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April 12, 2022

Motifs in Stitches

“Symbols are a language that can help us understand our past. As the saying goes, a picture says a thousand words, but … which words? Understanding our past determines actively our ability to understand the present. So, how do we sift truth from belief? How do we write our own histories, personally or culturally? And thereby define ourselves. How do we penetrate years, centuries, of historical distortion to find original truth? Tonight this will be our quest.” -Professor Robert Langdon, in the novel The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown

The intrigue of knitting encompasses all of these things and more. Yes, the stitch patterns are lovely. Yes, we want to challenge ourselves to learn new things. Yes, we may be exploring history or learning about ourselves through knitting. But I believe we are also opening ourselves up to imagine what it’s like to be in another place and time, and to see the world through different eyes.

Knitting is a form of time travel; the symbols, pattern stitches and colors found in knitted pieces have endured through generations, often transitioning from ancient artifacts to antique textiles, vintage garments and modern accessories. Knitting is also a form of space travel. Patterns travel geographically-from house to house, village to village and around the world-as knitters share ideas, techniques and patterns with their children, with their neighbors and with visitors from far away.

For more than a decade, I’ve been obsessed with learning about knitting traditions, patterns and techniques from around the world. What I’ve discovered is that while there are many styles and pattern stitches that are unique to a single place, there are even more that are commonplace across cultures. Similar patterns can be found wherever knitters combine yarn colors by working with two or more colors in a row and stranding the unused yarns at the back of the work. These universal patterns and motifs, as old as human culture itself, have been used in clay, wood, metal, weaving and embroidery work long before they found their way onto knitting needles.

It might be said that these folk-art motifs constitute the oldest form of writing, embodying a pictorial language that was in use for millennia before a more direct form of writing that is, recording actual words and sentences-came into use.

The Lithuanian word for both “patterns” and “charts” is raštai. This word can also mean paper, writing, letters or documents. Rašytojas means “writer.” Today, through our knitting, we can pass down these time-honored motifs into the future just as knitters of the past did in their stitches.

I am particularly interested in the designs used in Eastern Europe, where my family originated. But as I’ve studied knitting from around the world, I’ve found the same and similar motifs used in designs from regions as far apart as Peru, Turkey, Scandinavia, Lithuania and New England.

Geometric designs made from horizontal and diagonal lines intersecting on a contrasting background are ubiquitous wherever knitting is found. Still, knitters in each corner of the world have a unique take on the arrangement of the individual design elements and may use two or three colors to change the design in simple but striking ways.

The knitted accessories in museum collections, markets and personal collections around the world derive their unique flavors from the selection of pattern stitches, the ways those stitches are combined with other texture and color patterns, and the way gloves, socks and other accessories coordinate with the clothing traditionally worn in each region.

Simple geometric shapes-such as zigzags, triangles and lines are the oldest folk-art patterns that have been adapted to knitting in most areas. But patterns became more complicated and elaborate over time, and grew to include rectangle, oval and diamond patterns, used individually or interlocked to form chains, lattices and allover patterns. In some regions, more pictorial motifs were also created.

What follows is a very small selection of patterns with a few notes about their interpretations in folk-art customs in different parts of the world. Without written records to tell us precisely what messages were meant to be understood from these folk-art patterns, we have only oral histories, traditions and fading memories to rely on for our understanding of what was most likely once common knowledge.

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In Lithuania and most of Northern Europe, zigzags represent the Earth Mother, waves of water or the river of time. One Turkish zigzag pattern is known as the “drunk’s path.”


In the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, triangles may represent the Sky God (pointing up) or the Earth Mother (pointing down), as well as man and woman. This interpretation is also traditional in Norway, where a triangle pointing up represents male power and fire, while one pointing down symbolizes female power and water. A horizontal row of triangles used in Turkey is called “black eye”; another is “amulet.” In New England and Nova Scotia, triangles are combined in patterns known as “flying geese” and “sawtooth.”

Stars, mostly with eight points, are popular wherever knitting is found. This motif may also be interpreted as a snowflake, as it is in New England, or as a flower, as it is in Lithuania. In Lithuania it is knit in floral colors such as blue, pink or yellow with accompanying green leaves.

Crosses were important symbols in folk art long before the arrival of Christianity in Europe. Larger, more ornate cross motifs may also symbolize knots reminiscent of Celtic or Viking designs, made to bring protection to families and to ensure a happy, prosperous life, while others signified fire.

