A Dog’s Best Friend

Designer, knitter, and teacher Paul Robinson

Designer, knitter, and teacher Paul Robinson

Since 1996, Paul Robinson has been using his many talents to make south Minneapolis a better, warmer, and more joyful place to live. His influence has been felt whether it was through his role for many years as Company Manager of In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theater, teaching children at Ingebretsen’s how to make masks and to create a play from the Norwegian folk tale “The Trolls of Hedal Forest” or knitting sweaters for assistance dogs for Can-Do-Canines . It was Paul’s work with Can-Do-Canines that inspired the Ingebretsen’s knitting classes for dog sweaters and led to Paul’s dog sweater pattern being printed and sold through the store. Ingebretsen’s employee Sandra Hunter was volunteering with their annual fundraiser and she saw a wonderful opportunity for collaboration. Many of the service dogs and the dogs owned by board members were short-haired. Why not create sweaters for them and have a dog fashion show at the event? Paul, who has extensive design experience, seemed to be the natural person to ask. To his credit, he didn’t even blanch when asked to create 9 sweaters for dogs ranging from Bichons to standard poodles with only a short time in which to complete the project.

One of the nine sweaters Paul knit for Can-Do Canines.

One of the nine sweaters Paul knit for Can-Do Canines.

Paul tells the story from here: “Back in 2009, I was asked to create dog sweaters for a fundraiser for Can-Do-Canines, an organization dedicated to enhancing the quality of life for people with disabilities by creating mutually beneficial partnerships with specially trained dogs. I jumped at the opportunity! I first started to research what other knitters were designing and creating. I found that the tube sweater was the most common. That is where I started, creating a pattern that would be easy to follow and also easy to add color patterns and to change sizes. I also decided that I wanted to be different, so I looked to my heritage, Norway. I tried some new things that I wasn’t well practiced in. I started knitting traditional patterns into yardage and then doing that thing that so many knitters are scared to do, sew and cut. Yes, this process is like steeking, and what an easy way to learn and practice! Hey, what is a knitter to do? I practiced my tension while carrying color. Sometimes I was carrying two or even three colors at once. I practiced the process of creating a pattern to use on my dog, Gussie, to make a custom fit sweater all for her. I took the yardage to the sewing machine and sewed around the outside of the pattern two or three times. And then, I took my scissors, I started to cut on the outside of the stitches that I sewed and I was happy! I encased the outer edges in woven Scandinavian braiding and finished with pewter clasps or buttons to fasten the sweater.”

Paul first knitted a traditional pattern as a piece of fabric.

Paul first knitted a traditional pattern as a piece of fabric.

Paul cut and hemmed the knit fabric.

He then cut and hemmed the knit fabric.

Paul's dog, Gussie, models the completed dog sweater.

Gussie models the completed dog sweater.

The owners were delighted with the sweater and the fashion show a success. This success was grounded in Paul’s  46 years of knitting experience. His start in knitting was with a loving grandmother who taught him as a boy. “I learned to knit by sitting in my grandmother’s lap with a pair of plastic needles. She would make a stitch, then she would have me make a stitch,” Paul recalls.  The dog sweater pattern Paul created for Ingebretsen’s is based on designs used by his grandmother Grace Erickson of Fertile, Minnesota. Her ancestors came from the Vestfold region, southeast of Oslo. Grace preserved the designs and patterns that she learned from her family and carefully charted them. Paul is the only grandchild who is carrying on the knitting tradition in the family, so his mother ensured that the charts were passed on to Paul.

One of the Can-Do Canines sweaters.

One of the Can-Do Canines sweaters.

Paul provides patterns for his students, but also teaches them the skills and gives them the encouragement needed for  them to personalize their sweaters. Knitting is an art that readily reflects the style and the personality of the knitter. The dog sweater class starts with traditional pattern so students can learn the skills for making a traditional Norwegian sweater, if they want, on a small, manageable project. As the students progress, they can customize the dog sweaters and learn how to make their own patterns.

Knitter Anessa Andersland personalized the colorway on Paul's pattern for Emmit's sweater and added a balaclava.

