Norway’s been on my mind lately and I realized I have a whole heap of photos I never got around to sharing from the Norwegian Knitting Industry Museum (aka the Norsk Trikotasjemuseum) that I took when I had the chance to visit the museum with my friend Jena nearly two years ago (update February 2022: this museum is now called the Textile Industry Museum, or Tekstilindustrimuseet, and this post has been updated to fix broken links). The museum is located just outside of Bergen and I shared it on my list of places to visit in my Bergen piece for Mason Dixon Knitting, so I thought some of you might enjoy seeing it in a little bit more detail.
Before it was a museum, the Salhus Tricotasjefabrikk was a textile mill and factory – one that not only spun wool into yarn, but also created machine-knit fabrics in house and turned those into ready-to-wear pieces like sweaters, activewear, and underwear. It’s a rare factory where all three of those processes would take place under the same roof, but I think it makes the museum especially interesting to visit. It was active from 1859 to 1989, and later on became a museum.
It’s located in Salhus, about 15 km north of Bergen on the Salhus Fjord. It’s tucked right into the bottom of a hill at the water’s edge, on a creek that flows down to the fjord (and which was the original power source for the museum, as for most old mills and factories in Norway). The houses peppering the steep hillside and the small marina outside make it a particularly picturesque location.
The entrance to the museum leads you into the large cafe space with a wall of windows facing the fjord. This is where visitors can sit down with a cup of coffee or juice and some baked treats or sandwiches, but it’s also where many of the museum’s regular knitting events are held (such as knit cafes or author’s talks). It’s a welcoming space and the view of the water is beautiful.
Guided tours of the factory are given in Norwegian and English and visitors are shown a short film before the tour begins. You’re taken through each section of the factory, so you get to see where each stage of the process from wool to garment took place: carding, spinning, winding, knitting, and sewing. Today, the machinery is used to knit scarves, socks, and sweaters that can be purchased in the gift shop.
When it comes to the sweaters that the museum produced, Salhus specialized in a type of garment known as an islender. This means “Icelander” in Norwegian, and Annemor Sundbø refers to them as “Iceland sweaters” in her book Everyday Knitting. She asserts that despite the name, this type of sweater may have originated in the Faroe Islands:
“In 1798, Jørgen Landt described Faroese sweaters with small figures, fine well made sweaters for the local inhabitants, and coarser garments for sale and export. Toward the end of the 1880’s, Faroese export of knitwear increased, and these garments were often made of imported Icelandic wool, which the Faroese bartered for other commodities. This may be the explanation for the term ‘Iceland sweaters’, but then again similar sweaters were also produced in Jutland in Denmark and Halland in Sweden . . . There were several small patterns which were widely used in Faroese knitting.”
– from Everyday Knitting by Annemor Sundbø (2001)
Sundbø goes on to discuss machine-knitted islender, which were “very popular work clothes.” She mentions Devold, one of the producers of what may be the prototypical Norwegian islender, with its small repetitive motifs in black on natural white:
Devold still produces this style of islender today. While I think this is what most people picture when they hear the term, some people use it more broadly to refer to similar sweaters which use different motifs, but to the a similar effect (other people might categorize these sweaters as sponsetrøyer instead, but to go down that road is to get into the nitty-gritty details of Norwegian knitwear nomenclature, so I’ll leave it there). Many of the Salhus fabrics were variations on the typical islender, such as the examples below:
(Images via Museumssenteret i Hordaland, downloaded from digitaltmuseum.no)
Both of the above examples come from Salhus Trikotasjefabrikk – the top example is a swatch for the fabric and collar of a more classic black and white islender, though the motifs are slightly different than the version produced by Devold. The one on the bottom is a different pattern and also makes use of different colors, but it’s still very typical of the sweaters that Salhus produced. The museum maintains an archive of different patterned fabrics, with some of the patterns perhaps never actually being put into production (but more on that at a later date!).
I found the whole guided tour really interesting – our tour guide was incredibly knowledgeable and engaging, and it was fun to see such a wide variety of textile-specific machinery being demonstrated. I think I was also a little surprised at how light and bright so much of the factory felt, but of course when it was first built, the workers would have had to rely on natural light and the many windows (and even skylights!) allowed for that. (Bonus: for those of you who can understand Norwegian, you should check out the podcast episode that Kristin and Ingvild of Strikketerapi filmed in the museum with an audience at last year’s Bergen Strikkefestival – it’s quite cool to see them in that setting!)
The museum shop sells a variety of interesting stuff, including ready-to-wear knitted garments and accessories, as I mentioned previously. My own souvenir, though, was some of the museum’s yarn, Museumstvinn. While they no longer do full-scale yarn production, the museum does have a selection of yarns that are plied on their machinery (the individual plies are spun up the road at Hillesvåg before they’re sent down to Salhus). I was particularly drawn to the interesting marled yarns spun from plies of slightly different shades, like the blue one above.
There’s a large open space used for rotating exhibitions (and it was the location of the marketplace at last year’s Bergen Strikkefestival, which the museum hosts and which I hope to attend someday). It’s beautifully bright and airy, and when I visited in 2016 they had an embroidery exhibit going on. I have such a soft spot for so much of the Norwegian embroidery – I’ve held myself back from collecting old cross-stitched cushions (like the ones below) and decorative klokkestreng wall hangings, but it feels like it’s only a matter of time before a few find their way into my home.
In case it isn’t obvious, if you find yourself in Bergen I definitely think the Norwegian Knitting Industry Museum is worth a visit! Jena and I drove to the museum, but it’s possible to get to the museum using the public transit as well (see the bus instructions on the museum’s page here). It takes about 1.5-2 hours to tour the museum, but be sure to build in some extra time not only for getting to and from the museum, but also for browsing the shop and hanging out in the cafe (with a bit of knitting, of course). The guided tours happen at scheduled times, so you should check the schedule before you plan your trip to make sure you won’t miss the last tour of the day.
P.S.: A small postscript about the name, because those of you with knowledge of French probably picked up on the loanword in the factory’s original name: Salhus Trikotasjefabrikk. The ‘sj’ combination forms sound we spell with ‘sh’ in English, so this is the modern Norwegianized version of French tricotage (it was actually spelled the French way at the time of the factory’s founding). Norwegian uses the Scandinavian word for hand knitting: ‘to knit’ is å strikke and ‘knitted garments’ are strikkede plagg. So why the French loanword here? In my experience, I’ve seen trikotasje associated with knitting on an industrial scale (i.e. commercial machine knitting), while strikk is associated with knitting by hand. Since the Salhus factory created machine knit fabrics, we see that reflected in the name.