apart, they will pull together quite close and end three stitches apart in addition to forming a nice texture in the middle of this stitch combination. It adds more interest to a simple diamond-like lace patterns.

Increasing with the star technique makes a very beautiful base for a flower-like lace shapes. Most frequently nine or eleven new stitches are made out five and later these four or six new stitches are decreased in a gentle curve.

Star Stitch
Flower-like pattern. Bases for flowers are created using star stitch technique.


Edgings on Estonian lace also stand out. The usual techniques for the edging are either to knit a more or less narrow strip of lace attaching it at the same time to the body of a shawl or scarf; or to knit a lace strip separately and then to pick up stitches along the selvage for a shawl. Usually edging is worked using garter or seed stitch as a background for the lace. In Estonian lace, stitches for the edging are picked up around the shawl and the edging is worked all around, away from the shawl. Lace pattern is worked on the stockinette stitch background. Corners are mitered. All patterns for edging in the Pitsilised Koekirjad are charted with corners. To prevent edging from rolling, bind off row is worked with two or three strands of yarn.

Knitted Edging
Stockinette stitch edging with mitered corner.


This technique was very successfully used by Evelyn Clark in her Estonian Garden scarf.

I hope that these fascinating lace patterns and techniques will become widely known and appreciated by American knitters and designers.

Acknowledgements.

This article will not be possible without participation and support of the members of Lace Knitting Club, Okemos, Michigan. Swatches pictured in this article were knitted by the Club members as a part of our group study of Estonian lace. I would like to thank members of the Lace Knitting Club for participation, suggestions, editing, unwavering support and just bearing on with me.

I would like to thank Marlene Osborn, the Yarn for Ewe knitting store owner for support of the Lace Knitting Club and providing us with a wonderful place to meet.

copyright 3-19-2006, Faina Letoutchaia