Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Queen Susan Shawl

Yeah, yeah. Harry has been following me around for the last few days, poking me with his swagger stick  to remind me that I haven't posted a blog entry in weeks. Because his swagger stitck is an exquisitely sharp quilting needle equipped with a customized leather handle, being poked with it gets the point across (Ouch! Bad Pun!).

Most of my time for the last few weeks has been sucked up into a fascinating collaborative project called The Queen Susan Shawl (based on a photograph by M. Sutherland, from The Shetland Museum  Photographic Archive). 



The project is remarkable in so many ways. It shows, first of all, the power of a social networking site such as Ravelry, to foster communication across the entire globe. The shawl is so lovely and so complicated, but by combining all of our skills, The Ravelry Heirloom Knitting Forum has re-created the pattern for this masterpiece. Right now, the only missing bits are the corner chart and a paragraph or two of  calculations. We are hoping that by the New Year, The Queen Susan shawl pattern will be available on Ravelry, free to anyone who wants to hoard, knit, or just cherish this delightful design.

Because I have been working like a little fiend on all aspects of the shawl, I am not going to recapitulate the history. Instead, I am posting, with my own permission (seeing as how I wrote it), the introduction to the pattern booklet. It's a lovely story, so please enjoy!


Little did Clarabeasty realize what a firestorm she would start when she innocently posted a shawl picture from the Shetland Museum on the usually quiet Heirloom Knitting Ravelry forum:

October 16, 2009
Clarabeasty: Does anyone recognize the border pattern on this piece of lace? Specifically the part that looks like little wreaths and twigs.

Sophiphi137: No, but it is beautiful! I also am now very curious about it.

M1K1: Look again in the Shetland Museum photo library. There is a close up detail of another shawl which has the scalloped (wreath) effect made by placing roses.
You can get a really good look at it by selecting Large Image.
Isn’t it a fabulous effect - softening the straight lines of the zigzags.
Actually this might be the same one you showed above...

fleegle: Wow! That’s the most beautiful border I’ve ever seen…..gets out graph paper immediately….

This innocent, offhand exchange would result in a mammoth project involving more than 30 people and hundreds of hours of charting, swatching, proofing, writing, editing, and layout.

We started off rather simply with the center design, which we recognized from other shawls. The pattern, called Spider Webs, Spiders, and Diamonds, was easy to chart from other sources. But then, Msleoknits, presented an alternative center that she had charted and used for another shawl. Her design eliminated the garter stitch interruption in the spider webs, and many of us preferred her design to the original one.

Similarly, Q-Knitter graphed the original edging. a variation of Mrs. Sutherland's Fine Lace, a coincidence that made us all smile with delight. EdithCone subsequently presented a second, more delicate pattern—a variation of Alpine Lace—and made a chart for it, as well.

Now we had charts for two centers and two edgings, and the project was not so simple anymore.

The border, clearly the charm point of the shawl, presented numerous problems. First of all, the original shawl was clearly knitted in the traditional manner. The center and borders were worked separately and sewn together. We all decided that we wanted to knit the piece in the modern way, that is, knitting the center, then picking up the border stitches and knitting the rest of the shawl in the round. And this method meant that we had to invert all the motifs in the border.

Piece by piece, each motif was charted and test-knitted. In many cases, we had to choose among several alternatives. After a few weeks of experimentation and decisions, we had a semblance of a genuine, workable border chart.

The corners presented more difficult decisions. While we liked the original corners, we wanted something special. KnitLab became our Guy in the Corner, working up the beautiful flower sprays that integrate so well with the main border area. In what can only be called an astounding feat of charting, M1K1 not only charted the complex corner, but turned part of it inside out so less-experienced knitters could better see how the pattern fit together.

When all the parts were finally defined, LarasCreations spent weeks developing the calculations. A few days after M1K1 and LarasCreations had mostly completed their assignments, fleegle jokingly suggested adding a row above the bottom row of flowers:

fleegle: Not terribly radical. Although you would have to regraph the entire corner.

fleegle climbs into her nuclear blast bomb shelter and closes the hatch. Click.

larascreations: Well…….it does seem like it might look nicer with another 1-2 between?
What’s one more line?
……runs to keep fleegle company

fleegle: …fleegle yells through the blast door, informing Lara the price of admission are the new calculations…

laceknitterlois: “NOOOOOOOOO”….flipper proofer runs & throws supercape over m1k1’s computer screen.

