Knitters Who Inspire Us: Galina Khmeleva

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If you're a fan of lace knitting, you're undoubtedly already familiar with Galina Khmeleva. Besides teaching at some of the most well-known knitting retreats and conferences, Russian-born Galina is best known for her knowledge of Orenburg lace.

White Lace Shawl Draped on Mannequin

Orenburg Shawl photo via Craftsy member Russian Lily

About Orenburg lace

Orenburg lace is one-of-a-kind lace knitted with very fine yarn. The lace is light and airy, and it's said that even a large piece of Orenburg lace is so delicate that it can be pulled through a wedding ring. (You may have heard Orenburg lace shawls referred to as "wedding ring shawls.") The designs themselves are so intricate that you'll often hear knitters compare Orenburg lace to spider webs. Can you imagine knitting with such fine yarn and tiny needles?

The lace's name comes from Orenburg, a region in south central Russia. Anyone who visited Orenburg was sure to return home with a traditional lace shawl in hand, knitted by the residents of Orenburg. The stitches and secrets to Orenburg lace were passed down by oral tradition within families, remaining a mystery to most. No records of patterns or stitches existed anywhere, so if you wanted to learn, you had to go straight to the source: the knitters. That's exactly what Galina Khmeleva did!

Two Lace Scarves Hanging Over Chair

Scarf Dragon photo via Craftsy member Russian Knits

Galina's role in preserving Orenburg lace

As with any oral tradition, families risk the information getting lost, especially if younger family members have no interest in keeping the tradition going. That was the case with Orenburg lace.

Not only did younger generations lose interest in the tradition, but outside forces also had a negative impact on preserving the tradition. The government subsidy once given to the Orenburg lace industry was taken away, forcing the Orenburg lace cooperative to shut down in 1995. This left many Orenburg women without work, forcing them to give up their knitting for other sources of income.

Around that same time, Galina became interested in Orenburg lace and fought to keep the tradition alive. She befriended the people and knitters who held onto this tradition, learning patterns and shawl design from well-known knitters like Olga Fedorova.

Galina founded her company, Skaska Designs, and now teaches classes and workshops that keep the Orenburg lace tradition going all over the world. Her knowledge of Orenburg lace continues to grow even today. Read more about the history of Orenburg lace on Galina's Web site and listen to Galina herself discuss her love of Orenburg lace in this video:

Today, Galina teaches the Orenburg lace tradition to knitters around the world. If you frequent knitting conferences and retreats, you may have even spotted her at one.

Cover of 'Gossamer Webs' Book

She has also written a few books on Orenburg lace shawls, including Gossamer Webs: The History and Techniques of Orenburg Lace Shawls, Galina?s book about the evolution of Orenburg knitted lace, and Gossamer Webs: The Design Collection. Galina's work can also frequently be seen in publications like Piecework, Spin-Off and Knitter's Magazine.

It may not be Orenburg lace, but Romi Hill's New Directions in Lace class will help you transition from circular to flat knitting, plus show you a cast on you're certain to be curious about: the bellybutton cast on.

Have you ever seen an example of Orenburg lace in person or tried to knit the lace yourself?

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