I have to confess that I had never heard of Orenburg lace until it was the topic for my local Knitting and crochet guild meeting for May, but now I have an urge to buy the thinnest and softest yarn and cast on with the tiniest needles!
Marie, one of the committee members of our guild meeting put on an amazing talk about the history and folklore surrounding Orenburg lace. She also produced many swatches to show the different types of patterns and layouts, as well as ordering a supported spindle and the traditional fibre from Russia to show us.
The fibre (down hair from Orenburg goats) is the thinnest in the world – 16-18 micrometer (in comparison Angora goats (mohair) is 22-24 micrometer) so it is very soft, light and warm. It was traditionally spun on a supported spindle and plied with silk. This swatch was knitted in the traditional fibre and it is so fine and like a cobweb.
The Orenburg shawls (or "Orenburgskyi Platok" in Russian) are traditionally square. The lower border is knitted first on the side. Stitches are then picked up along the top and then the main body is knitted in one piece, including the borders. Once the top is reached, the top border is worked sideways picking up stitches along the top of the square and then Russian grafted together. Marie included some great photos of the construction in her talk.
The lace stitch patterns are very simple and there are only a few traditional ones, but arranged together they make the most intricate and beautiful patterns.
There are many patterns for Orenburg lace shawls and other garments and accessories that are less traditional on Ravelry, such as those by Russian Lily.
We also had a real Orenburg shawl owned by Angharad who was given it as a gift from Russia. It really is very beautiful and very warm to wear. This would be a winter shawl as the centre is garter stitch and it was probably machine knit.
There is also a book of Orenburg lace stitch patterns and shawl designs where more information on this traditional knitting can be found:
My favourite part of the talk though was this youtube video of a Russian choir singing a traditional song about an Orenburg downy shawl. The lyrics are a daughter who knits her mum an Orenburg shawl and wraps it around her shoulders to keep out the cold harsh winter. It is a beautiful song and I love that all the choir are wearing Orenburg shawls!