Saturday 21 February 2015

Thinking About.....Haps

I have been thinking quite a lot lately about Shetland haps.  A hap is a hand knitted lace shawl, usually square but sometimes circular or triangular in shape.  The photographs below shows the hap my Great Aunt Emma knitted when my son was born three years ago.
Haps traditionally were worn as everyday garments, many photographs can be seen on the Shetland Museum website of women wearing these warm wraps around their shoulders when out walking,
Girl with foal
working on the croft or carrying the peats home in kishies. 
In recent years they have become more decorative and intricate and are generally made up of three sections, the centre, the border and the edging.

Last week I visited Aunty Emma, as I have asked her to show me her method of hap making.  She is now 93 and is still an amazing knitter churning out beautiful lace and Fair Isle items at high speed.  She began to knit at the age of five and remembers knitting spencers (plain knitted wool vests) and gloves and selling them to the grocery van that came around once a week.  They would get sugar, flour, tea and hens meal, in exchange, things that would supplement the items they grew on the croft.
Astonishingly she works from no patterns and has no notes written down at all, everything she makes is from memory and from a deep rooted understanding of the craft. 
She made her first hap in 1944 in anticipation of the birth of her first daughter and has probably made hundreds since!  Haps were used (and still are) for swaddling babies so makes an ideal gift for a new baby. 
Aunty Emma knits her haps using the old traditional method of knitting the edging first in a long strip, then knitting the border (the stitches of the straight edge of the edging are picked up and make the first row of the border) and then finally knitting the centre.  This method is referred to as the borders inwards method by Sharon Miller in her inspiring books on Shetland lace knitting.  More modern patterns are written starting at the centre first and working outwards.
 Here she is knitting a piece of the edging at lightning speed.  I tried to write down what she was doing but she was knitting far faster than I could write! 

And in a few minutes here are my instructions for the edging! 

 I could refer to a pattern but I would rather find out what she does.  It made me think about knitting being a language, it is like a code with series of stitches and rows on repeats.
I love the border in my hap, it is a croft house with waves below and flowers in the gaps between the roofs.

Here are some of Emma's photographs showing some examples of her haps:
Coincidentally, over on Twitter and Ravelry I spotted two KALs (Knit Alongs) for haps or Hap-Alongs, one is being run by Louise from Knit-British and the other is being run by Gudrun Johnston.
  Gudrun says a hap is a good thing to have on the go at the same time as other things which is good as I have so many things on the go!  The Knit-British KAL will begin on 10th April which gives people plenty of time to find a pattern or plan a design and finish what is currently on the wires! 
Louise has also been writing about Haps, you can read her blog posts here.
I will keep you updated on the progress! 
Useful resources:
Miller, Sharon (2002) Heirloom Knitting, The Shetland Times Ltd
Miller, Sharon (2008) Heirloom Knitting's Shetland Hap Shawls
Shetland Guild of Spinners, Knitters, Weavers and Dyers (2012) A Legacy of Shetland Lace, The Shetland Times Ltd



  1. I am planning to cast on with the Knit British group. Lovely post

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  3. What an interesting post, thank you Donna! I've sometimes wondered how square haps used to be worn, but now it makes perfect sense. I don't know if I'll be taking part in hap KALs at the present, but I'm convinced a hap will flow off my needles sooner or later.

  4. I have loved reading your post, it is wonderful to read about the KAL's. I haven't made a hap, though it is getting near to the top of my to do list! Haps were knitted by a couple of older ladies who lived next door to my parents and I remember seeing the haps outside on the hap boards with fine weather. In the winter they needed to dry them inside, if I went into visit then the room was taken up by the large hap on the board, it blocked the light from the window and you couldn't sit down on their sofa! They sold them to someone south, possibly Edinburgh. They were always usually one colour, natural colours of grey, white or fawn. They were always knitting, apart from on Sunday, when it was their day of rest.

  5. thank you for sharing donna! i loved reading this, what an amazing lady your great aunt emma is. i can't imagine knitting something of this complexity without a pattern.
    i made gudrun's hap shawl last summer for my trip to shetland. i think it is one of my favorite knits. i made the full hap, and while there bought wool to make a half. i also found a couple lovely books about hap's, i think they were from unst. i can see many more hap's in my future! and your baby is SO cute!!

  6. Most inspiring, thank you! I'm coming to Shetland Wool Week this year and this just adds to my excitement. In haven't got time to take part in the hap knitalongs this time but I'd love to make one in the future.

  7. Fascinating and beautiful!! Makes me feel an utter beginner LOL
    I have much admiration for the older generation of knitters; my granny is nearly 99 but didn't knit much, she sewed - these women didn't have easy lives and are wonderful role models.
    I have only ever made "outward" haps (I had no idea…) and have yet to make a truly traditional one (yarn, pattern), but feel I really ought to, now!
    Swissrose @

  8. HI - I'm now fascinated by traditional Haps! I just watched you on Fruity Knitting. Any update on your pattern? I'm haveyarnwillfly on Ravelry.
    💌 ~ Sandra