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Chevron and arrow patterns often represent trees and nature in Lithuanian and Latvian knitting. In Turkey, similar patterns have many different names, including “thorny” “willow branch” or “mistletoe.”

In Eastern Europe, circles represent the sun, moon or stars, and circles with spokes represent the sun and light. Because circles are difficult to create on a knitting grid, diamonds often represent the sun. The XO pattern, made famous in Scottish Fair Isle knitting, has been prevalent in knitting in Eastern Europe for centuries.

Curved spiral shapes may represent ocean waves or snakes and dragons, depending on the region where they are used. Similar motifs may also represent the concept of yin and yang in Eastern countries.

Some knitters in the past created pictorial motifs of animals and plants, and these seem to be more diverse and custom in different parts of the world, with some interesting exceptions. Geometric patterns are often combined with stylized plant and animal motifs in the Andes, where inspiration from traditional pre-Columbian folk art was combined with Spanish and Portuguese motifs that came to South America with the conquistadors. In Turkish knitting, there are examples featuring stylized birds, insects and mammals that are strikingly similar to those seen in Peruvian knitting.

In Northern Europe, animal and plant motifs are often less stylized and more realistic. This elk motif from Northern Europe is probably the most well-known example.

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One of the most fun parts of working with traditional ethnic designs is tweaking charts and pattern stitches to suit your own design. All of these examples should give you some ideas for playing with patterns on your own, and you can find many more ideas in knitting stitch libraries. You can easily draw new charts on graph paper with markers or colored pencils, in essence creating your own custom coloring book. Or if you prefer, you can work on your computer or tablet, and add color to squares in a spreadsheet, or you could even use special knitting-chart software. Whatever tools you use, I hope you will make your own foray into creating modern folk art with your knitting needles..

Knitting
About Donna Druchunas
Donna is a Knitwear Designer featured in many publications over the years. Going on the 17th year as a business designer creating wonderful designs and contributing to the knitting community. Now semi-retired in upper Vermont USA. Read more about Donna on the about page.

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April Showers & May Flowers Photos
Live Online Workshop Info

I’ve put together a knitting workshop per month for 2023.  These are live online knitting workshops that I’ve taught live and in person in the past and I’m making them available to all the wonderful knitters out there at a low cost, no traveling, no hotel stay needed. 🙂 – Donna Druchunas –

  • 3 hr class every 3rd Sunday of the month Jan – Oct 2023. 2nd Sunday in Nov – Dec, 2023. 1-4pm each day.
  • Full version of a knitting pattern is included in each class but they are for reference to a particular technique. These workshops are not knit alongs.
  • Live Q&A at the end of each workshop.
  • Workshops will be recorded with the exception of the live Q & A which will be transcribed. Your video is not required. You can listen in and participation is not required. We use Google meets which can be used with or without a google account.
  • Access to workshops will be available on our website AFTER your workshop concludes for future reference.

Please contact Donna on our contact form or direct email to Donna@sheeptoshawl.com. Please specify which workshop you have questions about or just ask a general question about the workshops.

What is a KAL (Knit Along)

sherlock holmes g4cd5ebfc1 1280A mystery knit along (MKAL) is a type of knitting project in which a pattern is released in stages over a period of time, typically a few weeks or months. Each stage of the pattern is released at a specific date and time, and the final design is not revealed until the end of the project. This adds an element of surprise and excitement to the knitting process, as knitters do not know what the finished product will look like until it is complete.

MKALs are often hosted by designers or knitting groups, and participants typically purchase the pattern before the project begins. Some MKALs may also include optional clues or hints to help participants along the way. Knitters can follow along with the pattern at their own pace and share their progress with the knitting community on social media or online forums.

Mystery knit alongs can be a fun and engaging way to challenge yourself as a knitter and try new techniques or styles. They can also be a great way to connect with other knitters and share the experience of creating something beautiful and unique

Goddess Knits Video
Goddess Knits Book Illustrations

All illustrations created by Designer Donna Druchunas

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Past Club Projects


Starting the border on a shawl

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Brioche Cowl Online Workshop
Brioche Cowl Online Workshop
Nov 12th, 2023 | 1pm – 4pm Eastern Time
Project Class

Materials: 2 balls of soft worsted weight yarn in different colors (approx 225 yards per ball), US size 101⁄2 (6.5mm) circular ndl approx 24″/60cm long or 2 circulars, basic knitting toolkit. This is enough yarn for the cowl and the December hat class.

