Visiting Tallinn in Estonia: a destination for knitters

Visiting Tallinn in Estonia: a destination for knitters

Usually, at this time of year, those of us who live in Britain are looking forward to a summer holiday. With all the uncertainty caused by the pandemic, this year most of us will be staying at home and if we are lucky, we may venture out nearby.

I am feeling particularly grateful for the memories from our past holidays, both here in Britain and elsewhere. I’m going to write about some of the places that I have visited which will be of interest to knitters and stitchers.

A traditional Estonian women's cardigan on a mannequin in the entrance of a shop in Tallinn, Estonia. The cardigan is knitted in a black and white geometric pattern with deep borders, on the body and sleeves, in a medium pink and white. Below the picture are the words "Visiting Tallinn in Estonia: a destination for knitters

Before I visit a new place I like to find out about the traditional textile crafts from that region. When I’m there I like to see work by local artisans. Knitting is my favourite textile craft therefore the best destination for me would be a country where knitting is an important part of the culture.

Where is Tallinn?

In October 2017 Mr BK and I spent five days in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia. Tallinn is in northern Estonia on the Baltic Sea. From here, you can travel 50 miles north across the Baltic Sea to reach Helsinki in Finland.

Tallinn has a population of about 427 000. The beautiful Old Town is one of the best-preserved medieval cities in Europe; consequently, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

A view of the roof tops and church in Tallinn Old Town and the port in the background.

During our first wander around the cobbled streets of the medieval Old Town, we were looking for a restaurant for dinner. On the way, we discovered lots of gift shops selling a wide variety of traditional Estonian craft products. I was truly excited about what I would see while we were there. I also found a guide to the regional handicraft shops and workshops.

Traditional Estonian women's clothing on a mannequin in the entrance of a shop in Tallinn, Estonia. The mannequin is wearing a black skirt, with a deep embroidered border in blue and white, and a cardigan knitted in a black and white geometric pattern with deep borders, on the body and sleeves, in a medium pink and white.

Estonian handicraft centres (Eesti Käsitöö)

Top of my list for places to visit were the Estonian handicraft centres (Eesti Käsitöö). We visited all four of them, which are in or near the old town. The Estonian Folk Art and Craft Union (Eesti Rahvakunsti ja Käsitöö Liit) run them. The Union aims to preserve folk craft as a cultural phenomenon, develop the traditions of Estonian crafts and treasure the regional characteristics of these traditions.

Exterior of an Estonian handicraft centres (Eesti Käsitöö) in the Old Town, Tallinn, Estonia. The circular Eesti Käsitöö sign, in yellow and black hangs above the door.

Each handicraft centre is unique and stocks work by different artisans. At the first one, there was an exhibition of Estonian quilts by contemporary artisans. In the basement of another, you could visit the studio of a knitter. The handicraft centres sell a variety of both traditional and contemporary textiles. These include felted, knitted and woven garments, accessories and homeware.

Traditional Estonian knitwear with goeometric and floral patterns worked in two colours in the Estonian handicraft centre (Eesti Käsitöö) in Tallinn, Estonia.

They also sell kits for mittens and gloves from the different regions of Estonia, some yarn, and books about Estonian crafts. The knitted garments and accessories in the handicraft centres were made from wool using traditional designs and techniques. All were handmade although the larger items were more likely to be knitted on a hand-powered domestic machine rather than being hand-knitted.

Artisan crafters in Tallinn

We visited master craftsmen and women in their studios at the Masters’ Courtyard (Meistrite hoov) and the nearby St Catherine’s Guild (Katariina gild). Crafts made there included ceramics, hats, jewellery, lace, leather goods, patchwork and stained glass.

A large window in a master craftperson's studio with a colourful display of stained glass.

We also went to several of the tourist gift shops selling Estonian crafts. Some of these were as good as the handicraft centres; others had more mass-produced items. As well as knitted and woven items, I particularly loved the laser cut wooden decorations. We went to the outdoor market, known as the wool wall. Sadly, few of the products on sale there were made from wool and many were not Estonian designs.

A day trip to Helsinki

One day we rose early to take the ferry across the Baltic Sea to Helsinki. We walked from the ferry terminal to the city centre via a roundabout route (tip: make sure you know which ferry terminal you arrive at!) The first cafe we found was the Moomin cafe where we stopped for much needed hot drinks and lunch.

Whilst getting our bearings, I found out that Snurre, a yarn shop, was nearby. Snurre is one of those delightful yarn shops where you just want to stop, inhale deeply and take it all in. They stock yarn from well-known brands such as Adriafil, Katia, Madelinetosh and Opal. More interestingly, they also have yarn from a few smaller UK companies such as CoopKnits and Fybrespates; Finnish brands such as Tukuwool, and some independent Finnish hand-dyers. Although Snurre’s website is in Finnish the staff speak English and are happy to tell you about their beautiful yarns.

A display of hand-dyed yarn in on a table in Snurre yarn shop, Helsinki, Finland.

A display of hand-dyed yarn on shelves in Snurre yarn shop, Helsinki, Finland.

After sampling some craft beer at a microbrewery we did some window shopping.

A window display featuring a pile of large cushions covered in Finnish fabrics with naive patterns.

We marvelled at the amount of smoked salmon and the different types of berries at the market.

Image shows a display of smoked salmon on a stall at Helsinki market, Finland

Market stall with a display of many different berries and wild mushrooms in Helsinki, Finland.

We visited the art deco train station and both cathedrals. Finally, we took a tram back to the ferry terminal and enjoyed a hot meal on the return journey.

A yarn shop in Tallinn

All of the handicraft centres and a few of the gift shops sold a small selection of yarn. However, we did not find an actual yarn shop in Tallinn until the last day. The Jolleri Handicraft chamber (Jolleri Käsitöökamber) is in old Tallinn.

The exterior of the Jolleri yarn shop in the Old Town, Tallinn, Estonia.

Jolleri sells traditional Estonian mittens and Haapsalu shawls, as well as a cornucopia of yarn from Estonia and the surrounding countries. In the past, mittens had an important role in life events. Each young woman knitted many pairs of mittens to be given as gifts to the guests at her wedding. The main part of mittens had a geometric all-over stranded colourwork pattern. The cuffs were more colourful and were worked using a variety of techniques, such as plain, twisted and corrugated ribs, chevrons, entrelac, short-rows and knitted braids. Lace shawls from Haapsalu have been well-known for about two hundred years. Many of the delicate lace stitch patterns used feature nupps. These could be described as a type of bobble although they are not made in the same way.

Display of traditional Estonian knitting (Haapsalu shawls and colourwork mittens) in the Jolleri yarn shop.

I returned to Britain inspired by the traditional knitwear patterns we saw in the handicraft centres. I would love to know more about Estonian costume. One day I hope to visit the National Museum in Tartu. This has a renowned costume collection including many traditional mittens. Meanwhile, I have yarn to knit and to remind me of a fantastic holiday!

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