The Grand Duchess

I first read about Orenburg shawls while surfing the Internet about 6 years ago, and I knew I would someday knit one, however, I would have to wait for a while since Orenburg yarn was not available in this country then. At about the same time, I was admiring a painting in the Seattle Art Museum when I realized that a woman standing in front of me was wearing just such a shawl. I actually followed her for a bit like a celebrity-obsessed fan trying to sneak peek at her shawl, most of which was hidden underneath her raincoat, with the part covering her head the only part visible. I was too shy to ask her about it; a missed opportunity.

Fast-forward to today: I promised myself that upon completion of Wisp and Trellis that I would start an Orenburg, so I ordered Orenburg yarn. I’m kind of a traditionalist, in the sense that when I make something associated with a traditional method, I try to make the first one fairly true to the traditional pattern, and I wanted to find natural white Orenburg yarn, but searching the Internet, all I found was dyed Orenburg yarn. Not just dyed, but multi-colored. Not what I had envisioned for my first Orenburg. So I bought 6 skeins of Cherry Tree Hill Orenburg Yarn in “Spring Frost” from Discontinued Brand Name Yarn, figuring that if I can’t buy the color I want, I might as well get it at a discounted price. Ironically, I was talking to my dental hygienist last week, she’s from a former Soviet Union state, and she said that Orenburg shawls are considered very special, and actually were quite the status symbol to older generations. According to her mother, a Russian bride might wear a red Orenburg shawl as a symbol of purity in a traditional-style wedding, but that’s assuming she could afford to buy one.

I can’t say that I am delighted with the colorway, it’s kind of a dirty gray with pink highlights, but in different lighting, it takes on different qualities.

I call the shawl Grand Duchess and she’s rather demanding. Addictive. She requires close attention at all times.

And she requires really good light to work in: the yarn is so light-colored and so fine that in some places it’s hard to see. I bought Knitpicks Options Harmony double-pointed 2.25 mm needles just for this, thinking that with the multi-colored wood, I’d have a better chance of seeing the stitches, and they do help most of the time.

So far, the yarn is what makes the project tricky. Really tricky. The mohair is loosely spun around a silk core and is very fragile. You know how it is said that knitting with mohair yarn is said to not be easily undone? I can say that is very much the case with Orenburg yarn. Every time I have to undo stitches, I hold my breath. I was going great guns on the border pattern a few days ago when I found a big hole about 30 rows down, and there was no way to try to fix it with a crochet hook as I did with Wisp. The mohair is so delicate that if I don’t catch the silk core stitches come undone, and it’s easy to miss the silk core among the fuzzy mohair fibers. The instructions say not to put the yarn on a ball-winder and to hand wind it instead, but I wound it super carefully.

The pattern: Medallion Square Shawl from The Gossamer Webs Design Collection by Galina Khmeleva.

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3 thoughts on “The Grand Duchess

  1. I think it’s really pretty, sort of like opal or mother of pearl. Thanks for the link, I forgot about that site. Now I’ve bookmarked it.

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