more lofoten goodness

There were several other Lofoten-related things that came to mind as I was putting together the Lofoten Wool post, but I didn’t want the post to get too long and I really wanted the yarn and its relationship with the landscape to be the focus. So I decided to save these little bits for a new post – and I hope you enjoy these too.

First up, there are a few Lofoten-related segments from a TV show called Norge Rundt that I thought some of you might enjoy seeing. I’m pretty sure you should be able to stream these outside Norway, because I have memories of watching Norge Rundt from time to time when I still lived in Seattle. The show’s name means “Around Norway” and the format is made up of relatively short segments from some place or another, meeting a diverse array of people who do all kinds of things – and you usually jump around the country a bunch within a single episode. The show is still on today, but I’m particularly fond of the older episodes found in the show’s archives, and the clips I have to share today are both of that variety. The audio is in Norwegian only, but the visual experience alone is worth it, so don’t let that dissuade you if you don’t speak Norwegian:

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Clip 1: In my last post I mentioned the fishing huts where fishermen would lodge, called rorbuer, and how they mainly cater to tourists now. This clip from 1978, entitled “rorbuferie” (fishing hut holiday) covers that very topic, along with some stunning footage of Lofoten in the summertime. You’ll have to click through to the NRK website to watch it.

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Clip 2: This is a pretty endearing segment from 1979, which starts off with a voiceover about how the number of fishermen and of fishing boats in Kabelvåg is steadily decreasing, just like many other towns in Lofoten – “mange begynner etterhvert å glemme hvordan Lofotlivet i gamle dager var,” he tells us, or “many are beginning to gradually forget what Lofoten life was like in ‘the olden days’.” So the kids and teachers of the local school decided to host a big event about what life used to be like in Lofoten. Their stage performance features a handmade backdrop, adorably goofy singing, and lots of fantastic knitwear – all of which prompted my husband to ask “Wait, are we watching a Belle & Sebastian video?” when the girl in the yellow sou’wester showed up on the screen. (Fun side note: Belle & Sebastian have totally been to northern Norway, actually). But I love a community coming together to take a look back and remember what life was like in the not-so-distant past – with young people stepping up to take care of their traditions. Again, click through to watch the clip on the NRK website.

Given the dates of both of these clips, it’s worth pointing out that just like in Shetland, the 1970s was a decade that transformed sea-based industry in Norway after the discovery of oil on the continental shelf. I feel like both of these clips point to that changing landscape. (It also brought to mind the exhibition Ella Gordon put together for the Shetland Museum back in 2014 about Shetland knitting during the oil boom.)

Artwork was another theme that came up when I was thinking about Lofoten. Some of my favorite Norwegian artwork features scenes of northern Norway, and I thought I’d share a few pieces that to me, really manage to capture the place.

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Winter Morning in Svolvær by Gunnar Berg, 1887. Berg grew up in Svolvær, which is also where the landscape photos in the last post were from. Berg really captures the light, and the brilliance of the white snow against a blue winter sky. The misty clouds and the masterful reflection in the water are so atmospheric.

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From Reine in Lofoten by Otto Sinding in 1883 (courtesy Digitalt Museum). Sinding’s paintings of Lofoten manage to capture the feeling of the size and scale of the mountains in a way that photos can’t seem to do. I love the low winter light in this one, and the way the reflected sky is a steel grey. These are all the things I love to notice in my changing surroundings as the light changes at different times of year.

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And for something completely different, I love this piece by Reidar Aulie. This is Lofoten, tall rock formations, from some time after 1922 (courtesy Digitalt Museum). The first thing this piece brings to mind for me is some of J.R.R. Tolkien’s artwork, and given that they were very nearly contemporaries (Aulie was 12 years younger than Tolkien) that’s not entirely surprising. It’s just pen on paper, but it’s beautiful. The Tolkien pieces this one brings to mind are Caerthilian Cove & Lion Rock and Cove near the Lizard, both scenes from Cornwall which can be seen on this page, as well as in the book J.R.R Tolkien, Artist & Illustrator, which is where I was introduced to them.

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And last but not least, I wanted to mention a book I’ve just finished reading, which was a Christmas gift from my friend Anna: The Unseen by Roy Jacobsen. She gave me a copy in the original Norwegian (De usynlige), and she described it along the lines of being a sort of quintessential northern Norwegian novel. It follows the story of a girl who grows up on a small island, home to her family and her family only. They have a small farm, and her father goes to Lofoten to fish every winter. The content from page to page is very everyday sorts of stuff for much of the book, which makes it an excellent novel for someone interested in what life might have been like on a small Norwegian island in the gamle dager, the old days. It’s available in English as The Unseen (linked above), and I’m incredibly excited that the English translation just made the longlist for the 2017 Man Booker International Prize.

