From sheep to human project – part 3

The last weeks before and during Xmas, I have been sorting, washing, carding and spinning some of the yarn that I am going to use for the project. I have learned a lot from this process that I didn’t know before.

Whether, when and how to wash the wool 

I guess it is a matter of taste if and when in the process you should wash the wool. If you don’t wash it, it will have lots of lanolin in it, which will make it a little more sticky and therefore in some aspects easier to work with. But it also contains lots of dirt and seeds, and it smells too much of sheep, so I prefer to wash it before I spin it.

I also suppose it is important how you wash the wool, and what type of soap you should use. I have used soap meant for wool, and I have moved the wool around as little as possible while washing it, to avoid felting.

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Unwashed wool

Adding spinning oil

The washing makes the wool a little dry for spinning, so I totally understand why spinning oil is used. I have not added spinning oil since the staple length is very long, but for a shorter staple length this would probably be preferable.

Carding 

The more I spin, the more I understand that the most important process is the sorting and other preparations that is done before the spinning. The carding is crucial for a good result.

I recommend this video from Lois Swales, when it comes to carding. It will definitely teach you how to card like a ghost, as it promises – and it is also very entertaining: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sytFsIRitZ0

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First round of carding
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This wool is carded once

 

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Carding into rolags (I call them clouds)

 

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Clouds ready to spin from

Spinning progress

My spinning has improved a lot. I am still not able to spin yarn for Shetland lace knitting – like I was expecting to be able to… I have read somewhere that expert spinners from Shetland can spin yarn with only five to six fibres at the time. I think I am down to around 15 fibres at a time, which will suffice for my project.

I am also not able to walk alongside the road while spinning, as spinners from Bolivia are known for – yet. I will probably not practice walking around downtown Oslo, while spinning (in order to avoid being unvoluntarily placed in a pshyciatric institution), but I am able to maintain simple conversation while spinning – or watch TV.

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Singles spun from the best parts of the fleece. As you can see I have not invested lots of money in bobbins. You can also see that I have marked the toilet rolls with spinning date and weight, so I can keep track of my progress. I plan to ply the last spun yarn together with the first, so that I will have approximately the same thickness for all the yarn I make.

Design research

This post was supposed to have the design plans as a main focus, and I have done some progress on this topic too. A main choice for me, will be between traditional Norwegian stranded color work or a more modern design. I have therefore been reading up on Norwegian knitting history – which is disappointingly short and not as distinct as I thought before (see more below).

I have also made some swatches and design plans for a modern design, but I think I will use another and more consistent yarn for this plan.

Norwegian knitting history

This section is not scientific at all, just a mix of my interpretations and assumptions, based on what I have found online and in knitting books, especially by Annemor Sundbø.

The main points of Norwegian knitting history seems to be:

