Monday, December 29, 2008

Estonian Lace Fascination

I think that certain knitting authors don’t realize that their book is truly special, whether it covers a particular subject that has rarely been written about or shows it in a particularly exceptional way. They don’t understand that when their book goes out of print, we who are fascinated are left bereft, frustrated, scouring eBay, borrowing and photocopying illegally, or patting ourselves on the back for getting a copy way back when the getting was good. (Perhaps those who are selling the book for a hugely inflated price are happy though.) Some of the difficulty in reprinting depends on who actually owns the copyright. And publishers aren’t always interested in reprinting something that doesn’t command a huge market. Again the author may have moved on to other things – or moved on to the next life. But I bet sometimes they just don’t get that We Want Their Book. I think this is the case with Leili Reimann, author of the Estonian lace pattern book, Pitsilised Koekirjad. She originally wrote it in the 1970’s and it’s been reprinted twice. Copies are getting really scarce now that reserves of the last (1995) printing are sold out. I got mine last year from Martina in Germany but I doubt she has any left now.

It seems that Ms. Reimann isn’t much interested in reprinting again. Merike Saarniit, an Estonian-American knitter (Ravelry link), attempted to get permission from Ms. Reimann to translate the text of her book into English but it fizzled. Merike has done us a big service though and made a translation of the stitch chart. However I for one would love to know what the rest of the book says! I personally don’t know anyone who speaks and reads Estonian. Lots of other languages, but not that one.

OK so what makes Estonian lace knitting so terribly interesting? They do things that make you think “I didn’t know knitting could do that”! Like the Japanese knitters, the Estonians have some very innovative stitches that go beyond knit, purl, yarn-overs and standard decreases. Most notable of course are the nupps, little buds that add bead-like texture. But there are also what I call star stitches where you start out kinda like a nupp, only the (k1, yo, k1 etc.) can be into 2 sts or 3 or more together, usually through the back loops. The numbers can be equal (for instance, making 3 sts out of 3 sts) or unequal (such as the 3 into 9 of the blossoms in the Laminaria Shawl). After an unequal star, the rest of the extra stitches are decreased back to the normal number in a later row or rows. Often Estonian patterns have an organic quality, including flowers, branches, leaves and combinations thereof. The most popular and the one that most people think of when discussing Estonian lace, are the many lily-of-the-valley variations. Another characteristic is the doubled (or even tripled) yarn for cast-on or bind-off edges. This gives the outline weight and prevents some of the curl you might otherwise get.

So now that I have Nancy Bush’s lovely “Knitted Lace of Estonia” book some things that I was wondering about have become clear. She shows a number of the patterns and several ways that the lace is combined to create scarves and shawls. Her book still feels like only the tip of the lacy iceberg to me though. I know there is a lot more that I would like to understand about these particular stitches and I’ll probably need to swatch and play with them some to get it. I’m a lot farther along the trail now though than I was when I first got the Pitsilised book. At least more of it makes sense to me in spite of the teensy charts using weird symbols with lousy pixilated and tightly cropped swatch photos!

For more Estonian lace, check out the video on this page. Gorgeous - even if you don’t understand a word. And here’s a translation by several of the Estonian speakers on Ravelry of an interview with Leili Reimann circa 1996, shortly after the last reprint of her book came out.

Oy! I know everyone is probably sick to death of my weather reports but really – this is nuts. We’ve been having a bit of a thaw. It was a mostly-sunny day yesterday and a bit above freezing. We got out for a short hoof to the nearest grocery store and it was not easy walking, let me tell you. Only about half the people had shoveled the public sidewalk in front of their house and if you slipped off the foot-high trail of packed snow you went in up to your knees. T-Man and I both had a lot of tired leg muscles when we got home. For amusement he went back out and shoveled some more snow from around the van after making sure the city drains near our property were clear.

Today it’s alternating rain and snow with some really strong gusts of wind thrown in for good measure. T managed to get out to work this morning with the van so I guess it was worth all the digging yesterday. I’m amazed because vehicles are still getting stuck at our intersection. The main roads are clear though, assuming you can get out there. And back again. I used to love it when it snowed but I want my usual winter’s green back now, please! Meanwhile I’m staying home again. And knitting. It took me most of yesterday to knit just one 8-row repeat of the blossom pattern on my Seaweed Shawl. Oy.


kuduja merike said...

Thank you for your lovely discourse on Estonian lace. Well said! And, of course, thanks for acknowledging my stitch chart translation. I have to tell you, though, that it was Shelda Eggars (Columbia MO) who introduced me to Leili Reimann's incredible PITSILISED KOEKIRJAD book when she gave me a copy so I could translate the symbols for her. She then (with my permission, of course) published them to the web. I just did the translation - she made it available to the world. And, though it will be at least another year, I really will have a book out about more of the creative use of knitting needles and yarn in Estonian knitting history.

Louisa said...

So, Merike hon', were your ears burning? LOL!! Thanks so much for the clarification.

I am so looking forward to your book coming out. You have a wonderful way with those beautiful colour patterns. I love that no matter how much one learns about knitting, there's more to learn still.