Thanks for indulging a little bit of Lofoten exploration on the blog today.

norwegian wool: lofoten wool

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The Norwegian Wool series is finally back with another fantastic smaller company: Lofoten Wool. Wool sourced from Northern Norwegian sheep (including the Lofoten archipelago, hence the name), naturally dyed, and spun down at Hillesvåg – it’s a dream. The Røst collection (pictured above, and named for the remote island where the wool is sourced) comes from the wool of the crossbred norsk kvit sau, or the Norwegian white sheep. Their heavier weight yarns are made with wool from the heritage breeds Gammelnorsk sau and spælsau. To me, Lofoten Wool’s yarns are the stuff that local wool dreams are made of. (Consequently, I might adoringly gush a little bit more than usual in this post.)

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I feel like I need to provide some context to be able to adquately convey the feelings this yarn inspires. Between the northern Norwegian sheep, the natural dyes Ragnhild uses to create her beautiful colors, and the ties to specific locations within Lofoten, this company has something special going on. For those unfamiliar with the Lofoten archipelago, it lies north of the Arctic Circle and it’s home to some of the most iconic Norwegian scenery there is. Islands formed from mountains that jut right out of the water make for dramatic landscapes everywhere you go, reaching out in a line from the mainland like an arm pointing toward Iceland. I haven’t been as far out as Røst (where my skein of yarn’s wool came from) – it’s way out there – but I have passed through Lofoten twice now and spent sime time exploring Nordland, the county where Lofoten is located (Hurtigruten, the coastal ferry/cruise, passes through Lofoten). While the landscape is very different, it’s easy to see similarities and find connections with other north Atlantic island communities like Iceland, the Faroe Islands, and Shetland.

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Historically, fishing was the center of life in Lofoten. North Atlantic cod come to Lofoten each year to spawn, so cod fishing was the biggest industry (and it remains a big part of the local economy today). Many of the men who fished in and around Lofoten came from other parts of Norway, and when they were on shore, they lived in fishing cabins known as rorbuer. Many of these all over Lofoten have been converted to be used by tourists now (like these). The statue in the photo above sits at the edge of the harbor in Svolvær. It’s called Fiskarkona, “the fish wife,” and it’s by sculptor Per Ung. She faces away from the harbor, with an arm raised as if bidding farewell to her husband’s boat. Life in Lofoten was harsh, and the weather meant fishing could be dangerous, so I can only imagine what it was like to bid farewell to your spouse not knowing if their boat would return home.

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This brings me back to the yarn. I feel very fortunate that my favorite local yarn store carries Lofoten Wool so that I had the opportunity to check out some of their yarns in person. The naturally dyed colors are gorgeous, and I definitely fell in love with the indigo-dyed skein pictured at the top of this post as soon as I saw it. I have plans for this particular skein, but there’s enough yarn that I wanted to do a little bit of swatching just for fun, too. Both the blue shade of the yarn itself and the name of this particular color, brådjupt, bring to mind the clear blue waters of northern Norway for me (and cables felt like an appropriate medium for interpreting rippling waves). The swatch on the needles above uses a chart from Norah Gaughan’s incredible Knitted Cable Sourcebook – it’s a motif she calls Diverge. This 2-ply yarn from the Røst collection is a fantastically wooly wool: it’s kind of crunchy and lofty at the same time, somewhat like a woolen spun Shetland yarn can be; not luxuriously soft but also not unpleasant against the skin; pretty grabby but it still manages to cable beautifully. I think we hear words like “strong” and “workhorse yarn” associated with a lot of wooly wools, especially breed-specific ones, but those phrases seem somehow too heavy to describe this yarn. It is strong – with effort, it’s possible to break it instead of cutting it with scissors, but it’s much harder to break than the woolen spun Shetland yarns I’ve used. I think this yarn also qualifies as a workhorse yarn – it’s very well suited to this coastal northern Norwegian climate – but it feels lighter than that at the same time.

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Ragnhild of Lofoten Wool very kindly shared some photos of their sheep out at Røst, above – and as you can see, by the time you make it that far out, the landscape starts to look a little bit more like Shetland. What an incredible place to be a sheep, right? The sheep on Røst in the photos above are the crossbred Norwegian white sheep/norsk kvit sau. As I mentioned, Lofoten Wool’s heavier weight yarns come from the wool of heritage breeds, and the following photos are Ragnhild’s own flock of Gammelnorsk sau, also called villsau by some (“old Norwegian sheep” and “wild sheep,” respectively, though the latter name is a misnomer as they have been a domesticated breed for over a thousand years). They live on an island much closer to mainland Norway. You’ll also notice that there’s natural color variation amongst the heritage breed sheep, much like other northern European heritage breeds (Shetland or Icelandic sheep, for example).

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It’s such a fantastic treat to be able to knit with wool that has such traceable origins, and a huge thank you to Ragnhild for sharing these photos of the sheep with us!

To see the yarns and other wooly goodies Lofoten Wool has on offer, head over to their online shop. Lofoten Wool does ship internationally, but you should be aware that the cost of shipping can be high (especially outside Europe), You can get a sense of shipping rates abroad from Norway here (all prices are in Norwegian kroner, but you can use Google to convert to your own currency). A list of their Norwegian stockists can be found on the home page of their website, lofoten-wool.no.

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A note: with the exception of Ragnhild’s sheep photos, the photos of Lofoten featured in this post were all taken by me on a trip last August – some of them from a moving boat at dusk, so please excuse any motion blur!