Thursday, March 29, 2007

Readership down, weight up, and it’s raining – One of Those Mornings.

Surprise news, however, from yesterday’s cultural outing. One of our ports of call was the National Museum of Scotland. I hadn’t been there for quite a while, and made a point of going straight to the knitting showcase – Sanquhar gloves, a Fair Isle sweater, a 19th century Shetland lace shawl, a few machine-knit things.

And not just any 19th century Shetland lace shawl – the Princess herself!

To be precise: it was labeled as a copy of the shawl presented to Princess Alexandra in 1863. This one, the copy, was given in the same year to Miss Campbell of Jura, for her wedding, and later presented to the Museum by (presumably a different) Miss Campbell.

This provokes speculation about the identity of the knitter. Did the same woman knit it twice (a repetition, not a copy)? Or did she help a friend reproduce it? Either way, it must be the case that the original Princess shawl knitter was known to Miss Campbell, and probably connected to her by blood or love or both. And wanted her to have a princess’s shawl to wear on her wedding day.

Sharon Miller says somewhere, I think, that she believes she has located the Princess shawl knitter in the Report on the Truck System (see the passages in her Hap Shawl book) or the Statistical Account for Scotland. But I can’t find the passage. Could it even have been in a message to the Heirloom Knitting group? I could search the archives.

Anyway, when I got home I found a picture on the Museum of Scotland website. I don’t dare reproduce it, and I’m sure this URL won’t work:

(I've just tried it, and it does work. The sprouting seeds appear to nod away from the centre. Sharon's change is an improvement. )

I got it by googling on “Shetland lace shawl presented to Princess Alexandra in 1863” (without the quotation marks). The National Museum of Scotland was among the first dozen suggestions.

In the showcase, it was strategically folded so that you couldn’t see any of the cruces – the sprouting seeds and their nods, the insertion, the centre pattern. Perhaps if I wrote to the Curator of Textiles and said that I once spoke to Sharon Miller on the telephone….

I had always assumed that Sharon’s pattern was based on the actual presentation shawl in the Royal Collection (if it exists). But maybe she used this one. Her pattern is likely to be the most elaborate lace knitting pattern ever published, but it’s not a copy of the original Princess – it’s a simplification (!) and interpretation, a design of Sharon’s own.

The original was worked with finer thread (again, !) and has 16 ½ feathers instead of Sharon’s 11. The centre and edging are different, Sharon says, but similar in complexity and “feel”.


  1. Anonymous12:06 PM

    Thank you for that link, it makes it easier to see where you are in the pattern, and what's remaining to do. Such a beautiful thing, I am currently trying to understand the 'veil stitch' in the Bluestocking pattern - have you seen it?

  2. Anonymous1:08 PM

    Jean, thank you for the site of the Princess for a princess. Magnifique!!! (as yours is even now)

    Your readership may not be down; what you see is your 'commentatorship". My day starts with you.
    peace, Elizabeth

  3. How lovely to be able to see one of the originals. I'm still in awe of the kind of work - lace requires concentration, and I struggle to understand how someone living on a croft could find that kind of lasting focus with all the other demands on her time!

  4. Anonymous1:59 PM

    Wow--thanks for sharing this link! So inspiring.

    An unrelated question--do you have any plans to repost your Gladys Amedro appreciation page?

  5. Hello Jean,

    Thank you for an inspiring and informative post. Even though I don't usually comment, my weekdays start with you also.

    Take care,


  6. Anonymous3:21 PM

    My day also starts with you and you have really got me interested in lace. Is there a shawl pattern or kit at Jamieson and Smith that you would recommend? I figured that would be a good place to start. Thanks for being so faithful to your blog - I know it is a lot of work and we all appreciate it.
    Ron from Mexico

  7. Hello Jean,

    I absolutely love it when you go into Knitting History Sleuth mode. This was such fun to read.

    In other news, yesterday's entry encouraged me to go see what vintage knitting books might be available on ebay. While I of course did not bid on anything in your particular niche, I did manage to spend half next week's grocery money.

    You are a siren, a temptress.


  8. Hi Jean
    Thanks for the link to the shawl, the museum used to be one of our regular weekend haunts when the boys were small and we lived in Scotland. I must go back next time I am home.

  9. Anonymous6:34 PM


  10. Been visiting regularly for a while, but lurking, in awe of your lace, your technical expertise, and your knowledge. Still mostly exploring colourwork myself.

  11. Anonymous12:07 AM

    Hey, yours is the first blog I read every morning!
    I don't comment very often, I am trying to wake up!
    I admire your knitting style so much!
    You are following the Princess pattern, thanks for the link to the picture, but I notice that generally your knitting is your own unique design, with referrals to other designers mixed in.
    I wish I could be more like that.
    Thank you for your thoughtful updates. I will comment more often.

  12. Anonymous4:22 AM

    How exciting! I wish I'd managed to get to the museum when I was over there last fall, but I spent my time at Rosslyn instead. Choices, choices. Next time for sure.

  13. Dear Jean,

    Thank you so much for that link. The shawl is stunning. Of course, it is for a member of a royal family so I guess it would have to be beyond unique. Something to aspire to even if I will never reach those heights! Thanks again!