Experience: Easy, need to know how to cast on, bind off, knit, and purl.

Description: I combined soft and squishy Brioche Stitch, also known as Fisherman’s Rib, with one skein of wool and one skein of wool-silk blend. You can 2 any soft yarns that you like. We will learn how to knit 2-color Brioche in the round with this simple, meditative pattern that will give you a quick gift for yourself or someone on your holiday list.

Nov 12th, 2023 | 1pm – 4pm Eastern Time

Brioche Hat Holiday Gift Workshop
Brioche Hat Online Workshop
Dec 10th, 2023 | 1pm – 4pm Eastern Time
Project Class

Materials: 2 balls of soft worsted weight yarn in different colors (approx 225 yards per ball), US size 9 (5.5mm) circular ndl 16″/40cm long and dpns or 2 circulars, basic knitting toolkit. This is enough yarn to make the hat plus the cowl from the November class.

Experience: Easy, need to know how to cast on, bind off, knit, and purl.

Description: I combined soft and squishy Brioche Stitch, also known as Fisherman’s Rib, with one skein of wool and one skein of wool-silk blend. You can choose any soft yarns that you like. We will learn how to knit 1-color AND 2-color Brioche in the round to create a cozy hat that can be work separately or paired with the cowl from November’s class.

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Dec 10th, 2023 | 1pm – 4pm Eastern Time

Colorwork Mittens Online Workshop
Colorwork Mittens Online Workshop
Oct 15th, 2023 | 1pm – 4pm Eastern Time
Project Class

Materials: 3-4 balls of worsted weight yarn in different colors, set of 5 size 7 double-pointed needles (or 2 circulars or 1 long circular for magic loop), a crochet hook of the same size, basic knitting toolkit.

Experience: Intermediate, need to know how to knit with double-pointed needles (or 2 circulars or 1 long circular for magic loop)

Description: Learn to make fabulous colorwork mittens. Choose your own cuff style, thumb technique, and fingertip shaping from traditional options and decorate your mitten with Lithuanian colorwork motifs. A basic pattern is provided, but you’ll learn how to make custom-fitted mittens on the fly with just a few key measurements. In this class we will also learn how to embellish our mittens with knitted fringe, baltic braids, and a decorative cast on.

Oct 22nd, 2023 | 1pm – 4pm Eastern Time

Amish Oval Rug Workshop
Amish Oval Rug Online Workshop
Sept 17th, 2023 | 1pm – 4pm Eastern Time
Project Class

Materials: Size 10 1/2 needles, 5 skeins of Brown Sheep’s Burly Spun yarn, 1 skein color A, 2 skeins color B, 3 skeins color C or equivalent yarn, basic knitting tools.

Experience: Easy+ level. Students need to know to knit and purl, cast-on and bind-off, and have experience making 2-3 projects.

Description: Rugs provide a stress-free way to learn to knit. Even if you only know how to cast on and do the knit stitch, you can create stylish and functional rugs for your home. Since rugs are simple shapes, there are no armholes or necklines to shape, no buttonholes to remember, and no constant measuring to ensure proper fit. In this class, we will learn to make an oval knitted rug inspired by Early American braided rugs. Made from old rags, these early rugs represent frugality and parsimony, but their flamboyant colors speak of a love for beauty. This rug, made of alternating Garter and Stockinette Stitch strips, gives you the chance to bring the classic braided look into your own home.

Sept 17th, 2023 | 1pm – 4pm Eastern Time

Beaded Wrist Warmers Workshop
Beaded Wrist Warmers Online Workshop
Aug 20th, 2023 | 1pm – 4pm Eastern Time
Project Class

Materials
Beginner Knitter: 1 skein of Cascade 220 (or equivalent worsted-weight wool) in a medium or dark color, size 5 straight or circular needles (see homework)

Intermediate Knitter: 1 skein of Koigu (or equivalent fingering-weight wool) in a medium or dark semi-solid color, or equivalent fingering weight wool yarn, size 1 straight or circular needles (see homework)
Advanced: 1 skein of a fairly heavy lace-weight wool yarn,
something that has some body and is NOT cobweb weight, size 000 needles (see homework)

Everyone: crochet hook same size as needles or close, basic knitting toolkit, needle nose pliers (optional)

Homework: CO 30 sts and work in garter stitch for about 3 inches and BO. Make sure your stitches are tight and the fabric is firm. If they are loose and the fabric is soft, try again with smaller needles. Bring the swatch to class.
Experience: Beginners welcome! If you can do the knit stitch, you can make these beaded wrist warmers.