Knitter Anessa Andersland personalized the colors on Paul’s pattern for Emmit’s sweater and added a balaclava.

Anessa Andersland knitted this sweater for Emmit using Paul's pattern and her color choices.

Emmit enjoys modeling his sweater.

Angela Ringuist knit a wardrobe of Norwegian sweaters for Ole.

Angela Ringuist knit a wardrobe of Norwegian sweaters for Ole.

Angela Ringuist, who took the first dog sweater class Paul taught, said at the time,”If I can knit a Scandinavian design, I can knit anything.” Angela created a wonderful wardrobe of sweaters for Ole, her chihuahua, during the class and she planned to begin knitting sweaters for human family members. “My grandmother knitted over 100 Norwegian sweaters for members of our family,” Angela said. “It’s almost a case of you can’t be part of the family unless you have one of the sweaters. I want to learn to knit a Norwegian sweater so I can continue the tradition.” So, if you want to continue a tradition, start a tradition, or keep your best friend warm, please join Paul for this winter’s session of “Knit a Norwegian Sweater for Your Dog,” starting on February 20.

A matching Setesdal sweater set knit by Paul.

A matching Setesdal sweater set knit by Paul.

– Carstens Smith

Arne and Carlos visit Ingebretsen’s on January 20

Designers Arne and Carlos are coming to Minneapolis.

Designers Arne and Carlos are coming to Minneapolis.

Tradition and innovation. Quirkiness and quality. Heritage with a modern aesthetic. That’s the theme of Arne and Carlos’s latest book, Norwegian Knits with a Twist. These phrases could also be used to describe the collaboration of Steven Be and Ingebretsen’s. Steven Berg is the owner and impresario of Steven Be, a fiber studio and yarn shop at 3448 Chicago Avenue South, a little over a mile, as the crow flies, from Ingebretsen’s.

Arne and Carlos's latest book

Steven has been working with the Norwegian Embassy to bring Arne and Carlos to the United States, beginning with the Vogue KnittingLive! Event in New York, then back to the Midwest for a book signing and coffee at Ingebretsen’s on Tuesday, January 20 from 9 to 10:30. For the rest of the day, Arne and Carlos will be teaching two classes at Steven Be’s.

“There’s a synergy between the two businesses that matches the energy that Arne and Carlos bring to their designs and knitting. Ingebretsen’s has the knitters who understand and appreciate tradition. We have the knitters who innovate and are always trying new ideas. It will be a cross-pollination that will benefit all the knitters. It also fits the vitality of south Minneapolis, where there is a synthesis of the historic and the inventive,” says Steven. Steven appreciates the quirkiness and tongue-in-cheek humor of Arne and Carlos’s designs. “As a man in knitting, I appreciate what they do. They want to keep knitting fun, ” he says. Steven is known for saying, “There are no mistakes in knitting, only variations.” Making the process enjoyable is clearly important to him.

Arne and Carlos incorporate a sense of fun into their designs.

Arne and Carlos incorporate a sense of fun into their designs.

Norwegian Knits with a Twist was inspired by Arne’s visit to the Setesdal homestead where his grandmother grew up.

setesdal map

As the authors explain in the introduction of their book, the farmstead was abandoned, but the attic was filled with postcards, old magazines, books, and letters. These bits of the past and the rich knitting tradition of the Setesdal Valley inspired the men to create 31 patterns that honored the past while being intended for modern use. “We believe in anchoring new designs in old traditions…each (pattern) was designed with our own ‘twist’,” they wrote.

Those Setesdal gals didn't miss a moment to knit, even when flirting over the fence.

Those Setesdal gals didn’t miss a moment to knit, even when flirting over the fence.

An image from the book, with photos and postcards found at the family homestead.

An image from the book, with photos and postcards found at the family homestead.

You will have an opportunity at the book signing to learn more about Arne and Carlos’s design process and the stories behind the patterns. They will be at the store from 9:00 to 10:30 am on Tuesday, January 20. We already have a full house for coffee with Arne and Carlos and have closed the reservations. However, if you would like to have a book signed, you are still welcome to join us. Just be prepared for a bit of a wait. Thanks! (You can call the store, 612.729.9333 for more information.)