“Don’t look, m1k1!”
Points pointy finger accusingly at larascreations & fleegle:
“Sure, go ahead and give m1k1 heart palpitations. And where does that leave us? Without our Professor of Corner Chartology!”
Makes ultimate threat:
“Which means you 2 would be sentenced to take over corner charting duties. Knock it off, ya hear?”
Leaves scene whistling. Just keeping the world safe, one knitter at a time.

As you might expect, the concept of an additional row was tabled forever, amidst heartfelt apologies entailing considerable virtual groveling. Gentle humor and mild tangents that drifted into totally unrelated topics made all of us smile amidst our piles of graph paper.

In the meantime, we realized that we needed to think about how we were going to present the finished pattern, and we needed to bring the Shetland Museum into the loop.

The consensus was that the pattern should be placed into Creative Commons without copyright protection, and should be available as a free download on Ravelry, a highly popular site for knitters. But we wanted to alert the Shetland Museum to the work and give them the files, so visitors to their web site could download the pattern from there, as well. Perhaps the museum would be able to use the pattern as a donation magnet.

Here is the original letter written by edithcone to the Shetland Museum.

Novmber 6, 2009
Dear Ms. Christiansen,


    I’m writing to you on behalf of a group of knitters who were very inspired by one of the shawls in the Shetland Museum and Archives Photo Library. The shawl in question is found in the photos numbered S00019 and S00024.


    We are members of Ravelry, an online community of knitters and spinners from around the world. Within Ravelry, our group, Heirloom Knitting, is particularly interested in fine Shetland lace knitting. The shawl shown in the photos above, was brought to the attention of the group and the design was so well-liked it was proposed that a collaborative effort be made to create a chart of the original design and produce a pattern that could be downloaded free-of-charge from Ravelry. After much debate, the shawl was named The Queen Susan shawl.


    We would like to give mention to the Shetland Museum for housing the original photo which led to the project. We also thought you might be interested in being able to offer the pattern for download from the Shetland Museum site (thereby making it available to non-Ravelry members).


    Is it possible you have any background information about this shawl, such as the name of the knitter/designer, the approximate date it was made, the location, etc.? M. Sutherland is noted as the photographer. Was the shawl likely made by a member of his family? Any information you could give us about the shawl would be very helpful and appreciated.


    Because this is such a large project, it will be some time before any of us finish knitting an entire shawl. In light of this, we would be extremely grateful for the use of one of your photos (with credit given to the Shetland Museum), so that we can show a completed shawl in the pattern instructions.


    There has been a tremendous co-operative effort within the group and at this point, most of the elements of the shawl have been charted. There are few Shetland lace shawl patterns of this complexity available today and none, as far was we know, that have been produced by knitters from all over the globe. It is exciting to be involved in this project, one that we hope will make a beautiful Shetland shawl design available to knitters everywhere and help continue the tradition of Shetland lace knitting.


    I hope you will entertain our request to use one of the photos mentioned at the beginning of this letter. I look forward to your reply.
Yours Sincerely,
 Denise Furukawa

(on behalf of the HK Ravelry group)

And here is Dr. Carol Christiansen’s response:

November 13, 2009
Dear Denise,


Many thanks for your email. We were delighted and intrigued by how our photographic archive has been put to use once again.


The photographer M. Sutherland was Magnus Sutherland, of Colvadale, Unst. He was related to a number of expert lace spinners and knitters, some of whom are pictured in photograph R01400. He took the photographs of the lace pieces in the late 1890s or 1900 – one scarf has the date 1899 knitted into it and it is likely that the other lace pieces were photographed at the same time.
This shawl is not part of our collection. However, we have several other shawls and stoles knitted by the Sutherland women, one of which is on display. It has similar centre and border motifs to the one you are knitting. Our records indicate that the border of the shawl on display was designed by the brother of the Sutherland sisters, probably Magnus himself. It is possible, but by no means certain, that Magnus was involved in the design of the shawl you are knitting.