Description: Beads add a fabulous touch! Knowing just the basics of knitting, you can easily create colorful designs with beads. Using only garter stitch and learning how to read and work from beading charts, in this workshop, we will make beautiful jeweled wrist warmer cuffs that are inspired by those popular in Lithuania. We will also learn beautiful crochet trim stitches – with and without beads, for trimming the wrist warmers.

Aug 20th, 2023 | 1pm – 4pm Eastern Time

Lithuanian Cuff Down Socks Workshop
Lithuanian Cuff Down Socks Online Workshop
July 16th, 2023 | 1pm – 4pm Eastern Time
Project Class

Materials: 1 ball of worsted-weight yarn (approx 100 yards), two sets of 5 size 7 double- pointed needles (or 2 circulars or 1 long circular for magic loop), basic knitter’s toolkit.

Experience: Intermediate, need to know how to knit with double-pointed needles (or 2400 circulars or 1 long circular for magic loop)

Description: Working from instructions I have translated from vintage Lithuanian knitting books, we will knit several types of heels and toes that I have never seen used in contemporary American knitting patterns. We will also look at different types of sock construction used in Lithuania in the 19th century, and discuss the history and cultural development of Lithuania, with a focus on influences on knitting patterns and techniques used in the country. We will learn how to knit an unusual short row heel that also has a gusset, a stair-step heel, and several variations of heel stitches for heels with flaps. We will also look at several ways to shape toes including two unusual spiral designs with decorative decreases. I will have a selection of hand-knit socks from Lithuania to examine up close. Students will also receive a collection of colorwork and lace charts for sock stitches that are popular in Lithuania.

July 16th, 2023 | 1pm – 4pm Eastern Time

Grandma’s Knitting Workshop
Grandma’s Knitting Online Workshop
June 18th, 2023 | 1pm – 4pm Eastern Time
Technique Class

Materials: About 50 yards of worsted-weight yarn, size 7 needles, basic knitting toolkit

Skill Level: All skill levels welcome.

Description: Learn the version of Continental knitting traditionally used in Lithuania and many other parts of Eastern Europe. This technique is sometimes called Combination or Eastern Uncrossed knitting in the west, but in Lithuania it’s known as Grandma’s Knitting. This is a fast way to knit and many knitters find it gives them the most even tension of any technique they’ve tried.

June 18th, 2023 | 1pm – 4pm Eastern Time

Successful Lace Knitting Workshop
Successful Lace Knitting Online Workshop
May 21st, 2023 | 1pm – 4pm Eastern Time
Technique Class

Materials: Size 5 and 3 straight needles, approx 50 yards of worsted-weight and sport-weight yarn in any animal fiber, light colors are best, stitch markers, sticky notes (recommended) or row counter, and basic knitting tools.

Skill Level: For the advanced-beginner to intermediate knitter. Students should know how to cast on, bind off, knit, and purl, and should have completed several projects.

Description: For years I tried to learn how to knit lace, and was frustrated as I failed each time. I finally gave up because I wanted to have fun knitting and enjoy my hobby. I was able to knit cables, fair isle, intarsia, and even entrelac with no problems, but lace stymied me over and over again. I thought I would never be able to knit lace, until I stumbled onto Dorothy Reade’s simple techniques.

Working from charts, understanding decreases, and knitting with worsted-weight yarn and larger needles gave me the confidence and practice I needed to ease into lace knitting. If I learned how to knit lace after years of frustration and failure, I know other knitters can, too!

In this workshop we will discuss the tools and yarns used to knit lace, learn how to follow lace charts, and make one swatch in worsted- weight yarn and one in sport-weight yarn. Students will then be ready to knit a lace-weight swatch on their own, and move on to making a simple project such as a lace scarf or hat.

