Today for our ‘Norway Week’ I wanted to chat a little bit about one of my favorite Norwegian crafts, Selbu knitting! Selbu knitting has become an iconic symbol of Norway– with the unique knitting patterns gaining popularity far outside the bounds of the Selbu region, to be found across the globe.
Selbu knitting is traditionally 2 stranded colorwork created using motifs such as stars and roses. Actually, many of the patterns that may look like a ‘star’ to us are considered 8 petaled roses in Selbu knitting. Created for both women and men, the original colors used in Selbu knitting were black and white but over time have come to include a vast array of colors, including blue and white and red and white. Today, you can create Selbu mittens in any color, and with a vast array of patterns.
A few years I found a pair of old Selbu mittens at an antiques fair. I thought they were SO beautiful, and my son was smitten with them and loved to wear them. In the past, I’ve had a very hard time following knitting patterns (I’m more of a ‘sit and wing it’ knitter over all) but this winter I found myself really loving the patterns I’d seen in Selbu mittens and got some books at the library. One of the very best books I found– and later bought for myself– was “Selbu Mittens” by Anne Bardsgard. This is a BIG book, and it not only gives you the history of Selbu mittens as a craft and later as a profitable and iconic Norwegian industry, it also provides over 500 charts to make and design your own mittens. I highly, highly recommend it.
Not too long after getting this book, I saw that Jane Addams was offering an online Selbu knitting course through Knit.Club and signed up for it. Taking that class and getting tips for how to read and knit the pattern led to a total breakthrough in my knitting with patterns and creating these mittens. I am now working on more pairs and love how they are turning out. I have also found that the way Selbu mittens are created (They have side bands that mark the difference between the front and the back of the mitten) make it much easier than expected to keep track of your place when knitting. I learned about carrying ‘float’ yarns as I knit a pattern and making an ‘after-thought thumb’, which means you use a contrasting color to knit the thumb hole, continue to knit your mitten, and then when finished go back to open up the thumb hole stitches and finish the thumb.
According to tradition, the person credited for creating two stranded color knitting in Selbu is Marit Emstad (1841-1929). She is supposed to be the creator of the star motif in Selbu knitting and other patterns. The traditional ‘origin story’ of Selbu knitting begins with Marit and her sisters attending church in the winter of 1957. The mittens were greatly admired by the other women in the church yard, and the knitting method quickly spread throughout the community. Selbu style knitting became a part of the daily life as well as festive wear in the area. In the following decades, the knitting of beautiful and intricate mittens became part of wedding preparations, with the bride and her attendants knitting mittens for the entire wedding party, and mittens also became a common gift exchange between engaged couples.
It soon became apparent that the interest in this style of knitting extended far outside the Selbu area villages, and the women of the area found that they could make an income for themselves with their knitting. A cottage industry developed, and by the 1930s Selbu mitten knitting had official standards and coordinated distribution. Many housewives, as well as their children, took on mitten knitting to help keep their families afloat during turbulent times.
Selbu knitting even made its way across the ocean to North America as Norwegians emigrated in large numbers to the U.S. and Canada. Because of their timeless beauty and practicality, there seems to always be an interest and a market for Selbu knitting, which later came to include socks, hats and even sweaters.
I have found that I really enjoy Selbu knitting and am still a little shocked that the mittens I’ve made look like they’re supposed to! I’ve been knitting for a little over a decade now, and I feel like my experiments with selbu knitting have really made me grow as a knitter. If you are interested in learning to knit selbu mittens or other items in selbu style, there are many books out there that I highly recommend. I also recommend taking a class on the subject, either online or in person. I am such a ‘see it done with my own eyes’ kind of person, and its great to be able to ask questions if you get stuck.
As for book recommendations, I of course recommend “Selbu Mittens” by Anne Bardsgard, as well as Knits From Around Norway by Nina Granlund Saether. I am also hoping to get The Nordic Knitting Primer by Kristin Drysdale in the future. There is a lifetime of knitting projects awaiting me….as well as a lifetime of painting, reading, spinning, etc….there’s just not enough time in life to do all the things I’m curious about, but I will definitely try my best!
Have you ever done any selbu knitting? Do you have any favorite motifs or color combinations? Let me know in the comments! And of course, don’t forget to enter to win the book “Happy Times in Norway” in the post from Monday!
Have a great day…..