The Queen Susan Shawl
December 22, 2009 6:53 AM   Subscribe

"Think of it - a piece knitted before the turn of the last century, designed by a close group of family/friends living in an isolated area, preserved in a photograph, being recreated by a far-flung band brought together by technology and a love of this craft." Presenting the Queen Susan Shawl knitting pattern, a Shetland shawl painstakingly reconstructed following an innocent post on a (members-only) message board. Here's the story.
posted by liet (26 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
Such complex knitting is beyond me, but very cool.
posted by typewriter at 7:03 AM on December 22, 2009

I think it's awesome that they are reconstructing an otherwise lost pattern.
posted by TooFewShoes at 7:09 AM on December 22, 2009

Skimming the forum thread about it, seeing how it came together--awesome.
posted by padraigin at 7:12 AM on December 22, 2009

why is the knitting board members only? WHAT ARE THEY HIDING IN THERE!?
posted by Mach5 at 7:40 AM on December 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

So, this is something I could get done in time for Christmas? *pulls out her size 00 needles*

Seriously, this is an awesome project. Ravelry is an amazing website.
posted by SLC Mom at 7:43 AM on December 22, 2009

On Shetland, they've just had their one day that the sun doesn't really come up. It's far north.

I'm just hoping that Fair Isle becomes hip again before my real knitted-on-the-island jumper is completely motheaten.
posted by scruss at 7:44 AM on December 22, 2009

Stuff like this always gets me. For no reason in particular reminds me of this.
posted by hue at 7:45 AM on December 22, 2009

I can't seem to look at the knitting pattern link. I get some sort of Google docs error.

Anyway, I don't know if it's because I'm a bit sick today, but reading the story in the last link made me feel totally shmoopy. I think it's so amazing that all these people found a way to work together on something so beautiful. Sometimes I get a bit down on the internet, but this actually lends some credence all those starry-eyed statements tech-people make about its power to bring the world together.
posted by bluefly at 7:47 AM on December 22, 2009

So, this is something I could get done in time for Christmas? *pulls out her size 00 needles*

Well, if you happen to have 7800 m of threadsilk lying around to make it, you'll be happy to know it's knit on 0s (that's 2mm diameter needles for non-knitters). If fleegle and company could reverse engineer the pattern in 4 weeks from a photograph, I don' t see why you couldn't whip that out in 3 days!
posted by weebil at 7:50 AM on December 22, 2009

I love your tag "I love the internet."

When you think about it, 20 years ago this was impossible. Knitters, we're a subgroup of the larger group of crafters, but then there's subgroups within knitting too - sock knitters, lace knitters, cable knitters, it seems that we all have our specialties and preferences (and tend to look at the others with leery eyes). So prior to the internet, even discovering the shawl might have been impossible, but I'm struggling to imagine how unlikely it would be to find a group of people in your own little area who not only knit, but are passionate enough to do lace knitting... so without it (or even without Ravelry) I can't imagine these far flung people finding each other and making this happen. That's just awesome.
posted by librarianamy at 7:52 AM on December 22, 2009 [2 favorites]

Shetland lace shawls are famous - knit so fine, it's said, that one entire shawl can be drawn through a wedding ring. Looking at the photo, I can well believe it. The wool for such wondrous creations comes from a primitive little sheep, named for the island. The shetland sheep is my favorite breed, because of its uniquely wonderful array of patterns and colors, with equally wonderful names. They're lovely animals apart from the excellent wool, small and hardy, thrifty foragers with short goat-style tails that don't need docking.
posted by Lou Stuells at 8:08 AM on December 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Great story. Ravelry is full of incredibly talented people.

This part from the museum's letter to the redesigners, made me sort of sad:

[T]he reason we have these early photographs of Magnus’ is that they were passed on to Ethel Henry, who donated them to the Museum. ... We have two of Ethel’s lace notebooks, one in which lace patterns are written out, in another where they are charted. Some of the motifs found in the Sutherland laces are described in these notebooks. Unfortunately, Ethel stipulated that the notebooks not be published, and therefore, we can only offer them as study materials here in Shetland.

By putting a condition on her bequest (or maybe claiming copyright over charts and descriptions of lace that she didn't design), Ms. Henry made this project much more difficult. I don't know UK law on copyrighting knitting charts, but how sucky if it would cover something like that.
posted by vilthuril at 8:09 AM on December 22, 2009

That shawl is really quite a piece of work.