May 21st, 2023 | 1pm – 4pm Eastern Time

Bosnian Sock Class
Bosnian Toe Up Online Workshop
April 16th, 2023 | 1pm – 4pm Eastern Time
Project Class

Materials: 2 balls of worsted-weight yarn in different colors (approx 100 yards each), set of 5 appropriately sized double- pointed needles (or 2 circulars or 1 long circular for magic loop), a crochet hook of the same size, basic knitting toolkit

Experience: Intermediate, need to know how to knit with double-pointed needles (or 2 circulars or 1 long circular for magic loop)

Description: In this class we will learn how to make a fascinating Bosnian toe-up sock that has a rectangular toe that is knitted flat, but without purls! The rest of the sock is knitted in-the-round with an “after thought” heel, and decorative finishing. I have several examples of hand-knit Bosnian slipper socks that we will examine closely. We will knit a complete mini sock to learn the techniques, and you’ll have a pattern to knit full-sized socks on your own.

April 16th, 2023 | 1pm – 4pm Eastern Time

Stories in Stitches Workshop
Stories in Stitches Online Workshop
March 19th, 2023 | 1pm – 4pm Eastern Time
Technique Class

Materials: Approximately 2 skeins of approx 100 yards of worsted-weight yarn (each a different color) for knitting a sampler, size 7 (4.5mm) or 8 (5mm) knitting needles, basic knitting tools.

Experience: Intermediate. Knitters should have basic knitting skills plus experience with reading charts.

Description: In this workshop, we will learn about stories from knitters around the world, and we will learn to knit a pattern stitch from each region and knit a sampler. Stories and techniques will be different in this workshop.

We will go over topics as diverse as: Bavarian twisted-traveling stitches, Irish cables from the Aran Islands, two-color knitting from Norway, Danish texture patterns, Japanese bobbles, Ukrainian lace, Estonian nupps, Andean popcorn stitch, Lithuanian two-color braids, Latvian fringe cast-on, and Swedish twined knitting.

March 19th, 2023 | 1pm – 4pm Eastern Time

Victorian Knitting Online Workshop
Victorian Knitting Online Workshop
Feb 19th, 2023 | 1pm – 4pm Eastern Time
Project Class

Materials: Any spare yarn for swatching and appropriately sized needles.

Experience: Intermediate. Knitters should have basic knitting skills plus experience with knitting lace and reading charts.

Description: Have you ever found a beautiful pattern in an antique knitting book with bewildering instructions that gave you a headache? In this class, we will look at several Victorian knitting patterns and discuss how to interpret the instructions for today’s knitters. We will discuss gauge, sizing and materials and will look at a glossary of knitting terms that compares those from Victorian times with modern terminology and techniques.

We will also learn how to chart lace and texture patterns to make them easier to work with. We will go over the basics of charting using graph paper and pencil, and we will also learn about a variety of charting fonts, spreadsheet tools, and software programs for Mac and Windows.

Feb 19th, 2023 | 1pm – 4pm Eastern Time

Pi Shawl Basics | Jan 2023
Pi Shawl Basics Online Workshop
Jan 22nd, 2023 | 1pm – 4pm Eastern Time
Technique Class

Materials: 1600 (XS, 54′′), 2000 (S, 60′′), or 2400 (L, 72′′) yards of sock yarn and size 4 double-pointed needles plus circular needles of varying lengths (interchangeables work great for this), or one long circular for magic loop. This is the yarn for a complete shawl. You can bring 1 skein of yarn with the appropriate needles for the class.

Experience: Intermediate. Knitters should have basic knitting skills plus some experience with circular knitting and reading charts.

Description: With the simple pi-shawl shaping pioneered by Elizabeth Zimmermann and the beautiful lace stitches designed by Dorothy Reade knit in fingering-weight yarn, and a knit-on border, you won’t get bored even though there is a lot of knitting! This pi shawl is made as a sampler using lace stitches with diamond and circle motifs. I made this up as I went and chose a pattern stitch that had the number of rows I needed for each section as well as a repeat that was close to what I needed.

You can copy my design exactly or choose whatever stitches you like for each section. We will discuss each chart in the workshop so you can see how I adapted Dorothy Reade’s original pattern stitches for use in this shawl. We will also learn how to begin a circular shawl on double-pointed needles or a long circular with magic loop, as well as using a crochet hook, how to work special stitches used in Dorothy Reade’s lace motifs, and how to work a knit-on border.

Jan 15th, 2023 | 1pm – 4pm Eastern Time

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Sun Goddess Pi-Shawl KAL Photos
Goddess Knits Pattern Gallery