Courtney and I spent last weekend at the Nordic Knitting Conference held at the Nordic Heritage Museum in Seattle. We planned the trip with friends Jaime Jennings and Karen Templer, and scheduled our time around learning as much as humanly possible about the history, craft traditions, and techniques of the (widely disparate) people who fall under the “Nordic” umbrella.
We arranged to arrive on Thursday evening to give ourselves a “free” day on Friday before the event began in order to both relax a bit and adjust to the time change. The weather was lovely, and armed with an excellent host/guide in Drygoods Designs owner Keli Faw, we went with Jaime (Karen was to arrive later on Sunday), to visit Tolt Yarn and Wool in Carnation, WA. Tolt did not disappoint, and we even hilariously picked out our favorite colors of Julie Asselin’s Nurtured yarn, only to have Courtney notice they matched our nails perfectly. The day went on with a gorgeous walk in Tolt-MacDonald Park, lunch at The London Plane, and a visit to Drygoods. Check out the classes we attended and the wealth of inspiration we took home from the event below!
The conference began on Saturday, and I took Textured Twined Swedish Mitts with Beth Brown-Reinsel. Twined knitting (Tvåändsstickning), is a knitting technique where two ends of one ball are worked every other stitch and intentionally twisted around one another to produce a dense, firm, and heavily textured fabric.
I had done a bit of research on Tvåändsstickning for my Cady Mittens from Vintage Modern Knits – but elected to “modernize” the technique and use the stranded colorwork method instead of twisting the stitches for that design – so this was my first time really diving into the true method.
It was pretty counterintuitive to intentionally twist the yarns, especially when we spend so much time teaching people to not twist when working stranded knitting, but Beth taught us some excellent tips for managing the ends, untwisting the ball, and reading the charts in order to maintain the proper patterning. The end result is a handwarmer with amazing, dense fabric and beautiful texture, and I cannot wait to finish the pair!
On Sunday, I took two classes on Sámi Knitting with Laura Ricketts. A former teacher, Laura has traveled extensively around the world and studied Sámi culture and handcrafts. In the morning, I learned about Sámi mittens, and in the afternoon Skolt Sámi socks.
Many of the knitting techniques used by the Sámi are ones I was familiar with (braids, stranded colorwork, etc), so I primarily took the classes to learn as much as I possibly could about Sámi craft (duodji), culture, and history. Due to a long history of persecution and displacement, and a land (Sápmi) that encompasses the current countries Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia, the knitting traditions of the Sámi were previously not well known or studied. Laura’s knowledge was incredible, so I soaked up as much as I possibly could.
Sámi patterns tend to use natural colored wool (cream or white) for the main color, and red, green, or black for the contrast colors. For my sock and mitten technique sample I used The Fibre Co. Cumbria, and took some liberties with the color palette. (Scroll below for Courtney’s sock – it is amazing to see how different the pattern looks in more traditional colors!)
Laura brought dozens of mittens to the classes, and I fell madly in love with the Ájtte Treasure Mittens, knit at 12 stitches to the inch using Lopi Einband. Difficult to find in the U.S., Tolt is one of the few stores who carries the Einband, and I was lucky that they had a small booth at the conference. While the design only uses four colors, I couldn’t resist grabbing six to play with for my pair.
I originally scheduled myself another free day on Monday, but couldn’t bear to miss out on more classes, so I signed up for Nancy Bush‘s Knitting Estonian Lace class. Since I registered the day before – and didn’t have months to dream about the class as I had with my previous selections – I went in not knowing what to expect, but still learned a lot!
While the class itself covered the basics of Estonian lace knitting*, much like the other instructors, Nancy went in depth about the history, culture, and methodology of the specific lace techniques, yarns, and process of the knitters of Haapsalu, Estonia. It was interesting to hear that knitters work mostly on straight needles, and despite the long tradition of knitting and crafts in the country, there is no mill in Estonia that makes the fine gauge yarn the Happsalu knitters use, so it is all imported from other European countries.