  • Before knitting was introduced in Norway people made their garments by weaving and needle binding. Needle binding was probably the preferred method for making hard wearing mittens and hats, while cloth for dresses and shirts were made mostly of woven material. Both these techniques are known from other places as well, and are not originally Norwegian. I have found one source that says that people in Norway also used a technique called gimping, which is very interesting, since it makes it possible to make stretchy garments, like shawls.
  • Knitting came to Norway from The British Isles, other Scandinavian countries or Central Europe. Knitting was known in Norway before the sixteenth century. I read somewhere that the Norwegians at first didn’t like knitting, since knitted fabric was worn out so quickly. But after a while they realised that it was on the other hand much quicker to knit new stuff, than to needle bind for example mittens and socks. This could be the birth of consumerism…
  • The first Norwegian knitter known by name was Lisbet Pedersdatter, born ca. 1610. She was convicted of whitchcraft and executed in Trondheim in 1670 – not only because she was knitting, but it is mentioned that she knitted for money, which was apparently a clear indication of her being a which.
  • I am interested in the ethymology of the words that are used for knitting, but haven’t found much written material on this subject. It is interesting that some Norwegian dialects (amongst them my own dialect) use the verb “å binde” – “to bind” about the process of knitting, and “bundingen” – which would translate to “the binding” about the work in progress. This is the same word as is used in “needle binding”. In Norwegian we also have the verb “å knyte” – which means “to tie”, which is similar to the English word “to knit”. The product of this process however, would in modern Norwegian be “ei knute”, which means “a knot”, and we wouldn’t want that to happen to our knitting yarn. The verb most knitters use for knitting today is “å strikke” – which I think is of French origin – “tricoter”.
  • The first Norwegian knitted garments that are found and preserved, are from ca. 1850. The most known kofte, from Setesdal, is from this period. The Setesdal kofte grew out of local folklore, it seems, although inspired by pattern elements that are known all over Europe. Members of Koftegruppa on Facebook has told me that there are other examples of kofter from other places from the same period, amongst these Fana, Voss and Sotra. I also believe that Valdres is among the oldest, but haven’t been able to verify this yet.
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This is a picture of the Setesdal pattern. Ca. 1990 I made this for myself, but the fashion back then was really oversized, so I later reworked it into a pillowcase and two hats (made from the sleeves).
  • The Selbu mitten was originally designed by Marit Emstad, who made such mittens for herself and her sisters in 1857.
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These are my version of the Selbu mittens. I made them back in the 1990’s, and have used them a lot, but still they look brand new.
  • Knitting may have become more necessary than before because of the trade blockade after the Napoleon wars in the first half of the 1800’s, and this can explain why there are quite a few garments preserved from this period. Since the distance between Setesdal and Selbu is more than 800 km, people have probably been knitting all over the southern part of Norway in the middle of the 19th century.
  • In 1929 Annichen Sibbern Bøhn’s book “Norske strikkemønstre” (meaning Norwegian knitting patterns) came out. She worked at Husfliden and Norsk folkemuseum, and collected patterns and pattern elements from all over Norway. This book is the foundation for everything that has happened in Norwegian traditional stranded knitting ever since, because she was the one that made the existing patterns available for everybody. A small sidetrack: In 1930 she designed the first “Eskimo” sweater, that has inspired the Icelandic knitting tradition.
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These are a pair of beautiful mittens, made by Annichen Sibbern Bøhn herself, for her husband Ole Bøhn. They got married in 1931, so these are from around that time. Pay attention to his initials on the inside of the wrist, and the careful mending of the mittens that shows that they have been used. I met their daughter on a book launch January 18th, 2019, and she brought these mittens to show to the audience. I am truly thankful for her bringing this treasure for us to see!
  • The commercial Norwegian knitting pattern development flourished after Annichen Sibbern Bøhn’s book came out. Many patterns from this period were named after spesific places, but without necessarily having any roots there – which makes it difficult to find out (just by looking at the designs) which patterns are traditional, and which are modern designs based on the traditional patterns. The term “Norwegian knitting” may therefore today be used both for the oldest patterns, and for the more recent ones. For instance the Setesdal kofte is a traditional pattern, while Unn Søiland Dale’s Marius sweater is a post WW2-pattern mainly influenced by the Setesdal kofte, from the looks of it. This design was made in 1954 for the movie “Troll i ord”. (Unn Søiland Dale designed the second “Eskimo” sweater – based upon the original design from Annichen Sibbern Bøhn.) Even today there are many Norwegian designers that make new, beautiful kofte-patterns; Helle Siggerud, Sidsel J. Høivik, Kristin Wiola Ødegård, Tone Loeng, Wanja Blix Langsrud, Denise Samson, Anne Kjersti Heggdal, Liv Sandvik Jakovsen, Nina Granlund Sæther, Ann Myhre, Wenche Roald and Kari Hestnes are all amazing kofte designers that still publish new patterns. (I have probably forgot several expert kofte designers, but will update if my readers let me know who slipped when I wrote this.)
  • In addition to the published designs, it is not uncommon for people to make their own kofte design, or at least adapt the traditional designs to their own taste. Some knitters will only change the colors, but others will make a variety of changes of the pattern in order to have a one of a kind-kofte. I believe this has “always” been the way to do it in Norway, and this individuality just adds to our cultural heritage as a nation of knitters.
  • For further reading on both the traditional kofte patterns and the commercial and modern patterns, I will recommend Annichen Sibbern Bøhns book “Norske strikkemønstre”, Wenche Roalds and Annichen Sibbern Bøhns brand new book “Inspirerende norske strikkemønstre”, and Ingun Grimstad Klepp and Tone Skårdal Tobiassons “Norsk strikkehistorie”.

The pattern elements and placing of the pattern borders

Most of the pattern elements that we Norwegians look upon as typically Norwegian are not. Some of them are from The Middle East, others are from Italy, some are Spanish, and we have of course a lot of pattern elements in common with the Baltic states, Sweden, Iceland and Shetland. I will have to look more thoroughly into the specific pattern elements, in order to maybe find a pattern that I can be certain that has Norwegian origin. If I can find one, I will use this in my design. Otherwise I will use pattern elements from more than one of the oldest designs, I think.

The placing of the patterns on the Setesdal kofte is around the openings for the neck and the sleeves, and in addition to this there are pattern borders at the top of the sleeves. This pattern placing is the same as on imported silk sweaters (waist coats) that were knit throughout Europe from the late Middle Ages. The Setesdal kofte, Valdres kofte and Fana kofte also originally had colorful embroidery around the sleeve cuffs and neck. It was common knowledge all over Europe (I guess) that this pattern placing would protect the wearer from evil spirits.

The Setesdal kofte had no pattern around the bottom edge, but the lower part was made out of white wool, instead of the black wool, that is used as the main color for the rest of the kofte. Since black wool is more rare than white, and since this type of kofte was used with a brok (high waist pants, worn on the outside of the kofte) this may have had practical and economical, more than estetic reasons. I assume that garments with black main color was a status symbol, together with the intricate embroidery on some of the old sweaters. It is also interesting that the Selbu mittens normally had white as the main color, with black pattern. Sometimes the mittens were knitted in white and black and later dyed red, which might have been a way to show others that the owner was well off – red dye was not easy to come by, and therefore also a status symbol. (Nowadays many Norwegians buy indie dyed luxury yarn to show off their wealth, but I choose to believe that modern day’s yarn snobbery has roots from centuries ago.)

Next update

I hope that I will have enough yarn to start sample knitting within a few weeks, so that I can determine the gauge for my project and start designing. I also hope that I have been able to find old pattern elements that are specific to Norwegian stranded knitting, and that I can incorporate into the pattern design. I also hope to find out what kind of dye that was mostly used, and how the dyeing took place – and will of course appreciate information on this subject.

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