The Knitted Treasures of Latvia

Inara Porietis relates her Latvian mother’s refrain during her last few years of life, which was said only partially tongue-in-cheek: “I can’t die yet. I don’t have enough mittens knitted!” The “enough mittens” refers to the Latvian tradition of giving mittens to the people involved in the funeral ceremony, including the pallbearers and the presiding minister.

For centuries, life passages in Latvia were marked with the gift of mittens. A bride-to-be would often have a dowry of 100 pairs of mittens or more. These would be distributed to the groom’s family and symbolically offered throughout the new household, including mittens carefully placed on fruit trees and beehives, asking for future productivity.

According to Maruta Grasmane, author of Mittens of Lativa, the archaeological evidence shows that Latvian mittens as we know them now first appeared in the 1500s. Designs and color ways evolved that were specific to the four regions of Latvia. Villages would have further stylizations that were specific to the community. The mittens evolved from something very practical to something that was a proud marker of one’s regional identity. It was also a way to show the artistic skills of the women in one’s family.

Latvian Mitten Exhibit (4).jpg

What is as remarkable as the beauty of Latvian mittens is the recognition and appreciation these practical, knitted items have received in the culture. Textile arts have just become recognized and respected in the world of museums and galleries, and in Western culture generally, in the last 50 years. The Latvians have known that they have a good thing going for the last 500.

Dainas are four-lined Latvian folk songs and they provide insights into the world of those who sang them. This ancient oral tradition was preserved in the 1880s by Krisjanis Barons, who collected thousands of the verses. Knitting and mittens were frequent subjects in dainas, such as this one:

I was knitting color’d mittens
At the birch tree gazing round;
Many leaves are in the birch tree,
Many colors – mitten mine.

This verse appears in Lizbeth Upitis’s book, Latvian Mittens; Traditional Designs and Techniques, along with a verse that reflects how many a young bride must have really felt when she had to give away the store of mittens that had taken her years to knit:

Singing was I knitting mittens,
Even as my hands were freezing;
Crying gave I them to others,
In a warm room, far from my homeland.

Mittens were also the subjects of many sayings, e.g. “Do not wipe your nose with a mitten. Those who do, never grow rich.” It is debatable if this superstition came into being because someone saw a correlation between uncouth behavior and poverty or if mitten-knitting women said this to ensure that their gifts were treated with the proper respect.

Latvian Mitten Exhibit (5)

Learning to knit a Latvian-style mitten may seem daunting, but it can be done. Ingebretsen’s is fortunate to have two skilled and reassuring teachers, Diane Thomsen (learn more about Diane’s philosophy of teaching and knitting here) and Inara Porietis. Inara learned from her mother and grandmother and will be passing along her skills in a class starting March 24. Further mitten classes will be scheduled for this spring.

If you still feel that these mittens are beyond you, please remember the advice given by the redoubtable Elizabeth Zimmerman and repeated by Lizbeth Upitis – Everything is knitted one stitch at a time.

Latvian Mitten Exhibit Group

When you’re not knitting, you may want to read some of the following resources on Latvian Mittens:

Dzērvīte, A. Latvju raksti – Latvian Design.
Toronto: Latvian Federation in Canada, 1973.

Grasmane, Maruta. Mittens of Latvia.
Riga, Latvia: Senā Klēts, 2014.

Lesiņa, Irma. Latviešu cimdu raksti (Ornaments in Latvian Gloves and Mittens).
Lincoln, NB, USA: Augstums Printing, 1970.

Slava, Mirdza. Latviešu rakstainie cimdi (Patterned Mittens ofLatvia).
Riga, Latvia: Zinātne, 1990.

Upitis, Lizabeth. Latvian Mittens: Traditional Design and Techniques.
Dos Tejedoras, St. Paul, MN, USA, 1981.

Thank you to Inara Porietis and Laila Svalbe for sharing their knowledge and resource materials – Carstens Smith






Meet the Knitting Man from Norway

Birger Berge

Birger Berge is a 29 year-old Norwegian knitter from Bergen. He became famous on Instagram with his knitting pictures, and his fame reached out of Norway. You can read about him here.  You can find him on Instagram here.

Men knitting is still considered an exception to the rule, but Birger and many more men are breaking that mold.

Peer Gynt on Parade (or Ibsen in Wool)

A guest blog by Anne Gillespie Lewis:

If you were quick enough, you could read the entire script of Ibsen’s dramatic masterpiece, Peer Gynt, on the front and back of 571 wool sweaters as their wearers paraded them through the streets of Bergen, Norway on October 14th.

The event, which was many months in the making, took place on the 150th anniversary, to the day, of Ibsen finishing the play. The marchers were young, old and in-between, women and men, girls and boys. There were several multi-generational groups, each person wearing a different sweater.

And if you looked closely, you might have noticed number 335 (each sweater was assigned a number), sky blue with white lettering, worn by my cousin Svanhilde Breisnes from Kaupanger. Her sweater was knit by her super-knitter daughter, Torunn Karin Kolås.


Sweater #335 modeled by another of Anne’s cousins, Ragnhild Kolås.

The organizer of the project, Britt-Elin Skogseide, put out a call for knitters and Torunn responded. She got accepted into the project and was given a description of how the sweater should look, with a photo of the text she had to knit, with 14 lines on the front and 15 on the back. An expert knitter, she said it took her one or two months total, but not knitting every day. It was hard to determine the time spent, she said, because Torunn is one busy lady!


“It was really fun to be a part of this crazy fairytale, to knit the Peer Gynt play on sweaters. I knit a lot but I usually am not pressed for time to finish something. This time I had a deadline and everything else was pushed away. I did my normal job during the day at Technology Center Mongstad, which does research on capturing Carbon Dioxcide, and then I would knit all evening.” But that wasn’t all she did:  “In my spare time I organize and help the school band in Lindås where my daughter, Ragnhild, plays the cornet. I also like to walk in the mountains with my husband and friends.”

Somehow, she found the time to knit. “It was fun and worth all the work. The sweater looked very nice and was finished on time.” Ragnhild is modeling the sweater in the photo here, but both she and Torunn had to leave Svanhild to model it in the parade as the family was on vacation in Spain.

To view all of the sweaters in the parade, click here.



Anne Gillespie Lewis Photo credit: Ewa Rydåker





Knitting Spies (Yes just what it says)

A woman knitting, Washington DC, 1941. LIBRARY OF CONGRESS/LC-USF34-014621-D

According to Atlas Obscura:

Whether women knitted codes into fabric or used stereotypes of knitting women as a cover, there’s a history between knitting and espionage. “Spies have been known to work code messages into knitting, embroidery, hooked rugs, etc,” according to the 1942 book A Guide to Codes and Signals. During wartime, where there were knitters, there were often spies; a pair of eyes, watching between the click of two needles.

You can read more about this here.

Ingebretsen’s doesn’t currently teach a code knitting class, but you never know what the future may hold.

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 at Ingebretsen’s on January 20, 2015

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/ 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