I read a book a couple months ago called The Shetland Bus, which I picked up over Christmas break after someone posted about it on social media last fall. The phrase “the Shetland bus” refers to a British and Norwegian special operations unit who used fishing ships to carry supplies and refugees back and forth between Shetland and the west coast of Norway during World War II (as Norway was occupied by the Nazis, many Norwegians fled to the UK or the United States during the war). Shetland is due west from the west coast of southern Norway, with Lerwick and Bergen being on approximately equal latitudes, so it made sense as a home base for this type of special operations group.
The book itself is fascinating for a number of reasons, not least of which is that it was first published in 1951 and the author was part of the unit that carried out these trips. The trips this group carried out were not in large boats, but fishing boats small enough to be unassuming and less likely to be stopped or questioned. And as the sun doesn’t sink low enough below the horizon for total darkness in the summer time, these trips were carried out in fall and late winter, in the cold and under cover of darkness, often with stormy weather. Even having lived through my first Norwegian winter, I can’t even imagine what it must have been like.
Most of the action took place much farther south than where I live in Norway (Bergen sits at 60ºN while Tromsø is up at 69ºN) with the exception of chapter thirteen, which is one of the more incredible tales in the book about a seemingly impossible escape. Another chapter tells of the attempt to sabotage a German battleship in Trondheim – the attempt failed, but that battleship (Tirpitz) was later sunk just south of Tromsøya at the end of the war. The presence of a little bit of local history probably increased the impact of this book on me.
I also found myself thinking about knitting at different points in the book. Now, nothing in this book is about knitting, but there’s definitely a bit of shared history and tradition between Shetland and Norway – stretching back to the Viking age, of course, but also more recently. Both places are famous for their stranded knitting patterns, and though there are differences, there has always been a great deal of sharing of certain motifs between both places. As I neared the end of The Shetland Bus I found myself reaching for my needles.
I wound up with a hat that I feel is part Norwegian in spirit and part Shetland-style, too. While the main motifs stand out in a single color, the background cycles through different colors. I’ve called it The North Sea in tribute to the fishermen of the Shetland bus, all of whom were incredibly brave, and many of whom found their final resting place at the bottom of that sea.
I went down to Telegrafbukta to shoot the photos of the hat about two months ago, when it was still much snowier here. This park is one of my favorite spots in Tromsø, on the southwest side of the island right on the water. It was a windy day, so I found myself facing in one particular direction more than any other – it just so happens that I wound up looking toward the sunken wreck of the Tirpitz.
Using multiple background colors with colorwork makes this an excellent hat for leftovers, and that is exactly what I used – leftover yarn I had on hand. It is for this reason that the hat is knit in an American yarn (Brooklyn Tweed Shelter) though I’d love to see it worked up in wool from Norway or Shetland as well. It’s a great project for any worsted-weight leftovers you have in your stash. As written, the pattern uses a tubular cast on, but that can be swapped out for any other stretchy cast on you like, and otherwise it’s quite straightforward.
The one thing that’s unusual is that normally I write hat patterns for multiple sizes, but due to the very large repeat used on this hat, the pattern is written for just one size. In this case I would suggest trying to adjust gauge by changing needles sizes if you’d like to make the hat smaller or larger, and keep in mind that gauge from knitter to knitter can vary substantially in stranded colorwork, so you’ll probably find it useful to swatch first.
The North Sea is available on Ravelry now. Head over to that page for all the technical details about the pattern.