Nålbinding: How the Vikings Made Their Socks

Renata teaching

Renata Fossett (right) says families and villages had their own ways of nålbinding and handed them down.

The stitch Renata Fossett is teaching a group of us on this Saturday morning isn’t abbreviated with a “k” or a “p” or a “yo.” It’s written like this: UOO/UUOO F1. That represents the unders, overs, change in needle direction, and interlocking with previous loops that go into making a Korgen stitch.

Sock in progress 2We’re nålbinding. Gathered around the big pine table in Ingebretsen’s classroom with Fossett as our guide, we’re stepping back to a time before knitting was common in the Nordic countries—probably before knitting was done there at all. Nålbinding is how Viking Age people made hats, socks, mittens, and sieves for straining liquids more than a thousand years ago.

Hairclip NeedleWhere did Fossett get her bone needle, someone asks. And just as if she’d come from the Viking Age herself, she says, “I made it” from “something I had for dinner.” She also uses needles made from wood, antlers, and even very 21st-century hair clips, whatever is at hand.

Mellgren Book Cover“Nål” sounds like “knoll” and means “needle” in the Scandinavian languages. Nålbinding is “to bind with a needle.” Fossett learned how about 15 years ago through a group she belongs to, the Society for Creative Anachronism, which is dedicated to preserving the skills and customs of Medieval and Renaissance Europe. Re-enactors of the Viking period, like Swedish author Nusse Mellgren, have also produced lots of step-by-step guides to nålbinding.

Renata's Coppergate socks“The very first stitch I did was the York stitch, which was found in a sock in York in the Coppergate [archaeological] dig,” Fossett says. The English city of York was once a Viking settlement called Jorvik, and the Coppergate Sock, which she made her own adaptation of, probably belonged to a Scandinavian settler or trader in the 900s.

Detail from Kate's workHow does nålbinding work? Just like in knitting and crocheting, you make a fabric by interlocking loops of yarn, but there are a couple of big differences. Instead of pulling from a whole ball of working yarn, in nålbinding you use a short length of working yarn, just a few feet at a time. To make a stitch, you don’t pull one small loop through another, you draw your whole piece of yarn through the loops you want to interlock with, the way you’d pull a whole length of embroidery floss through fabric. You might pull your yarn through just one or two previous loops in your work or as many as nine loops, depending on the stitch you’re making. The more interlocking you do, the more elastic the finished piece.

Renata's blue hat

“I don’t think we’ll ever know how they went from mostly everybody doing things in nålbinding to mostly everybody doing things in knitting,” Fossett says, but she can guess one reason why the shift took place in Europe a few hundred years ago. “Once they learned how to knit, it was so much faster than nålbinding.”

Renata in her Korgen tomte hat

Renata in the finished class project, a Korgen stitch “tomte” hat, or elf hat.

On the other hand, “nålbinding will not unravel,” she adds. If a stitch wears through and breaks, that stitch will need to be repaired, but there’s no danger of it running and unraveling the whole fabric. In fact, there’s a bit of lore that stems from nålbinding’s durability, Fossett says.

“I’ve heard that if you had someone that you really cared about very much, and you wanted to make them a pair of mittens as a love token, if you really cared about them you would nålbind.” The mittens would last longer and you would show, by taking more time to make them, the depth of your feelings. “If you were like, ‘Eh, I can take him or leave him,’ you’d knit.”

Tim nålbindingWorking with short lengths of yarn means making a lot of joins, which is one reason Fossett recommends nålbinding with a single-ply wool yarn, like Álafosslopi or Léttlopi. Her joining method is something you can use in knitting, too, if you’re working with wool and want to avoid weaving in loose ends after you finish a project. Here’s what she does:

Demo 1 untwist

1) Untwist a few inches of your yarn to weaken it.

Demo 2 break

2) Pull gently until the yarn breaks, leaving uneven fibers at the ends.

Demo 3 separate fibers

3) Untwist each end a little more to separate the fibers.

Demo 4 bring ends together

4) Bring the two ends close together.

Demo 5 interlace the fibers

5) Lay the loose fibers from both ends together, loosely interlaced.

Demo 6 twist together

6) Twist the fibers together to make a join.

Demo 7 wet palms and yarn

7) Dampen the joined yarn and the palms of your hands; you can do this with spit—which is why this is sometimes called a “spit splice”—or with a spritz of water from a spray bottle.

