Monday, October 29, 2007

Shetland Hap Shawls (a mini-review)

My weekend was fun and busy and involved no fiber activities whatsoever unless you count the bighorn sheep we saw.

So, I thought I'd inflict a mini book review on everyone. I wrote this for a mailing list a while back, thus the slightly disjointed tone.

Shetland Hap Shawls

Shetland Hap Shawls is by Sharon Miller, who has also written the book Heirloom Knitting. Heirloom Knitting is about fancy Shetland lace shawls. Shetland Hap Shawls is about the everyday warm shawls. These were ubiquitous. Far more of these plain shawls were made and sold than the fancier lace shawls. Since they weren't considered special, few of them survive compared to the elaborate fine lace shawls.

As far as I know, the book is not available for sale in the US. You can see it and buy it from Sharon Miller's website, here. As of now, they offer free shipping with purchase. Yes, even to the US. I received my autographed copy about a week after I ordered it.

The book is interesting. It's thin, but the pages are densely packed. There are some typos and other small mistakes I've found so far, but nothing terrible. The one known chart error (which appears in a few different places in the book) is listed in an included errata slip.

The book is mostly history, an exploration of the ethnic form in the context of the knitting and clothing of the era. There's not too much in the way of formal patterns, probably because the Hap Shawl is a fairly simple item.

The Shetland Hap shawl is usually a square shawl, designed for warmth. The center is usually a garter-stitch square, either knit from one end to the other, or on the diagonal. Sometimes it may be patterned, but that info is only in the text. The center is surrounded by a wide border, which is usually a garter-stitch feather-and-fan. The outermost part may be plain but is more often a scalloped lace edging.

Sometimes the shawl is a single color, anything from natural sheep colors through bright dyed colors such as red. Often, the feather-and-fan section is striped, either in dyed colors or natural sheep colors.

There are also triangular half-hap shawls, and hap scarves (which are long strips of f&f or one of the chevron-ish lace patterns).

Since these were considered everyday items, very few of them survive. Much of the information in the book comes from old photographs and artwork, including old tourist postcards.

The construction methods are the traditional Shetland shawl construction methods. Method A is the outside-to-inside method, where the edging and borders are knit inward, then a central square is knit, and everything is sewn together. Method B is the inside-to-outside method, where the center square is knit, the borders picked up and knit outward, then an edging applied. One can either do the borders in the round, or knit them back-and-forth with a seam or two to close the corners. Shawls of both construction methods can be discerned from old photographs and drawings.

Elizabeth Zimmermann's Stonington Shawl (from XRX Best of Knitters Shawls and Scarves) is very similar to these shawls, except that hers features a plain border while the Shetland hap shawls usually use feather-and-fan. The f&f borders on the Shetland hap shawls are usually quite a bit deeper than the one EZ uses in her Stonington shawl.

This f&f is totally garter-stitch based. The patterning may occur on every 4th or 6th or 8th row. I don't know how I'd want to do it in the round. The idea of purling every other round doesn't sound restful for my knitting temperament. I could try one of the flat-knitting-in-the-round techniques. I could knit it flat and seam one or more of the corners. I could turn it into a mostly stockinette-based f&f, purling every 4th round instead of every other round. I could use the EZ Stonington shawl method, but that would only work for plain-colored f&f borders.

Sharon Miller gives the details of the two basic methods, with a couple of small variations. She provides charts of several f&f variations and some of the lace edgings that were often used. There are discussions on blocking, yarn choice, seaming methods, etc. The rest of the book consists of charts showing various striping sequences, lots of old photographs and drawings, a discussion of Scottish costume history, details from the old Shetland knitting-for-sale systems, and other ethnographic details.

I can think of many variations on the basic theme of a hap shawl, even though only the traditional kind is shown. I do like ethnic-knitting books, and this one is quite pure. Miller is very careful about distinguishing between fact and speculation, between genuine old patterns and more modern adaptations.

One of my kids' books is about a family in England during WWII. One of the drawings in it is of a knitting grandmother wearing a shawl with striped f&f borders. I've wanted to knit a shawl like that for years. I could have done it before, but would have had to wing it on the details, since a cute drawing is not the same as a photograph or detailed schematic. Thanks to this book, I now know more about the history and construction of these shawls.

Summary: the brand-new knitting stuff is a bit scant but sufficient, and the wealth of historical information is very inspirational. There is very little overlap with Sharon Miller's Heirloom Knitting book.


Needless to say, I've been wanting to cast on for a Shetland hap shawl ever since I got the book. I think it will be a great way to use the smallish quantities of dyed handspun that are lying around in my stash. A Shetland hap shawl is definitely in my shawl to-do list.

The baskets pictured in the book quite fascinate me, especially the ones used by the women gathering peat. I worry that basket-weaving may be in my future...

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