Shetland Lace–an accepted term for the very fine and elaborate lace knitting–was produced in the Shetland Isles from the 19th century onwards. It achieved high fashion status in the middle of that century with the presentation of knitted shawls to Royalty and its showing at the 1851 Crystal Palace Exhibition. Shetland lace shawls were knitted for weddings. The pattern forms a transparent shawl thin enough to pull through a wedding ring.
The dying art of Shetland fine lace making is definitely being revived. It attracts new attention from knitters with the development of charted patterns. I have seen more of it with a modern twist surfacing in the last couple of years.
The most memorable experience at Oregon Flock and Fiber Festival last weekend was getting my hands on a 1880 circa Shetland lace shawl (literally.) My deep-felt THANKS to Beverly, President of Portland Bobbin Lace Society. This attractive AGED square shawl is knitted in lace-weight 2-ply true Shetland wool.
The borders are made individually first, then sewn together before center pattern is made, and before the edging is knitted round as the final element. The hardest part is grafting the final row of center square to the last border. The result, as evident, is beautiful and indistinguishable from a knitted row.
It would make a striking shawl, in cobweb lace and smaller needles, if made in black–for the experienced to try?!
Constructed from two tightly-spun singles, a 2-ply doesn’t mean THICK—far from it–the yarn is more resilient, stretches both ways better, and blocks nicely. Yes, it’s a bit tricky for newbies.
Sharon Miller of Heirloom Knitting recommends Gossamer CashSilk, a 2-ply yarn, made of 70% softest Cashmere blended with 30% lustrous Silk. 793 yards per 25g (2/58NM.) I prefer the crisp bouncie feel of wool over drape-y feel of silk for this type of shawl. Thus, I’d stick to pure wool, Shetland or Icelandic. Maybe this is a declasse view. Some people would rather work with real Shetland wool singles than with other 2-ply wools or HIGH-END blends that might be just as fine in total weight. I can’t say I’m as ecstatic as others for superfine with cashmere and/or silk. I’m not sure it will have the longevity of a good quality wool or cotton. Most of us know that cashmere pills with use and that silk deteriorates when exposed to light. What might save some of this fine work in silk or cashmere maybe that some people will only haul them out for special occasions. Otherwise, they’ll live in a cedar chest or closet. Personally, if I’m putting heirloom time into something, I want to be sure the fiber has a known heirloom durability/longevity to it–and I’d like to see people use the stuff or at least not have to worry about it disintegrating if it’s displayed.
This is the long way of saying that I’m just not sure I’d be a part of the gossamer silk/cashmere followers. Habu has some excellent wool 2-ply superfines in the 30,000 ypp category. I like them because they’re plied and exceptionally fine and some of them are 100% wool.
Here is a little pass-down type story of how shetland lace started. I love these little fables. Old lace must be handled with the greatest care owing to its fragile nature. When very old, the threads are so weak that the gentlest kneading and squeezing in soapy water is liable to tear it.
My fine 2-ply spun/plied on a spindle (8850 ypp) was much thicker than that of Habu! I’m confident that I’d achieve half of the Habu yardage if spun the fleece in the grease/raw. I look forward to more experiment on spinning up the fine lace–to restore the shawl shown above–when I get more fiber from Marybeth aka Sheepmom at Shady Oaks Shetlands in coming weeks.
Happy crafting and keep those creative juices running!
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