Demo 8 felt with heat and friction

8) Felt the fibers together with heat and friction by rapidly rolling the yarn back and forth between your palms.

 

Robins_Elmer FuddNålbinding is even older than the Viking period. It dates to thousands of years BC and is still used from Peru to Scandinavia. But for all its long history, it’s also a craft suited to this moment in time—small, portable, and easily updatable. Angela Robins, another of Ingebretsen’s nålbinding instructors (check the class schedule for more nålbinding coming up this fall), loves making neon-bright hats and says she’s drawn to nålbinding’s simplicity.

Robins_Cloche“I always kind of thought of knitting as one of the simplest crafts because you only need essentially two sticks,” Robins says. “But I feel like nålbinding takes it a step further because you only need one!”

—Denise Logeland

Summer Sparkles, and Joan Sparks a Trend

Fame Trend Paljett Skeins 2

Fame Trend Paljett yarn from Sweden’s Marks & Kattens

Joan is an instigator, and I mean that in the best possible way. How do trends get going around our shop? What prompts people to try something new? Lots of times, “Joan” is the answer (though she’d never want to take credit).

JoanIt was Joan, one of our knitting instructors, who first came across Fame Trend Paljett yarn from Sweden’s Marks & Kattens and suggested that we try it. Sequins? You can bet nothing this blingy had ever graced our shelves before. (And here’s your Swedish word for the day: “paljett” means “sequin”—pronounced “pal” like in “politics” and “jett” like in “not yet.”)

Joan's WingspanThen Joan knit it up as a Wingspan wrap, Maylin Tan’s design on Ravelry. In no time, half a dozen members of our Monday knitting group were making glittering, fluttering Wingspans of their own.

Tan’s pattern shows off the color gradations and bit of sparkle in the Trend Paljett yarn, which is 55 percent superwash wool, 38 percent acrylic, and 7 percent sequins. For the Monday knitters, Wingspan’s series of garter-stitch triangles created with short rows has been everything from relaxing to revelatory.

Donna“This is my Stanley Cup scarf,” says Donna, holding up her version in orangey-pinky reds. She calls Wingspan “mindless knitting,” but in a good way. “I can watch hockey and knit this.”

Karen’s Paljett yarn flashes glints of purple as she rounds a turn on the first of three Wingspans that she’s knitting for friends. Stitch markers in two different colors punctuate her row. “You have a ‘movable marker’ and ‘permanent markers,’” she says, and they’re the key to keeping this pattern easy to work.

Karen KnittingKaren's Wingspan

Joyce is several Wingspans down the road already and says, “You learn a lot of things just from staying with the same pattern” and knitting it with different yarns. She’s been paying attention to how her changes in yarn weight and needle size change the drape of her knitted fabric each time.

“I’ve learned about short rows,” too, she says. “I never really knew about those.”

Donna's Winspan

Short rows at work: There are more rows at the base of each triangle than at the top.

What’s a short row? It’s an incomplete row. You turn and head back in the other direction before you reach the row’s end. The result is that there are more rows of stitches on one end of your knitting than on the other. You can shape a neckline or bustline this way, create gores in a skirt, or in Wingspan, shape the triangles. A two-minute YouTube video posted by Cynthia Spencer takes the mystery out of making neat turns for short rows.

Adapted Wrap

There is an even easier way to put on some sparkle this summer: a super simple shawl that’s an adaptation of the Sundae Summer Shawl pattern, a free download on Ravelry posted by Mango Moon Yarns. The pattern is written for a different yarn, but Fame Trend Paljett complements the design well, and the adaptation is easy to make:

On Size 19sCast on 35 stitches somewhat loosely, but use a US size 19 needle in place of the pattern’s recommended size 17. Knit the first row. Work 49 more rows of garter stitch and increase 1 stitch at each end of each row. Bind off loosely. That’s it—a very fast knit and one that some of the Monday knitters are eyeing as a next project.

By the way, our Monday knitting group is Joan’s doing, too, an offshoot of a class she taught at the shop years ago. Now anyone is welcome to come for open knitting in our cheery, pine-paneled community room, Mondays 1 to 3 and Fridays 3 to 5.

—Denise Logeland

In the Breeze

 

On the ChairFame and Wrap

Eline Oftedal Makes Norwegian Classics “Small, Fast, and Fun”

Eline

Eline Oftedal in a Marius cowl, one of her quick takes (though not from her book) on the classic Marius pullover

It’s pure speculation, but I think Bitten Eriksen would like Eline Oftedal’s designs.