Crafting and handiwork has undergone a big resurgence and general explosion in terms of innovation in the past fifteen years or so, and it's largely due to the internet. The information sharing and the community building has done wonders for the field. And it's wonderful that arts that were almost in danger of being lost, such as tatting, are coming back.

Though I'm not at all likely to make a wedding ring shawl or christening robe, and not only because it's very unlikely I'll ever get married or have a baby. As much as I admire the artistry and the sheer work that goes into making lace, it's one area of handiwork I don't seem to have any inclination to get into. Lace doesn't really appeal to me. It's too Victorian, and my tastes, though retro, seem to be geared towards the first half of the twentieth century. My grandmother used to talk to me about tatting and how she wished she could remember it well enough to "learn me" to do it. I'd like to learn how in honour of her memory, but every time I've looked into tatting I just can't imagine what I would do with the lace I made. I don't think I have anything in my wardrobe other than underwear that's lace trimmed, and lace doesn't suit my home decor.
posted by orange swan at 8:19 AM on December 22, 2009

Huh, the pattern link isn't working for me now either. I swear, it worked this morning! I see a few people are commenting about the broken link at the pattern writer's blog, too -- hopefully she'll post an update soon.
posted by liet at 8:23 AM on December 22, 2009

This is pretty neat.
posted by empath at 8:28 AM on December 22, 2009

I love Ravelry. Such a useful site, and a great community of crafters.
posted by sararah at 8:28 AM on December 22, 2009

I love working with very fine materials and 00 needles. I've knitted lots of things over the years: afghans, booties, hats, sweaters, scarves, shawls, socks, but what gave me the greatest pleasure in the long run was a crocheted tablecloth in the Queen Anne's lace pattern with the smallest crochet hook and the finest cotton thread. My mother has that tablecloth and it only comes out for very special events. That was 20 years ago. I've been thinking I should start another one but maybe I could knit one this time-- if I could find the right yarn.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 9:14 AM on December 22, 2009

That's a great story. Yay!

And I honor all of you who can knit. I wish I could, but every time I try to learn I just reduce perfectly good yarn to a grubby heap of snarls.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:39 AM on December 22, 2009

every time I try to learn I just reduce perfectly good yarn to a grubby heap of snarls.

Oh, we all did. Just keep plugging along and those snarls will soon turn into perfectly serviceable garter stitch, I promise!
posted by ErikaB at 10:45 AM on December 22, 2009

Good grief that's some crazy knitting. I'm pretty awestruck and will now quite bitching about the Christmas stocking I've spent over a year trying to finish.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 11:33 AM on December 22, 2009

Just keep plugging along

I'm 45 and have tried to learn to knit many, many times since my first attempt at age 6. It's just something I personally can't do. But those of you who can? You're awesome!
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:54 AM on December 22, 2009

I've been following that project for a while and it's been a thrill to see how it developed. I kind of love collaborative projects that happen over the internet. The same group is working on reverse-engineering another shawl pattern now, from this photograph.

(Also if anyone is looking for appropriate yarn to knit the shawl, fleegle has an etsy store with plenty of gossamer offerings. I think that knitting it will be my new year's resolution/big project.)
posted by bewilderbeast at 3:57 PM on December 22, 2009

Wow, that's amazing! I added it to my Ravelry faves, but I'm pretty sure I'll never even cast on. I can handle all kinds of cables, but lace scares me.
posted by amarie at 5:35 PM on December 22, 2009

I love that this new generation of women have elevated recognition of knitting and crochet from "crafting" to the art form it has been for as long as there have been fibre arts.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:56 PM on December 22, 2009

Lace knitting is undergoing a massive surge in popularity amongst the Australian knitters. Everybody who was on the sock bandwagon has mostly switched to lace shawls. I've been holding out, myself. I can recognise the skill and the artistry, and I could probably make one if I wanted to. But I don't really wear clothes that work with lace shawls, you know? So I'll stick to my Aran jumpers and my socks, and leave the lace to others.

It's a great story though...
posted by web-goddess at 7:47 PM on December 22, 2009

Hey orange swan and amarie & co, what about chunky/bulky/super-rustic lace? like this? Lace doesn't always have to be teensytinyprim-and-proper. Or check out this very cool author-published book, it'll have you rethinking lace in no time.

I don't have the patience to do Shetland shawls at the moment but I do admire them immensely. A friend of mine who is a designer on Orkney wants to bring me over to teach and I'm thinking about doing it, if only to go geeking around all the tiny UK museums with knitting stuff... (mmm, Sanquhar knitting...)
posted by at 6:14 AM on December 23, 2009

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