We are very pleased to host Arne and Carlos and we appreciate Steven Berg’s work that made this possible. Please join Steven Be and us, browse the stores, chat with our guests and your fellow knitters and be inspired by two designers who exude enthusiasm and an appreciation for the fun that can be found in knitting.

-Carstens Smith

A Sweater of a Different Stripe

Christmas is the time for wrapping packages, making homes cozy, and sharing a little warmth. If you are one of the Monday Knitters at Ingebretsen’s, it’s also the time for adding a decorative touch to the pole in front of the gift store door.


Anna Bloomstrand, owner of Lilleknappen, Inc. and daughter of Julie Ingebretsen, was helping her mother brainstorm Christmas displays and ways to showcase the many talents of staff and customers. The Monday Knitters had already made news with their participation in Hats for the Homeless, why not ask them to use their skills to make a collection of traditional knitting designs and wrap the pole in a warm sweater all its own? “There’s a lot of skill and creativity in that group, so I thought it would be a good match to ask them to help decorate the store front” says Anna.

Joan Gilbertson coordinated the effort and the knitters dove in and made a sampler of stitches and designs. Joan and fellow Monday Knitter JoAnn Manthey then sewed the pieces together. Finally, with Anna’s help, Joan sewed the completed “sweater” onto the pole.

Joan and Anna sew the sampler sweater onto the pole.

“It will be something for people to talk about while they are lined up in front of the store later this month,” says Joan. So we challenge you – when you are at the store, how many stitches and designs can you identify on this colorful bit of architectural knitwear?

Yarn Bomb 6

The individual pieces are put together to form the sweater.

Our thanks to the following Monday knitters:

Karen D., Lucinda, Karen G., Janet, Karen O., Joanne, Peggy, Donna, Zach, Joan, and Barb S.

—Carstens Smith

The Monday Knitters

Laura Ricketts Brings Sámi Knitting to Light

Laura Ricketts1It’s 2010, and Laura Ricketts is at a knitting conference at Seattle’s Nordic Heritage Museum. She’s looking at a display of national costumes, absorbed by the “beautiful, clear blues” of the Sámi pieces, when a question pops into her head: “Where is their knitting?” Why hasn’t she heard of it or seen it, like Swedish twined knitting or Norway’s Setesdal sweaters?

Skolt Sámi mitten1Four years later, Ricketts knows at least some of the answers to her own question, and she’s sharing them: in a class at Ingebretsen’s on August 9 and another one we’ll host in November, in her article “Skolt Sámi and Their Knitting Legacy” in the fall issue of Knitting Traditions, and in more teaching engagements this fall at the Vesterheim Norwegian American Museum in Decorah, Iowa, and back at the Nordic Heritage Museum where her journey began.

Knitting Traditions articleBut the story of Sámi knitting wasn’t easy to tease out from the misperceptions about it, or from the Sámis’ history as a fragmented and suppressed minority culture.

“Universally,” when Ricketts started to research and ask her questions out loud, “everybody answered me and said, ‘[The Sámi] don’t knit. They herd reindeer. They wear reindeer skins. You can’t spin reindeer fiber, blah, blah, blah.’ And I just thought, ‘Hmmm, it doesn’t completely make sense that these people living in the far north and living next to the Norwegians and the Finns and the Swedes wouldn’t have any knitting at all.’”


Photo: Norwegian Sami: Karin Beate Nøsterud/norden.org via Wikimedia Commons

Who are the Sámi? They’re the indigenous people whose homeland, Sápmi, stretches across northern Norway, Sweden, Finland, and into Russia. They speak a language that’s related to Finnish. To knit is gođđit. Handcraft is duodji. There are 10 dialects, though several are extinct or nearly so, with just a few hundred speakers. Like other native people around the world, the Sámi have experienced discrimination and the majority Nordic cultures of recent centuries have used legal and economic pressure to force Sámi people to abandon their culture, give up their land, and assimilate. That tide began to turn in the 1970s.