After all, Eriksen was updating the deep-rooted tradition of Norway’s Setesdal sweater when she created another iconic pattern, the Marius pullover, in the 1920s. Long story very short: The Marius became a must-have in 1950s Norway after Eriksen’s son, Marius—a World War II hero and national slalom champion—modeled Unn Soiland Dale’s variation of the design for the Sandnes yarn company and wore the sweater in a movie.

Marius RacerbackNow along comes Oftedal and re-imagines the Marius sweater as a racerback top. And a pair of hotpants. And a teddy bear. She turns the Setesdal design into a necktie. And an iPad cover.

knitnordicIn her new book, Knit Nordic, Oftedal, an Oslo-based designer and former staffer at Norway’s parliament, puts a fresh spin on four venerable Norwegian sweater designs, including Fana and Voss. But there’s not a single sweater in her pages.

“I want a young generation that didn’t learn to knit from granny, that didn’t grow up with these sweaters, to learn to love the patterns, and for that, I felt they just needed new shapes . . . . Small, fast, and fun projects,” Oftedal says when we talk on the phone.

iPad and iPhone coversSmart little covers for tech devices are a good example. She put them in the book because the simple rectangular shapes are a perfect showcase for the pattern motifs, but also because people love to personalize their phones and tablets, she says. “We do have a much more personal relationship to our gadgets than we used to have.”

Freestyle SkeinsHer Setesdal iPad cover calls for a DK or worsted weight yarn. One good option is Dale of Norway’s Freestyle, a superwash wool that you can machine wash in cool water if the cover gets a little dirty from living in your purse or backpack. Instead of the traditional charcoal gray shown in the book, I picked a fresh green and swapped out Oftedal’s snap closure for a loop of twisted cord and a Norwegian pewter button.

iPad Cover Detail

The Voss iPhone cover needs a sport weight yarn, so I grabbed Falk, another superwash wool from Dale, in a summery aqua and white.

One new thing Oftedal’s book prompted me to learn is the three-needle bind-off. This is worth knowing if finishing projects is not your favorite task, because it lets you bind off and seam at the same time.

Seams Two WaysA quick YouTube video posted by Very Pink Knits shows how to do the three-needle bind-off and place the small ridge of seam allowance on the inside (wrong side) of your work. But the seam is so neat that you might want to put the ridge on the outside of your knitting as a decorative detail. That’s what I did on my phone cover.

Knitting “has always made me have a little bit of normality in a very hectic work life,” Oftedal says. It was the “perfect craft to take along” in a career filled with travel for the parliament, for Oslo’s Peace Research Institute, and for Norway’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Lately, she’s taken a new part-time job—“for the Norwegian space industry, of all things!”—to make time for her growing and unexpected work as a designer.

“I’d always been knitting my own designs,” but not writing them down for other knitters, she says. On a whim a few years ago, she wrote out one of her patterns and sent it off to Vogue Knitting. To her surprise, her lacy cowl-necked shoulder wrap wound up in the 2010 holiday issue.

Oftedal's VK Cowl

“That opened so many doors”—but not the doors of Norwegian publishers. They all turned down her proposal for Knit Nordic until the book itself came out in the United Kingdom last fall, and in the U.S. last February, and sales took off. She ultimately translated it into Norwegian for publication in her own country, where it’s also been popular.

“It’s nice that it’s here, too,” she says, “because it’s where it belongs, in a way.”

Watch for more designs from Oftedal in magazines this year. She’s got works in progress with Interweave Knits in the U.S., The Knitter in the U.K., and Norway’s Familien. A second book is coming, too, inspired by knitting in the Faroes, Iceland, and Norway.

Arne, Carlos, og Eline

Eline with kindred spirits Arne and Carlos: All three designers are helping knitters rethink Norway’s traditional patterns

Meanwhile, she shares her creative process for anyone who wants to try their own hand at designing.

First, she takes pictures and notes of things that spark her imagination—color combinations or shapes that she likes from fashion, colors and textures from nature—and keeps them handy in a file. When she wants to design, she looks through those cues, then puts them away. “I imagine, ‘What’s the essence of these inspirational photos or words?’ And then I draw.”

