Every other year, the Nordic Heritage Museum in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle hosts a Nordic Knitting Conference, and it’s something I look forward to with great anticipation. I love the chance to take a few classes and learn something new, to make new friends, and to nerd out about two of the things I love most in this world: Scandinavia and knitting.
As if “nordic knitting” weren’t enough of a niche already, this year the conference had a theme: mittens! Instructors were flown in from around the U.S. and the Nordic countries, and for three days conference-goers had the chance to learn about all aspects of mitten-knitting from across Scandinavia and the Baltics. The conference is topped off with a Saturday night banquet and keynote speech each year, and for the scholar in me, this is one of my favorite parts of the conference.
This year I elected to take two day-long classes, and I enjoyed them both very much. The first was a Latvian mittens class taught by Sandy de Master and Mary Germain (both teachers at Sievers School of Fiber Arts in Wisconsin). Sandy and Mary are wonderful teachers full of stories, and at the end of the day we’d learned all the necessary skills to knit a fully-lined Latvian mitten (and how these characteristics differed from other countries’ traditions). In a class like this you get a lot of history, personal and otherwise: there were tales of how Sandy and Mary started learning about Latvian mittens and got involved with their local Latvian community, a history of where the features of the mittens came from, and the role that mittens like this once played in Latvian culture. There *might* have also been some stories about the artificial insemination of sheep and knitting in jail. We all left for home with mini practice mittens in hand (I’ll be hanging mine on the Christmas tree, I think).
The other class I took was one I was looking forward to very much: Traditional Norwegian Design with Annemor Sundbø. Annemor is now recognized as a national treasure in Norway for her work and research in knitting, and the documentation and preservation of traditional Norwegian design. Over the course of the conference I was able to learn much of her backstory, and how she wound up doing what she’s doing, and anyone interested in textile & knitting history should take a peek around her website and maybe pick up one of her books. The short version of her story is that she amassed tons of old knitted garments while running a shoddy mill in southern Norway, and this “rag pile,” as she calls it, is the root of her work. She brought a very small piece of this rag pile to Seattle for the conference, which was on display during her classes and featured during her keynote speech on Saturday evening.
Annemor has collected different animal motifs she’s found on garments in her ragpile and knitted them all up in large panels, like a giant stitch dictionary.
In short, Annemor’s kind of a hero of mine, appealing to all of my senses as a scholar and a knitter & knitwear designer. It was a joy to hear her talk on Saturday evening and to take her class on Sunday. The premise of that class was to discuss the rules and guidelines that traditional Norwegian design followed, and to design our own mittens using those guidelines and the traditional motifs and patterns generally found on Norwegian knitting. I charted out and worked up my mitten, pictured below (still thumbless):
And my splurge for the weekend was treating myself to Annemor’s newest book, the fully bilingual (in Norwegian and English) Strikking i Billedkunsten / Knitting in Art:
From the back cover: “This book shows how artworks can be used to discuss knitting history even if the artists didn’t have that in mind when they painted. … Artworks also contain invisible lead threads tied to stories about knitting not immediately apparent in the pictures.”
I would be content to sit around and read this book all day, I must admit, but I’ve got things to get done and so that will have to wait. And on that note… I’m off to get some of that work done!