Red Sámi MittenIt’s true that many Sámi have been reindeer herders and used hides to dress warmly. In Norway, where the highest number of Sámi are found, almost 3,000 people still herd reindeer for a living. About 40 percent of Norway’s land is in use as reindeer pasture. But there have always been Sámi who depended more on fishing, hunting, trapping, and farming over time, and now the majority live in cities, doing the same kinds of work as everyone else.

Hiding underneath that perception that the Sámi have relied solely on their reindeer is where Ricketts found a knitting tradition.

“People would wear reindeer mittens, but it’s a little bit uncomfortable to just wear a reindeer mitten and have the seams on the inside. So historically, before there was knitting, they would use a sedge grass that they had softened” as a lining, she says. Knitted mittens eventually served the same purpose.

Mittens and braids

“Sámi knitting has basically been just mittens,” Ricketts says, though the Skolt Sámi, concentrated mostly in Finland, have also had knitted stockings. The work is similar to other Nordic knitting in that it’s stranded—especially dress mittens and especially around the cuff. The colorwork is usually done against a ground of natural white and some common Nordic motifs appear, such as the eight-petaled rose or star. Work mittens are typically plain and made in natural grays, browns, and blacks.

“The majority of the Sámi mittens have an open cuff, they don’t have a ribbed cuff,” Ricketts explains. That was so a herder could shake a mitten off quickly to get better use of his hands. “The exception is that people who worked in fishing areas would have a ribbed cuff.” Even when their mittens got wet, they wanted that insulation on their hands.

Peasant thumbA second difference from other Nordic traditions “is that almost universally, all of the thumbs are ‘peasant thumbs,’” Ricketts says. That’s a thumb worked without any shaping on the hand to accommodate it, also called an “afterthought thumb.” There are no stitch increases to form a gusset below the thumb, so the pattern motif on the palm is never disrupted. “You can follow it uninterrupted and finish your mitten, then come back and do your thumb and make your thumb match the palm exactly. So that when your mitten lies flat, sometimes you can’t even see where the thumb is because it blends into the fabric.”

Braided cuffsThat gives Sámi and Latvian mittens something in common. Also like Latvian mittens, Sámi mittens have braidwork around the cuffs.

“There’s almost always a four-strand braid hanging off the cuff, and a tassel at the end,” Ricketts says. The extra length of braid is for hanging the mittens to dry near the fire, “or tie them together and hang them from the harness of a reindeer. It helped keep them together.”

After lots of research at a distance, last fall Ricketts got to travel across Sápmi to view museum collections and meet with Sámi knitters. She took 3,000 pictures of all the mittens she saw “and I’m writing up patterns.”

Skolt mittens w:Ptarmigan's FootThe knitting of the Skolt Sámi gained her special affection because “they are the only Sámi knitting that retains some of the names to their patterns. The pattern names are tied to a lot of the things they experience in everyday life”—“Stone in the Pond” and “Ptarmigan’s Foot.” In a bit of utilitarian grace, Skolt mittens have extra stitch decreases at the inside tip of the hand and thumb to make them cup inward, mimicking the natural curve of the wearer’s hand.

Skolt Sámi motifs are what Ricketts will teach in her August 9 class, using Rauma Vamsegarn, a worsted weight similar to the yarns spun and used by Sámi knitters—at least what they used historically.

Mitten Motifs 3A former high school history teacher who lives in Indiana, Ricketts knows that what she’s found is a Sámi knitting tradition in its historical form. Just as with their homes, work, and clothing, what present-day Sámi knit might be indistinguishable from what anyone else likes to knit.

“I’m also very careful in what I say, because I’m not Sámi and I’m speaking about the culture as an outsider,” she says.

Mitten motifs 1She wants to keep piecing together a picture of Sámi knitting before the bits of tradition that remain disappear. “I’m hoping just to make a note of the history and allow the information not to die out,” Ricketts says. “If anyone reads this or hears about it and knows stuff, please contact me because I’d love to chat.”

Think of it this way: Laura Ricketts went to Sápmi to learn a dialect of knitting. With her teaching and her writing, she’s adding her voice to those of Sámi knitters to keep this language from going extinct.

—Denise Logeland


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 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