Falk with CoversFinally, “I just take out quite a lot of my yarn—which is quite a lot!“—and spread it out on the floor. There are always color pairings that stand out, “something staring at you” from out of the pile, she says.

Oftedal, who surprised herself by becoming a designer, is pretty sure you have the makings of a designer, too. “I think everyone who knits is a potential designer, because you’ve taken that first step. You’re making your own things.”

—Denise Logeland

Mary Jane Mucklestone on Knitting Scandinavian Motifs

Mary Jane Mucklestone

Hiking in Maine’s Camden Hills, Mary Jane Mucklestone wears a hat she made using motif 102 from her new book

Where did designer Mary Jane Mucklestone find the 150 Scandinavian Motifs in her latest book?

“When I go to yard sales, I always get old knitting patterns,” she says. “And growing up in Seattle, I saw everything on my schoolmates’ backs,” a parade of reindeer, eight-petaled roses, and “lice.”

She saw those design elements again in embroideries at home from her Norwegian great-grandmother. And again on trips to Scandinavia. And eventually in favorite books by Annemor Sundbø and Vibekke Lind.

What clearer sign could there be of Scandinavia’s influence on Mucklestone than her very first knitting project at age 5? A blanket for her troll doll.

Today when she visits Seattle from her home in Maine, as she did for a research trip to the Nordic Heritage Museum, she hunts for vintage Nordic knits on thift shop racks. “My daughter is also a collector of them and she scored big time last time she went to Seattle.”

Scandinavian motifs “just float around” in some cities, Mucklestone says. They’re like an echo of the immigrants who settled there. But her goal with the book wasn’t to create a record of the past.

Pillow from Mucklestone's motifs“All these kinds of traditions, all handwork, I think, is evolving,” she says. “It never stays the same, because people change and the materials that are available change.” By collecting motifs, she wanted to open a window into Scandinavian design as a “living tradition.”

An encouraging teacher, Mucklestone is enthusiastic when she looks at photos of what I knit from her book using motifs 25 and 26 and Falk yarn from Dale of Norway: “I love your pillow. Exactly how I envisioned my book being used.”

There is no pillow pattern per se in the book, but it’s easy to pick motifs that you like and put them to use, especially in a simple shape like a pillow. Each motif is well charted—in black and white, in color, and in variations to encourage you to experiment—and each one is labeled with the number of stitches and rows it contains. Mucklestone has excellent notes at the front of the book on how to adapt motifs to anything you want to knit, from doing the math to placing the shapes in a balanced way on a garment.

Her own preference is not for “the really old patterns, but more the 1960s designers,” and that’s how the circle motif in my pillow came about, she says. She created it herself in the spirit of an evolving tradition.

Flower motif pageCircle motif page

“It said ‘modern Scandinavia’ to me in that it was really graphic,” she says. “I had done those flowers that seem really, really modern, but aren’t, on page 136 . . . . The one down in the righthand corner? I riffed on that circle in the center of the flower” to make the circles in motif 25.

An artist by training, Mucklestone studied printmaking at New York’s Pratt Institute, and elsewhere studied textile design and historic costumes. Knitting didn’t really take hold in her life until she moved to Maine to start her family and decided yarn was environmentally friendlier than the inks and dyes she’d been working with.

Pillow and Falk 2“All that stuff is pretty toxic, and we had our own well, so I didn’t feel comfortable dumping anything down the drain,” Mucklestone says. “Knitting was pretty green, comparatively.”

Now she’s known for vibrant knitwear designs that have appeared in Interweave Knits and other magazines and books. She’s known as an inspiring teacher, too. Technique-wise, she says four things really matter when working with Scandinavian motifs.

First, “it’s essential to swatch,” because each motif will have a different affect on your gauge.

Yarn Dominance Cropped

Swatching will help you with another variable, “yarn dominance,” Mucklestone explains, and a set of photos in her book makes this clear. A color that’s carried for long stretches along the back of the work, or carried in one hand versus the other, can tend to make slightly tighter, smaller stitches that recede on the front of the work. Meanwhile, a color carried in the opposite hand, or simply used more frequently and carried for shorter distances, might make looser, fuller stitches that appear dominant on the front of the work.

“But it will be different for everybody, so the most important thing is just to be consistent,” Mucklestone says. “If you assign a color to one hand, keep it there throughout the garment.” Swatching will show you “which position of holding the yarn is most dominant for you.”