The Sutherlands designed and traded patterns with one another, as you can see from Magnus’ photographs that many of the shawls bear similar motifs but used in different combinations. If the designs were written down by the Sutherlands, which is unlikely, this information has not passed to us. However, the reason we have these early photographs of Magnus’ is that they were passed on to Ethel Henry, who donated them to the Museum. Ethel Henry was herself an expert knitter and knitwear designer, working in both Fair Isle patterning and some lace – she designed wonderfully stylish fine lace jumpers in the 1950s! 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.


Have you completed the pattern for this complex shawl? If you are struggling with any parts of it, please let me know and I will see how I can help.


I will meet with our IT person next week to discuss sending you the Magnus Sutherland photograph for the completed pattern and how to attach Ravelry information/download to the photographic archive website. I shall get back to you with this information in due course.
Best wishes,
Carol

(Dr. Carol Christiansen, Shetland Museum and Archives)

Having received an enthusiastic response from the Shetland Museum, we continued the cycle of chart, knit, proof, write, edit, chart, proof for several months. Until finally, we had all the material at hand, and this pattern booklet could be assembled for what we hope is your visual and knitterly delight.

It was decided to name the shawl The Queen Susan, because several of the ringleaders bear that name or have close relatives who do. We also felt that the name conferred a certain dignity on this lovely piece.

And finally, although fleegle wrote the introduction, EdithCone pointed out that she barely mentioned her own contributions.  So, I will lapse into the first-person at this point and say that I was the initial instigator; graphed the original center and border; assigned the test knitting; wrote the bulk of the text; designed and laid out this pattern booklet; and generally pushed, poked, and prodded the participants where necessary to get the pattern assembled in a timely manner. I was the hub around which activity whirled, but without the other contributors, the project would never have come to fruition.

The Ravelry Heirloom Knitting Group now presents to you The Queen Susan Shetland Shawl, and hopes that you will derive as much pleasure in working it as we did in developing the pattern.

Shieladeedee’s post sums up the project thusly:

I’m feeling a little weepy here. 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.

65 comments:

Dorothy said...

I am in awe of all the work you have put into this project and so very grateful that you are offering this free of charge! I hope in due course you will have some real live examples of this beautiful shawl!

heidi said...

I too am in awe of all the work that you and your fellow lace knitters have put into this heirloom piece. Thw shawl is simply beutiful, and the amount of work that you have put in it is incredible!

to offer this pattern for free after all that hard work that you have put into this project is beyond generosity!

you totally rock:)

and now of course I have to add this pattern to my quee of items that I really want to knit. I'll even have to perfect silk yarn to knit it with:)

Lisa said...

That is absolutely stunning. Now I know what to do with the lambswool and silk blend I'm spinning extra-fine! Thanks to you and everyone in the group for your hard work!

GJabouri said...

To Fleegle and all other participants: Thank you! It is so generous of you to volunteer your time and effort for such a complex project. I will most certainly take advantage of the opportunity to download this beautiful pattern. I am glad that there are still altruistic people out there doing something that can only benefit everyone. I really admire you all!

GJabouri said...

To Fleegle and all other participants: Thank you! It is so generous of you to volunteer your time and effort for such a complex project. I will most certainly take advantage of the opportunity to download this beautiful pattern. I am glad that there are still altruistic people out there doing something that can only benefit everyone. I really admire you all!

Anonymous said...

although it doesn't seem like gratitude enough, thank you, thank you, thank you. Now, which of the lovely yarns offered in your etsy shop would be appropriate? I'm off to Ravelry to queue the shawl...

heidi said...

you have another shawl ready:s

why am I not suprised;)

yes, complicated lace pattern can be really expensive. I bought the wedding ring shawl pattern from heirloom knitting ages ago and was very happy to pay a full prize for that pattern:)

Even if you don't intend to charge for this pattern, why not put up a donation button on ravelry so that you can get money for the next project? considering all the work that has been put into it, I'm sure some people would be happy to show some appreciation for the work put into this shawl, and the next:)

Rachel said...

Amazing! What wonderful work, both by the original knitter and the collaboration of your Ravelry group.

LittleBerry said...

Many congratulations to you all... an amazing amount of work and effort has gone into this... the design is beautiful and thank you for doing this doe snot really seem sufficient...

Cheryl S. said...

What a wonderful thing you and the others have done to help preserve the Shetland tradition.

Shieladeedee's post said it all perfectly.

Carolyn said...

