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Estonia in June? On a search for mittens? Count me in.

Ann’s brother Clif, also known to the interwebz as my Hubs, was an artist in residence at the Trükimuuseum (Printing Museum) in Tartu, Estonia, this past summer.

Baltic countries are not the same as Balkan countries.

He asked if I wanted to come along, and since I love traditional knitting, particularly colorwork, I thought it would be fun.

Ann and Kay were interested, too, so they gave me a task: research the best examples of traditional Estonian mittens and gloves, and then to do a bit of purchasing for Modern Daily Knitting. I couldn’t say “Yes!” fast enough.

I did what reading I could before going, but I have learned over our years of worldwide travel that it’s best to just get on the ground. I looked at recommendations for where to buy knitwear. There were lots of recommendations, so I made a list of stores and markets to check out.

Recon Begins

We arrived in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, in late June. The Old Town of Tallinn is spectacular—a lovely medieval fortified hill with stone towers, tall town walls, and twisting narrow streets.

The sun sets late in summer, this far north.

If you don’t like hordes of fanny-pack–wearing cruise-ship day-trippers, just stay away from 10 to about 5. After that, the streets calm down, and it stays light until after 10 or 11. Sitting in outdoor cafes, watching people, and enjoying the long slow sunsets was glorious. We stayed for a couple of days to see the sights and do a general shopping reconnaissance, then we caught our train to Tartu, a university town about two hours to the east.

During that first recon mission, I saw lots of knitwear in shop windows, and it was lovely, but most of it was machine knitted. In particular, I was drawn to a contemporary Nordic style that looks like the floral sweaters from Oleana Knits. (Confession: I have a WIP in this style that has been marinating for at least a decade. The body is done. I just have to finish one sleeve. Lame, I know.)

But the examples I saw in various shop windows were all alike, clearly made in some central facility, and set out to attract souvenir shoppers. And that’s fine, because even if they are machine knitted, these sweaters don’t look like anything you can get here in the States, and they are very, very pretty.

However, that was not the assignment. I was on the prowl for Authenticity.


A few days later, I made a day trip back to Tallinn to dig a little deeper. I visited three shops that seemed like they would be the kind of places I was looking for: serious craft stores. The first two had leather things and wood things and some small textiles and some knitted socks, but no mittens. The third one I went to was where I struck gold.

Eesti Käsitöö (Estonian Handicrafts) at 22 Pikk Street is the shizzle. Not only is this a store, it’s also a museum and gallery for the best crafts from all over the country. During my first pass at this store, I found something so delightful. This was not just a commercial possibility, but something I really wanted for myself: kits for making mittens and gloves.


Matchy matchy! Could not believe this.

They come in lovely little boxes with color laser prints glued to the top to show the finished product. Inside are mini skeins and instructions. I was entranced, so I bought one for myself to see what it was like. (Editors’ note: we sold out of mitten kits, unfortunately!)

Our second weekend in Tartu, the town celebrated Hansa Days, a festival and market celebrating the Baltic region’s history with the Hanseatic League.

The market had a wide variety of knitted goods, most of which were machine knitted. There were two booths, however, where I found what I was looking for.

Margit Dravniece, an Estonian artist who lives in Riga, Latvia, had a booth with exquisitely knitted things. (You can meet her in this video. Estonian language alert!) She uses traditional colorwork patterns, but she makes the gloves and mittens from Merino, rather than the scratchy but sturdy wool used traditionally in Baltic countries. Her mittens are some of my favorites of all the ones I brought home.

Margit’s mittens, so soft.

The other booth I found was manned by an older Russian woman whose mittens and gloves were less finely crafted, but they had a real homemade charm. I snatched up a few of these, too.

Decision Time

The next week, it was back to Tallinn for some serious acquisition. I went to the famous “Wall of Wool,” but I was disappointed with what I saw. However, when I looked at the mittens and gloves on display back at the Eesti Käsitöö, I was, as Kay says, gobsmacked. I loaded up and went to the cash register. I think I frightened the poor lady with how much I plopped onto the counter.

And this was the moment when I realized that my earlier window-shopping had paid off. My eye was now educated enough to pick out good examples of traditional Estonian knitting. I hope you will enjoy them, too!

Eesti Käsitöö (Estonian Handicrafts), the beautiful store at 22 Pikk Street in Tallinn’s Old Town, is where I did most of my shopping. What took me there was the selection of beautifully made mittens and gloves, but it also sells socks, sweaters, linen garments, and wool and linen textiles. There is a selection of lovely small souvenirs as well.

The back room serves as a gallery or museum for the best crafts from all over Estonia. On my first visit, there was a exhibition of traditional folk clothing, including the amazing skirts that are woven in striped patterns particular to each village or region. I imagine this works something like Scottish tartans, in that those in the know can immediately place where the wearer is from. meadormittenquest5

Skirt fabrics, distinctive to each region.