Muckle Pillow 22A third tip: You can avoid tight “floats” of yarn on the back of your work if you “spread the just-knit stitches out along your righthand needle,” as they would be in the finished item. “People tend to bunch them up there . . . and that will make the float too small.”

Finally, she says, try not to get too caught up in your charts, or it’s easy to lose track of how your new stitches are fitting in with what you’ve already knit.

“I always cover the chart [that I’ve knit so far] with a really cheap Post-it note that you can see through, so I can see where I’ve been. But most importantly, I’m looking at my own work so I know what’s in my hands.”

This August, Mucklestone heads to the Nordic countries as guest teacher on a trip organized by Craft Cruises. If you’re in that part of the world this summer, too, you might find her in the mountains or overlooking a fjord with needles and yarn in hand. An avid hiker, she says she likes to give herself a reward at the top of the trail: “a view, trail mix, water, and a little knitting.”

—Denise Logeland

Falk Cropped

Baby Gifts? Hop to It!

Bunnies 13It’s easier to love the rabbits in Hadley Fierlinger’s mobile than the ones living in our garden this spring. So far, the knitted bunnies haven’t eaten a single tulip bloom.

Fierlinger’s designs, including a baby bolero to pair with summer dresses, make it easier to love yarns from Scandinavia at this time of year, too. If tulips are popping up, we’re just weeks from the day when having a big sweater’s worth of wool in your lap suddenly sounds punishing. Tiny projects are good, at least in Minnesota’s humid summers.

Bolero and Lerke 2

Vintage Knits for Modern Babies, Fierlinger’s book, is filled with tiny projects that make comfortable warm-weather knitting and some of the sweetest baby gifts you could hope for. She includes an even mix of beginner, intermediate, and advanced projects in the book’s 25 designs. Each one is based on vintage patterns from the 1930s, ‘40s, and ‘50s.

vintageknitsmodernbabiesFierlinger, who collects knitting patterns from bygone eras, lives in New Zealand and started creating her own designs with that country’s merino yarns in mind. Dale of Norway’s Lerke, a DK weight blend of Lerke 6 cropped52 percent merino and 48 percent cotton, knits up nicely for the baby bolero, and even the largest size (for a 3- to 4-year-old) takes just two skeins. Because of the fiber blend, Lerke can be machine washed in cool water and a gentle cycle.

For the bunnies, Dale’s sport weight Heilo wool has a great palette of vintage-feeling colors (so does Lerke). The bunnies in the photos are knit in natural and suited up in medium teal, Bunnies and Heilo 1 croppedblossom, sunglow, and cherry red. You’ll need one skein of each color you choose, though you might want a little extra of the natural when it comes to making bunny tails.

Bunnies 6 New CropBuilding the structure of the mobile with yarn and the inner ring of an embroidery hoop is its own kind of creative fun. Who knew you could knit rickrack? And making the twisted cord that things hang from is a trick you’ll probably want to learn for adding button loops, handles, or trim to other projects, too. Here’s a quick video to get you started.

—Denise Logeland

 

Bolero 6Heilo 3 croppedBunnies 5 croppedBunnies 3 croppedBunnies 22 cropped

Latvian Mittens and “No Knitting Police”

Look closely at Diane Thomson’s knitting and you’ll see that her pairs of mittens and gloves—the Latvian ones, Thomson's favorite Latvian mittensthe Norwegian ones, the ones based on African weaving—don’t always perfectly match.

“In the cuff area is where I do a lot of design work,” Thomson says. “So I’ll knit the first one up, get to the second one, and go, ‘What if I did this instead?’” Whatever that new inspiration is, a bit of added color or detail, “I do that.”

“I love to try different things,” she adds.

It shows. Thomson’s knitting is on exhibit through April in Ingebretsen’s classroom and community space. As a knitter she’s prolific, creative, skilled, and above all a free spirit.

Diane Thomson: "Just keep challenging yourself to become a better knitter."

Diane Thomson: “Just keep challenging yourself to become a better knitter.”

“When I’m teaching students to knit, I like to let them know there are no knitting police,” she says. “If you get results that are pleasing to you, then you’ve done it right.”