Must find group! Must fave pattern. And figure out what yarn to use. It's GORGEOUS! Thank you, gracias, merci, spasibo, and domo arigato gozaimasu!

Janice in GA said...

You rock my world. :)

Fujiyamamama said...

What an incredible project and a truly amazing story!

Mary Lou said...

Amazing. Have you all considered selling the pattern to benefit the museum? Or at least asking people to donate? I'd be glad to, even though I am quite certain I'll never knit this.

Yarndude said...

I am absolutely in awe. What an amazing story!

Laritza said...

I have been following the thread. I am so glad you guys kept at it! congratulations! It is a piece of art that with no doubt will bring hours to enjoyment to many of us. I chose to stay out of the project even though temptation was always there...in a way I am glad I did, saved my sanity and having to duck and run many times LOL!
Thank you for this lovely piece.

Clumsy Knitter said...

Wow...that's incredible! Thanks go to you and your group for all the hard work. This is definitely going in my "someday" queue!

Anna M said...

Absolutely amazing. Now there shall be heirlooms for the ages amongst all of you and that's just too dang cool!

holly said...

wow. what an amazing and dynamic project! Although I doubt i will ever knit something like this, I find it beautiful and am awed by everyone involved. What a wonderful story and effort.

May said...

Wow!! I can't wait to see this. What an amazing collaboration!

yarnlot said...

What I find heartwarming about this project is the cooperation between the knitters, the reaction of the museum and the fact that it will be available to everybody. How lovely it will be to see this extraordinary pattern come to life again by contemporary lace knitters...

GoldenTracks said...

What an amazing collaboration of people who may not even actually know each other personally (though I feel I know some of my Ravelry friends better than some of my relatives). The Shawl is exquisite. Love the story of it's origin.
Thank you all for sharing....and for free?!? Totally unbelievable in this day and time.
Thank you thank you thank you.

Winterhart said...

What a beautiful writeup! It's emotional and awe-inspiring; truly a testament to the power of technology keeping an old craft alive.

KPiep said...

The Green Woman and I are drooling...

Susan said...

What an astounding achievement and accomplishment. You must have had so much fund doing this. Very impressing and humbling work.

Lisa R-R said...

Thanks for telling us about this amazing project! Your group all deserves high praise for working together, working with the museum and then sharing the information.
I look forward to seeing photos of the group's finished shawls when available.
Lisa in Toronto

Jane said...

I am stunned on so many levels by the fruit of of your combined efforts! The beauty of the shawl itself, the charting/design prowess of your team as well as the generosity of everyone involved in making this pattern available to the rest of us. Bravo to all of you! I can't wait to try to knit this one :-)

Ev said...

What a wonderful (I want to say "story" but that just doesn't feel right) experience! It shows so clearly that we, knitters today, are tied to knitters of the past. Your collective experiences with this shawl show that so dramatically. That you're offering it to us free... well, that's just an amazing link to a rich knitting heritage. Thank you so much!

Dave said...

What an amazing project, an amazing amount of work, an amazing outcome and an amazing shawl!! Can you tell I am simply amazed?

Opal said...

since the shawl pretty much dumbfounded me, all i can say is technology rocks. well done!

Agneta said...

I have only one thing to say as usual: gourgoeus and what a awesome work

sayingthings said...

Hurrah! I am happy to see your success and excited to see a pattern available. Thank you.

Janet said...

I am adding my thanks for all your work and your willingness to share.

Leslie said...

I'm in tears: for the glory of the shawl itself, for the collaboration of real life strangers over months in a project of love, for the wonder of the Rav (Casey & Jess must be SO proud of this), in awe of the talent of the Sutherland family.

Damn, I'd hit the donation button knowing the money would go to the Shetland Museum even though I know I don't have the time, patience or talent to knit this.

FiberQat said...

Whoa. To do all that work then give the pattern out for all of us to work for free. I agree on posting a donation button. That work shouldn't go unrewarded (besides the satisfaction of being able to recreate a 100 year old shawl).

Kathleen said...

How exciting and how beautiful - the shawl, the people/community, the story. Congratulations!

MoniqueB. said...

It must bear this name, for it is your energy that made this happen!

It must feel great to send this work into the world and let it wander free.

As I have followed almost all the work from the side line, I knów how much work went into recreating the shawl for prosperaty.