One of the techniques I knew about but hadn’t put into much practice was working nupps (pronounced like “soup”), a technique emblematic of Estonian lace knitting. Unlike bobbles, nupps are a two row process: increases are worked on the right side row, and then the decrease is worked on the following wrong side row. They are meant to be more subtle than bobbles, and tent to be longer rather than stick out. As you can see from my swatch above, my nupps changed drastically over the course of the swatch as I loosened up and became more comfortable with the technique!
*Lace knitting is where patterning only occurs on right side rows, and the wrong side (or every other row if worked in the round) is a resting row where no yarn overs or decreases are worked. Knitted lace is where patterning occurs on every row/round, regardless of wether or not you are working flat or back and forth.
My first class of the weekend was a full day Bohus Knitting class with Susanna Hansson. I’ve always wanted to take a class with Susanna, who is a wealth of knowledge and history on Bohus knitting, and I am so glad I did. We spent the day knitting a sample cuff of the pattern Blue Shimmer using hand dyed yarns from Sweden’s Angoragarnet yarn company.
One of the most amazing parts of the class was all of the samples of Bohus knitting that Susanna brought in for us to see. She has been an avid collector of Bohus garments and accessories for many, many years and her collection vast!
I was very proud to have finished my cuff in class, although I think the gauge is too loose at 7 sts per inch. I’m going to reknit it on smaller needles so that it’s a more authentic Bohus gauge, about 8.5 sts per inch.
Susanna was a fantastic lecturer, and the afternoon was filled with a slide presentation about the history of the Bohus company and it’s founder and designers. If you ever get the chance, this class is not to be missed.
On Sunday morning I was so pleased to take another class that’s been on my “not-to-be-missed” list for a long time. Nordic Color — Roositud, An Inlay Technique from Estonia with Nancy Bush.
Roositud (pron. ROSE-eh-tood), or roosimine (ROSE-eh-meenah) is an Estonian technique that Kate and I have taught for many years after publishing the Yvette Roositud Hat in our first book, Vintage Modern Knits. It’s a fascinating technique, and while not exactly difficult to do, the history and use of the technique in Estonia is firmly Nancy’s territory. And, the doubled cast-on method she teaches in this class is an added bonus!
Nancy has an extremely vast collection of mittens from Estonia, and she was kind enough to bring them for us all to see. Many of them are currently being used as research material for upcoming publications, so I can’t share any pictures here, but I highly recommend following her work.
On Sunday afternoon, I joined Kate in Laura Ricketts’ class, Skolt Sámi Knitted Socks. I loved the simplistic colorwork tradition – white with bright primary (often blue and red, sometimes with yellow or green) colorwork. I chose a more traditional color palette for my socks, and started by making a Christmas stocking.
I was delightfully surprised to find that the sock actually fit my calf perfectly, and everyone has tried to convince me to make a pair and keep them for myself, but I’m not so sure I’d actually wear them!
Learning more about the Sámi peoples was absolutely fascinating, and getting to discuss Finntroll in an academic setting was definitely a hightlight of the day.
On Monday, I took two classes with researcher and historian Susan Strawn. The first, Knitting Detectives, was an amazing lecture on how to research the history of knitted garments and uncover the stories they tell – from the history of nations, to the history of social change – textiles are often overlooked as key components of the shifting times in which we live.
In the afternoon, Susan gave a lecture entitled Exploring Nordic Knitting Designs, in which we followed the journey of knitting from the middle east into Central and Northern Europe. We looked at the similarities of the types of patterns humans make, whether it’s rock carving, pottery, weaving, cross stitch, or knitting. We also were able to look at some of the pieces of knitting that the Nordic Heritage Museum has in it’s archives.
All in all, the retreat was an amazing experience. After so much teaching and traveling over the years, it was wonderful to be on the “other” side of the classroom and we feel so lucky to have learned so much about this craft that we love!