Thomson teaches at Ingebretsen’s (she has a wristers class coming up May 15 and 22 that includes Latvian braid trim). Her exhibit includes 27 pairs of mittens and gloves, 4 sets of wristers, and 15 hats, just a portion of what she’s knit in the past four or five years. Wristers for next classShe also spins. She weaves—she’s just finishing a Navajo rug for a class she’s taking at the Textile Center of Minnesota. And, oh yeah, she has a full-time job. But working with yarn is what gives her a chance to stretch and explore.

Her first pair of Latvian mittens, like most of her knitting, comes with a story about what she learned.

Diane's first Latvian mittens“Those are the mittens that took 10 years to do,” Thomson says. Lizbeth Upitis, who wrote Latvian Mittens, had come to the Twin Cities to teach a class. Thomson got home afterward, looked at the book and the yarn she’d bought, and felt completely lost. It all got put away and it stayed put away for a decade, until a weekend getaway on northern Minnesota’s Gunflint Trail five years ago.

Suddenly, “I sat down at my computer, charted out the full pattern, and knit those mittens that weekend,” Thomson says. “It was like my mind was finally at the right point that I could do them, and that just opened up the flood gate.”

What changed? She’d been knitting Norwegian mittens, which made her comfortable with multicolored patterns and charts. But there are big differences between Norwegian mittens and Latvian ones.

Even the thumb makes no break in the patterning on these mittens. Thomson got the alignment just right.

Even the thumb makes no break in the patterning on these mittens. Thomson got the alignment just right.

“Norwegian mittens are much easier,” Thomson explains. “You’re working on a larger gauge, and you have a definite front pattern, you have a definite back pattern, and you have a gusseted thumb. With the Latvian mittens, the pattern has to go all the way around seamlessly. That’s the hardest part, is getting the pattern balanced so that you don’t have an awkward visual.”

It’s challenging because Latvian patterns give just a fragment of a chart, not a mitten’s worth of chart. It’s up to the knitter to project outward from that and figure out how to apply the pattern over the entire fabric of the mitten. That’s the real hurdle Thomson got over. Her solution was to use plain old Excel spreadsheet software—no specialized charting software—to copy and paste the provided chart until she found the best arrangement of it across her mitten.

Lat kits croppedKit Mittens 2Kit Mittens 1

She has more pointers if you want to try Latvian mittens. One is not to worry about being perfect, especially the first time out. She tells students who are new to Latvian knitting, “You’re probably going to knit three mittens before you get a pair.”

Rauma Finullgarn from Norway is her “go-to” for Latvian mittens because of the great range of colors. But she’s also used baby yarns, like Dale Baby Ull, and sometimes mixes yarns within a project. “I use whatever I have at hand,” she says. “I’m kind of an economic knitter.” Ingebretsen’s also has kits from Latvia with yarns produced there.

Upitis bookBesides Upitis’s book, she recommends Nancy Bush’s books as good resources for learning ethnic traditions, titles like Folk Socks and Folk Knitting in Estonia. That’s where Thomson’s curiosity might take her next, into Estonian tradition.

She joined a Latvian knitters group on Ravelry a few years ago, and loves the ways technology makes knitting a richer experience. (“You get these conversations that are international . . . it just opens up a whole world.”) Lately, the Latvian group members are talking about “an inlay technique that’s usually done in Estonian knitting, and it’s documented in Nancy Bush’s book . . . . They’re doing it, and it’s like, ‘Oh, I want to learn that.’”

Thomson’s knitting friends already know what she’ll say to them if she decides to try it—the same thing she always says when she shows them something new that she’s working on. “Is it hard?” they’ll ask. “No, it’s a lot of fun!”

—Denise Logeland

Lat Braid Hat 1African mittensFelted AranSami Wristers 2Fasset hatBohus wristersBrioche hatDiane's Norw. Mitten Design

Möbius with a Finnish Twist

If it’s Monday when you’re reading this, there’s a good chance the knitting club is meeting tonight in Joensuu, Finland, and Suvi Helander is there.

Suvi Helander wears her design as a cowl and a shoulder-hugging wrap.

Suvi Helander wears her design as a cowl and a shoulder-hugging wrap.

Helander, 36, is the club leader. She’s also a handcraft apprentice at Taitokortteli, a center for artisan and amateur crafters, where the club meets. And Helander is the novice designer behind the Pitsi Möbius, aIMG_4385_medium2 cropped beautiful cowl-wrap pattern.