I am going to knit this. I'm ready.

Thank you (all).

Rebekah said...

I'm incredibly impressed! I have always admired that shawl. I can't wait to have a go at knitting it, its a masterpiece indeed. ... Now lets see what do I have to get off my table so I'm ready once the pattern is available?....

fuzzyjay said...

Echo, echo, echo, echo. The original shawl is beautiful and I'm grateful and impressed at all that cooperation and selflessness.

gayle said...

Stunned speechless. By the shawl, the collaboration, the effort, the generosity.
Wow.

Bluebird49 said...

That is truly some awesome work you all did together! I love history of most any type, and it looks like something out of Piecework magazine, doesn't it! You have done quite a great job of detective work.

I'm back to your toe-up sock heel--trying to do a toe-up, and I had to read what you were doing 3 years later!

Judith said...

I can't express how amazed and delighted I am. All your hard work is incredible. Thank you for sharing your story.

Deborah said...

This pattern is amazing! When will it be ready to knit???

FibreJunky said...

Just...wow.

Morandia said...

good grief - I teared up just reading that. What an amazing work! Thank you so much.

Mary said...

That is knitting and Ravelry at its quintessential best. Amazing how it has crossed the boundaries of time and geography. That's when you know something has been divinely inspired. Kudos to you and the other heirloom knitters!

Bullwinkle said...

(I see I'm not the only one tearing up.)

Wow.

and ditto what everyone else said.

Bekky said...

I have only one word - wow!

This is beautiful and amazing - I really shouldn't be surprised because you are a all fantastic knitters anyway but this is such a lovely story that it just makes me feel all warm inside.

best wishes and love to all thoose involved

Christina said...

Magnificent! A grand endeavor by a few for the benefit of many. Thank you, thank you, thank you, to all who worked on this!

Carol said...

The first thing I have to say is that conversation totally sounds like the kind of thing I read on Ravelry ALL THE TIME! LOL.

Secondly, WOW. This is stunning, inspiring, heartwarming and a whole bunch of other lovely words that escape me right now.

Batty said...

Wow. I don't even know what to say -- I'd have to work hard to knit the thing from a perfect pattern. But to recreate it? That's special.

Shea said...

Holy smokes, that's incredible!

Cookie said...

A truly amazing and wonderful project all the way around. A hearty well done to you all.

kelley said...

Simply stunning!!!!! A deep curtsy to both shawl and the entire knitting collaboration.

phoenix said...

This is an amazing, inspirational and lovely achievement. Congrats to all involved and many thanks for so generously sharing it with us.

a frog named purl said...

Brava! truly truly amazing! an inspiration. i am floored. just floored by the magic of this collaboration. the history, the story the preservation. a butterfly effect, from one photo, from one action, from one thought a big bang of craft and creation!

Jane said...

Fleegle, this is a tremendous achievement. Congratulations! What an inspiration to all knitters around the world - the past and the future meet.

DawnK said...

Wow! That's a beautiful shawl. I can' only begin to imagine the hours that went into reverse engineering of the pattern. I can't imagine having the patience to knit it, let along figure out how it was made. You guys rock! I'll have to keep checking ravelry, from time to time, to see pictures of newly completed shawls!

Marlene said...

Delightful! Love the shawl design, love the collaboration of the members, love the story behind the shawl. Bravo! I'll have to whittle my WIP pile down so that I can add this lovely piece to my queue.

madonnaearth said...

That shawl is gorgeous!!! It is awesome that you're sharing it with everyone! When's Harry going to start his?

Romi said...

WOW! What an incredible and wonderful project. Thank you so much! I am in awe of you (all).

June said...

Holy moly! That *is* a remarkable story. Will you post when the pattern is available? Truly a masterpiece - and so glad that the Shetland Museum was on board, too.

Fluffykira said...

Wow. I am in awe of your work and your effort. This is such an amazing story. It makes me want to knit this precious shawl!

shawaneemom said...

I just found your blogg about the Susan Shawl. I am absolutley amazed at the story and the creativity and skill you guys have. It is a beautiful shawl, and I look forward to trying to knit it.

tanti said...

Congratulations for finishing this amazing shawl! You and your fellow lace knitters are great! I am still"Woooww" ing the shawl. And thank you for all the hard work to write down the pattern. That beyond generous!