The next time I came, I saw a completely different kind of exhibition of contemporary indigo-dyed textiles and embroidery.

Traditional techniques are not immutable in Estonia. The mittens and gloves for sale are sometimes reproduced from examples found in the National Museum in Tartu, but there are also plenty of variations. Some knitwear, for example, features hot pink, a color that is not what I’d call traditional, although it has become a geographical marker for the island of Muhu.

The website for the store is a real treat. Google Translate produces this gem:

Home Crafts own production in the ethnically substances built sweaters, vests, stockings, socks, gloves and other.

I think that says it all.

Seriously, this place is completely awesome.

About The Author

Mary Neal Meador lives and knits in Boone, North Carolina. She is a graphic designer, editor, wicked grammarian, and stalwart punctuationist. She tends to knit without a pattern, and she has been known to work Fair Isle and cables in the same yoke.


  • Thanks Mary Neal!

  • How lovely to have a glimpse of this trip, and what a great adventure. I love the skirt fabric…

    • anyone else thinking this is an awesome narrow-stripes color inspiration for a variation on a Station Wagon Blanket? A million ends to weave in, … or maybe they could be left on as shaggy fringe between the columns… or left on and braided together… Let the wildness ensue!


  • Beautiful mittens. Will you be making any more mitten kits? Or, will you be offering patterns for the mitts?

    • Hi Susan! If Mary Neal goes back to Estonia, I’m going with her . . . we don’t have more kits in the pipeline at the moment (we sold out before I could get one myself!). But there are a lot of Estonian mitten patterns over on Ravelry. mittens And I think any fingering weight wool, Shetland especially, would give a good result. The 1.5 mm/000 needles have captured my imagination, I have to say.

  • When will MDK be able to ship parcels to the UK – soon, please soon!!

  • I am disappointed in how commercial your site has become with your new format. It seems that you’re always selling something – knitted items, yarn kits, etc. – or promoting someone else who’s selling something. I don’t think I’ll be back.

    • Agreed. I’m going to stick around a while, but the constant adverts are annoying. I’m here for the posts between Kay and Ann, and for me those are drowning in all the other stuff now.

    • Hi Jane,

      We aren’t apologetic about selling things we love or telling readers about designers and makers we love.

      We’re also proud to present a wealth of great content –free for readers– for which we’ve paid writers, designers and photographers fair compensation.

      We hope this experiment is sustainable, and meanwhile we’re working hard and having a great time.


  • These are fascinating because I know the pattern on the hand from Norway:
    It’s identical to the back of the hand on a pair of gloves I knit from a pattern in Terri Shea’s Selbuvotter. The pair that the pattern was written from comes from Annemor Sundbø’s massive collection in southern Norway!
    The blend of that motif with the solid fingers and the very Estonian cuff is really interesting.

    • Knitting–like fashion–is such a tsimmes (yiddish for mixed-up stew)–endless manipulation of shared elements, by professionals and amateurs. The fact that you can trace that pattern is amazing.

  • One of my favorite memories of Tallinn and mittens actually took place at a restaurant off the main square. The downstairs part was the typical tourist filled place, and upstairs was a nice restaurant with a friendly Enlish speaking waiter. Near our table was a very contemporary floor lamp. The wide column that served as the pole was covered with white garter stitched knitting, and “growing” out of that, sort of like mushrooms on a tree trunk, were white handknitted mittens. We were about halfway through the meal before my husband commented that he couldn’t figure why there were mittens all over the lamp, although the answer would have been obvious to any knitter!

    • What a cool memory. I don’t know how I’m going to get to Estonia but I think I have to try!

      • In your newsletter you said you are looking for volunteers to bring back mittens and kits. I’m volunteering. Ever since I visited Tallinn a few years ago I wanted to go back but could not figure out how to get back there. The group I was with were lucky enough to get a traditional costume presentation from the shop that you mentioned. I also loved all the food there.

  • Whoever bought “Estonian Gloves: Red Edge” wins the I-really-wanted-these-for-myself prize. Congratulations!!!

    • I confess — that was me. They are just too fabulous for words!

      • Oh, I’m so glad!

  • I took the ferry to Tallinn from Stockholm a few years ago with a fellow knitter. What a fabulous trip — we were only there a few days, but had a great time looking at the handknits, especially the shawls. I came home with beautiful things. And we found a great yarn store, too!

    Thanks, Mary, for your report and for bring back all those spectacular mittens.

  • Amazing coincidence, we last night decided to visit Estonia and Latvia in July next year. Will be hunting out these places lol

  • I love everything about this post! Thank you for allowing us to travel virtually with you!!!

  • I love your new site and have to discipline myself about the amount of time I spend browsing. There is so much content and so much to learn. Living in Canada, I cannot purchase offerings, which is probably a good thing for our bank balance, but there is so much to read and absorb that no-one has to buy if they don’t want to. Keep up the good work!!!

  • Beautiful!

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