“’Pitsi’ means ‘lace’ in Finnish,” Helander says, and her design gives you the openness of lace without needing to follow a chart. Made by alternating rounds of garter stitch with rounds that have extra yarn wraps to create “dropped” stitches, this kind of open work is popular in Finland, she says. The dropped stitches also make it a quick knit.

“The Pitsi Möbius was part of my study” at Taitokortteli, Helander explains. She created the pattern and used it to teach new techniques to knitting club members as part of her own three-year apprenticeship program.

 Mobius 3

What is Taitokortteli exactly? Think of Norway’s Husfliden stores and the traditional crafts association that operates them, and you’re on the right track.

The Finnish Crafts Organization runs a network of craft centers around the country to promote traditional culture, lifelong learning, and “taito,” or the “skill” to make things by hand. The craft center at Joensuu is located in historic 19th-century homes that surround a courtyard. Locals and visitors take courses there—felting, rug weaving, smithing. But Taitokortteli also has shops and concerts, making it a tourist stop in the Karelia region of southeastern Finland. Helander is just a few months away from being one of Taitokortteli’s certified craft advisors and instructors.

Alpakka 3

Alpakka comes in pastels and a darker palette. (A Finnish Iittala serving bowl catches a few of the colors and the pale winter sun.)

She shared her Pitsi Möbius pattern as a free download on Ravelry and it knit up beautifully in Sandnes Alpakka yarn from Norway (making the project Nordic x 2).

If you haven’t knit with this fiber before, Alpakka is surprising. It looks like it might feel wooly, but it’s actually silky to the touch. A DK weight made of 100 percent alpaca, it also has lots of loft. It made the Pitsi Möbius feather-light, soft, and unexpectedly good at keeping out a chill, given the lacey fabric.

Mobius 8In Finland, Helander says knitting has taken off again in recent years with new interest from people in their 20s. That’s partly on the strength of new Finnish designers, including some of her favorites: Veera Välimäki, Suvi Simola, and Mari Muinonen. But she thinks it’s also due to the ways knitters can now use technology to pursue their craft and find new inspiration.

Helander found a great resource online for anyone who wants to try her Pitsi Möbius or see what Möbius knitting is about: a video of the Möbius cast-on method demonstrated by renowned teacher Cat Bordhi. The “Möbius strip,” named for early 19th-century mathematician August Ferdinand Möbius, is a circular band with no inside surface or outside surface. Because the ends are joined with a 180-degree twist, the band has just one surface and one edge.

Intrigued? Round up some supersoft Alpakka and Helander’s great design, and roll that Cat Bordhi video!

—Denise Logeland

Mobius 1Mobius 10Alpakka with Mobius 3Mobius 4

Icelandic Luxury and Lace

When lace weight Einband yarn arrived at the store this winter, it opened the door to Icelandic knitting pre-Lopi sweaters. Those iconic round-yoked pullovers and cardigans? It turns out they’ve only been a tradition in Iceland since the mid-1900s. Lace knitting came along two or three generations earlier.

Imagine what a change lace patterns represented. Many Icelanders—men and children included—knit for a living in the 1700s and 1800s. In Iceland’s harsh landscape, wool was one of the few things they had in abundance. So knitting was no leisure pastime, it was piecework done as fast as their fingers could fly. A woman might make a pair of socks a day, or work in tandem with another knitter to churn out six sweaters a week. Some of these utilitarian items were for their own families to wear, but more often they were for sale at the local market or for export.

What a luxury, then, to knit something as airy and delicate as a lace shawl or scarf—to knit for the beauty of it and not for the need to produce something quickly. Einband is a link to the late 1800s in Iceland, when finishing schools opened and taught handwork to the young women of an emerging middle class. A vogue for knitted lace soon followed.

The Strik lace scarf design here is from Védís Jónsdóttir and her book Knitting with Icelandic Wool. Jónsdóttir is a longtime designer for Istex, the company that makes Einband at a woolen mill on Iceland’s west coast. Growing up there and now living in Manhattan, Jónsdóttir combines a native appreciation of Icelandic tradition with a fresh fashion sense. Her book includes 62 projects, some made with Einband, some with Léttlopi or other weights of yarn. They range from quick knits to everyday sweaters to special-occasion pieces.

Istex is an interesting story in its own right. It’s a cooperative of sheep farmers and mill workers who took over a nearly bankrupt, century-old mill in 1991 and turned it into a thriving business.

