Today I’m thinking about kofter. This ubiquitous Norwegian word can feel difficult to properly translate, as it can describe several different pieces of clothing. Today I’m writing about it in the sense of “knitted cardigans” – you may have heard the word in connection with the famous lusekofte, or “lice jacket,” from Setesdal. Kofte is the singular form, while kofter is the plural.
Kofter are beloved here in Norway, and one glance at the knitting shelf of any bookstore will show it: titles like Kofteboken, Kofteboken 2, and Koftefest peer out at you. Last November another hit the shelves, called 42 norske kofter: fra Lindesnes til Nordkapp. I saw it everywhere I went, and I finally picked up a copy for myself.
This book was a project from Sandnes Garn, reworking many of their classic kofte patterns published in the mid-20th century by modernizing the fit, changing the sample yarn, or playing with the colors (while I don’t have any of these old patterns in their original form, I do have a handful that were published by Husfliden and they’re great fun). It also reflects the fact that patterns were often affiliated with specific regions in Norway, hence the subtitle “from Lindesnes to Nordkapp” (Lindesnes is at the southern tip of Norway while Nordkapp is the northermost point on the mainland). I’ve had some time to sit down with it this week and overall, I think it’s pretty fantastic.
Aside from the patterns, there’s a lovely bit of introductory text at the beginning about kofter and their place in Norwegian history and society (seen in the photo above, with the heading “Kofter, yarn, and production”). It celebrates the resurgence of popularity these cardigans have experienced, and provides a nice quick historical overview as well as some information about the yarn production (specifically the production of Sandnes Garn, as they published the book). I love it when this type of information is included in pattern books, as it gets knitters thinking more about the production and sourcing of the materials they purchase at the yarn store, which can only be a good thing. Within the introduction, this quote stuck out (translation is mine):
“Even though kofter are a Norwegian national treasure, the history of the kofte is actually quite international.”
I appreciate the acknowledgment that what’s considered traditional to a place can often have far-flung roots. The authors write about the fact that the generally accepted origin for the word kofte is the Persian word kaftan, and they also note that the motifs and patterns used in these knitted cardigans sometimes came from or were inspired by people and traditions from abroad.
The patterns themselves are great, too. The forty-two patterns are effectively for 27 different cardigans, some of which are written up for both men and women, others of which are written up with two different constructions (one option for a drop shoulder cardigan and another for one with a round yoke). You get a glimpse of the original pattern photos and styling, which I think is fantastic too.
Eventually I’d like to knit at least one of the cardigans in this book, though I have a lot of knitting on my plate to finish before I can do that. Fortunately that means I have plenty of time to ruminate on my favorites and decide which would make the best addition to my wardrobe. (You can see photos of all the different cardigans on the Sandnes Garn page for the book.)
The technical aspects are also fun to look at. Since this is a book full of cardigans worked up in stranded colorwork, you may have guessed that steeks are involved, and you’d be right. In the Norwegian tradition, though, two lines of reinforcing stitches are sewn by machine before cutting. In the case of a cardigan, it makes quite a lot of sense – machine stitches are excellent reinforcement for a button band that’s going to see a lot of handling, and it’s less bulky than a crocheted reinforcement.
Other technical information points to the self-reliance of Norwegian knitters. Having seen several patterns from the mid-20th century, I can say it’s no wonder that the Norwegian word for a knitting pattern (as in “set of instructions to knit something”) is oppskrift, the word for “recipe.” The patterns in this book definitely contain more information than their original forms must have done, but still, only stitch gauge is given, not row gauge, and yarn quantities are listed in grams, not yardage or meterage (leaving the knitter to do some quick arithmetic if they plan to substitute yarns at all). I haven’t actually worked from Norwegian patterns yet, so I find it interesting to compare these details with what I’m used to from the US.
All in all I’m very excited about this addition to my knitting library!