On a Sofa at the Archive

DSCN0062To rette en vrang“/Knit two, purl one, is not only my Norwegian book title but also the name given to a talk I went to at Riksarkivet/The National Archives last Tuesday. Why has knitting become so popular in Norway was the question asked and how did it start? “The knitting wave is washing across the country. People are taking out their knitting everywhere, they blog about it and exchange knitting tips across the continents. But how much do we actually know about our own knitting history? Norwegian textile- and clothing history is in focus this evening.” Journalist and passionate knitter Kristian Elster lead the talk with Curator at KODE – The Art Museums in Bergen – Anne Britt Ylvisåker and Ethnologist Ingun Grimstad Klepp. The simple answer from Ylvisåker is that we know very little about our own Norwegian knitting history because the definition of the term “knitting” is so wide; it include numerous other handicraft techniques and in addition the fragments that are found are not necessarily made by Norwegians. Above is the well filled entrance hall of the impressive building at Sognsvann in Oslo, see the facade here: www.statsbygg.no. It came as no surprise, to me, that this was a new attendance record in their series of talks.

DSCN0061I did not even sit on the first row as you can see from above. Riksarkivet have their own You Tube Channel where you can watch all their “I en sofa på Arkivet” talks in Norwegian, including this one: www.youtube.com. What we do know is that knitting in Norway was done in the 1500 century, and began with poor people knitting socks out of necessity. It was not until the early 1900 century that it became more popular and that the gentry began knitting, but this time in fine cotton and delicate items to prove that this was not because it was an essential item but merely for pure pleasure. Just as knitting is today, and the popularity of all the different Facebook groups like “Koftegruppa” was mentioned due to its large number of members, with more than 36 000 members. Klepp does not believe it is only a wave but something much more permanent and sustainable. Knitters will also become even more aware of the origin plus material of their yarn in the future, predicted Klepp, and compared it to recent food discussions. Ylvisåker believes the rise of the knitting popularity began in the post war years with the nation building. At a time when the enjoyment of the outdoors flourished and dexterity was in demand. Knitting was no exception hence the knitting patterns became public.


Above, is one of Riksarkivet’s photos of Ingun Grimstad Klepp wearing a Fanakofte with crocheted sleeves, Anne Britt Ylvisåker and Kristian Elster wearing a Marius Genser. Klepp told us how she rescues UFO’s found at flea markets, imagines what the knitter’s intention originally was before it was abandoned, and then decides how to re-design it, all on a much smaller scale than artist Kari Steihaug did for her book, see my review here: Archive: The Unfinished Ones. After the talk had finished questions from the audience were answered, but not all were equally easy to answer like when did our tradition with using a sewing machine before steeking – cutting open a colorwork body to make a cardigan begin? Read more about Klepp and her book Ren Ull/Pure Wool here: Ulluka Campaign for Wool Week. It was an enjoyable evening spent knitting in the company of many others.


The Knitting Wave or Why Yarns Pill Debate

DSCN1679The topic of the debate organized by NFF, Norsk faglitterær forfatter og oversetter forening/Norwegian Non-fiction Writers And Translators Association was; What makes a knitting book successful, and what started the current knitting wave in Norway? The evening started with nearly a 100 attendees – a mixture of authors, journalists, reporters, knitters and other interested persons – facing a panel consisting of Pickles founders: Anna Enge and Heidi Grønvold, publisher MD Arve Juritzen of Marius Strikkebok (85 000 copies sold, see my post Craft Wave), author Kristin Wiola Ødegard, and chaired by Kristin Isaksen communications leader at NFF. First, the panel introduced themselves, and told us what they believed to be the future of the knitting book. The Pickles’ girls were surprised that their 3 books containing patterns, all previously published online, still sold like hotcakes and believed knitters wanted their patterns gathered in print form – a bit like the way a squirrel hoards or stash – and that the knitting wave is a revenge of the knitting nerd. You could hear the collective nod, since we all have a stash of yarns and books. In addition, knitting is now accepted in public spaces, formerly unheard of. Juritzen was taken back by the Marius book success, but believed it to be due to its storytelling ability, and told us that they now receive about 2 new knitting book proposals a week. Juritzen himself is convinced that a knitting book should be summed up in one sentence for it to have a chance of a success. Kristin’s book explains itself in the title, strikes a blow for the use of waste yarn, and was inspired by her customers’ demand at the yarn shop, Tjorven but is not published by Juritzen but by Gyldendal.

Strikkende publikum

Photo: Hilde Østby, NFF

Second, after the interval, the knitting needles were still going strong, it was our turn to join the debate and ask questions. Researcher Ingunn Grimstad Klepp from Sifo, author of Ren Ull/Pure Wool, pointed out that the Knitting Wave did not start in Norway but that we were merely on the edge of it, and that it originated in the US or the UK. The opinions varied to why it occurred, but the Financial crisis; the creative urge that has arisen; the knitting society that the social media have helped to build; knitting’s ability to remove restlessness and to reclaim time, as well as how relaxing it is were some that were mentioned.

The debate sidetracked when the questions if yarn customers ask where the yarn is produced, and how it behaves were raised. Suddenly, we reached a why yarns pill debate, where the opinions differed especially on how much the person wearing it mattered – friction – but most agreed that it is due to the mixed fiber content (usually with man-made fibres), the degree of twist, short staple fibres, and loose knitting.

What is the next knitting hit going to be, asked Juritzen. No one had a clear answer but casual top-down kofter/traditional jackets was one of the suggestions. Designer and journalist – as well as Editor-in-chief – Nina Grønlund Sæther pointed out that designer Tove Fevang with more than 400 000 sold crafts books would be the right person to ask since she was present. Tove told us that her two latest books on childrens wear based on classic patterns had been successful. As for the next hit, she believes in the necessity of adding finishing techniques to her books since we can no longer rely on the transferring of skills between the generations. Grandmother will not always be around to take over the finishing process of a garment. In the photo above is Nina in the front, next to Denise Samson – designer and translator – Tove Fevang and me at the end (read: I did not know if I would fit into the photo).

Beautiful photos are important to attract the knitters, Kristin pointed out and Juritzen agreed. He had been surprised of the casual approach to this only a few decades back. Designer, blogger and podcaster Ann Myhre – aka Pinneguri/The Needle Lady – pointed out that with Ravelry and the free access to knitters’ own photos to link to the pattern page, that photos on single patterns did not necessarily need to be stunning. Ann’s own success with the Sinnasau/Where-the-wild-sheep-roam pattern proves her point. Just take a look at all the different versions of the jacket. Here is Ann’s summing up of the evening: nuppedebatten.

A reporter from the Norwegian State Broadcaster was present and could reveal that there will be yet another slow television program – see slow-tv-norwegian-movement-nrk – related to knitting this autumn. It will focus on hobbies and craft. We are waiting in anticipation, and comments flew in the audience that the level must be higher than on the previous program. Third, there was a book draw donated by the panel, and 7 happy winners were found. One of them, believed in giving something back, and donated a knitted Marius hat to Juritzen and you can see his happy face in the top photo.

It certainly was a heated debate at times, and it took turns we had not anticipated. Several of us would have liked to have seen Cappelen Damm, the largest of the Norwegian craft book publishers present in the panel, and a stricter chairman, but what a crowd, NFF had managed to attract. Finally, we were encouraged to send book proposals to Juritzen – yes, preferably to be summed up in a sentence – and to apply for grants at NFF. Here is the review, and a recording in Norwegian, with very low sound, from NFF: Strikkedilla.