The Strik lace scarf takes just one skein of Lopi Einband. (Tokheim Pottery’s stoneware bowls make a fittingly Nordic nest for the rest of your yarn stash.)

Most of us in this country who’ve knit with yarns from Istex, or from its predecessor, Álafoss, have used the worsted weight familiarly known as Lopi, or the sport weight called Léttlopi. Einband is their more slender, lace weight sibling: a single ply that’s loosely spun and has a slight halo.

Lace knitting is easier than you think. The Strik design is a repeat of four patterned rows and uses five basic stitches.

Einband and Jónsdóttir’s book make it inviting to see, and try, Icelandic knitting in a new way. But isn’t it hard to knit lace? That’s part of its beauty: It looks far more intricate and difficult than it really is.

The Strik scarf, for instance, requires just five stitches, and you probably know most or all of them already: knit, purl, yarn over (an extra wrap around the right needle between stitches), knit 2 together, and slip slip knit (a variation on knit 2 together)

If you’re not familiar with all five stitches, take advantage of a really excellent series of 1- and 2-minute knitting tutorials posted on YouTube by VeryPink Knits. They include clear, concise demos of the yarn over, knit 2 together, and slip slip knit stitches. Watch and you’re off and running!

—Denise Logeland

Free Pattern: A Gift to Celebrate Norway

You probably don’t know her, but Cindy Wasner has sent you a gift. It’s a Norwegian mitten design and you can download the pattern for free here, or pick up a copy in the yarn department at Ingebretsen’s, compliments of Wasner.

Shield of Norway Mittens celebrate the 200th anniversary of Norway's constitution

Shield of Norway Mittens

Her Shield of Norway design is a lot of things in a little package: an anniversary commemoration, a travel souvenir, and a sign of how much Wasner, a retired nurse and former yarn shop owner living in Oregon, loves to teach and share the craft of knitting.

Cindy Wasner

Cindy Wasner is an avid designer of Nordic knitwear. See more of her patterns on Ravelry.

“I thought it was a good pattern for people to learn on, and it was kind of fun to celebrate the Norwegian constitution,” Wasner says about the design that she offered to Ingebretsen’s. This year marks the 200th anniversary of Norway’s constitution, which was signed at Eidsvoll on May 17, 1814. The mittens’ heraldic lion and battle axe are about as Norwegian a symbol as there is, representing the country’s government and royal house since at least the year 1280.

Norway's royal shield

Norway’s royal shield

Wasner says she saw Norway’s red shield and gold lion everywhere on public buildings during a trip there in 2012. “I really noticed it up at Holmenkollen, you know where the big ski jump is up above Oslo? I could get up close to the shield there, and I was really looking at it and taking pictures.” She designed the mittens on the fly as she was traveling. “I had the red and white yarn and I bought a ball of the gold at the Husfliden in Oslo and started knitting the mittens.”

If knitting with more than one color looks daunting, Wasner, who’s a knitting instructor at the Butterfly Yarn Shop in Redmond, Oregon, and owner of her own business, Norsk Needlework, has more help and encouragement for you. Her pattern called Cap for a Lesson in Stranded Knitting is a primer in two-color knitting, and it’s a free download on the crafting website Ravelry.

“I have a whole lot of secrets and tips for knitting with two colors in that, because I made it for my class,” she says. Knitters who want to ramp up to the Shield of Norway mittens can try the cap pattern and tutorial first. There are also lots of quick video tutorials on YouTube. Here’s a good three-and-a-half-minute video showing you two methods of doing colorwork. A YouTube search for “two-color knitting” will bring up many other videos you can choose from.

Raumagarn is a mainstay at Norway's Husfliden craft stores—at at Ingebretsen's.

Raumagarn is a mainstay at Norway’s Husfliden craft stores—and at Ingebretsen’s.

As for yarn, Wasner says the mitten pattern “really comes out better if you use Rauma Finullgarn because I write specifically for it, and it’s not like any American yarn….Finull is in a little class by itself.”

Diane Thomson, a mitten expert and one of Ingebretsen’s knitting instructors, is just wrapping up a class on mitten techniques, and says once you start making colorwork mittens, you might find it hard to stop. You’ll want to keep seeing how the pattern unfolds as you knit one round and then the next, she says. See a gorgeous display of Thomson’s mittens and caps—Norwegian, Latvian, and more—in Ingebretsen’s classroom space through the end of April.

—Denise Logeland