Shawl, handknitted wool, maker unknown, Estonia, c. 1989
This hand knitted shawl was made in Estonia and possibly features a traditional pattern from the Läänemaa district. It was displayed in the Powerhouse Museum in 2007 in an exhibition called 'Meie uus kodu - Our New Home: Estonian and Australian stories', a joint exhibition of the NSW Migration Heritage Centre and the Powerhouse Museum in partnership with the Wollondilly Heritage Centre. The exhibition explored the harrowing stories told by Estonian migrants of invasion, dispossession and flight from Europe. It also revealed what settlement in Australia has meant to generations of Australian Estonians.
Australia is home to a small but thriving community from the northern European country of Estonia. At the end of World War II Russian annexation of Estonia saw over 6500 Estonians forced to abandon their homes and make a new life in Australia. This traumatic event was the catalyst for ethnic self-cognizance of traditional handcrafts to develop into an expression of national spirit. Knitting is thought to have been introduced into Europe via traders, crusaders and travellers from the Middle East. It is a strong part of the folk culture of Estonia with some of the oldest European knitted textiles dating from the late thirteenth or early fourteenth century having been found in Estonia.
Hand worked pieces are treasured items and important to Australian Estonians as they symbolise the harsh life, anxiety and struggle as well as joy and celebration in the rich and distinctive culture of their homeland. The patterns and technique of traditional Estonian knitting are still in use today by Australian Estonians and reflect their cultural and ethnic background. This beautiful hand knitted shawl represents the migrant experience of Estonians in Australia seeking to maintain a strong sense of nationalism produced by pride in their heritage, history, folklore and culture.
The shawl was given to the donor by a relative when he visited Estonia in 1997. Presumably handkitted by her, possibly in a traditional pattern from the Läänemaa district.
This shawl was featured in 2007 in 'Meie uus kodu - Our New Home: Estonian and Australian stories', a joint exhibition of the NSW Migration Heritage Centre and the Powerhouse Museum in partnership with the Wollondilly Heritage Centre.