I had an email the other day from somebody asking…
Let it snow let it snow let it snow … mainly because I’ve finished my extremely warm graphic Selbu fair isle mittens, and just in time as it happens because there are some brass monkeys out there looking rather cross.
They were nice and quick to knit up and despite the fact that the original pattern calls for generic Germantown wool and there was no tension guide, they weren’t too hard to adapt. Germantown wool is an American term for a specific yarn from Pennsylvania often used in Navajo weaving – something like DK from what I can fathom but correct me if I’m wrong. I went for something I thought would be soft and thick but fine enough to give a clear fair isle outline, so I decided on good old King Cole Merino DK. As for the tension, after a couple of false starts I ended up with 3mm dpns, and they fit perfectly. They look enormous due to the extra long cuff – keeps out the snow don’t you know.
I’d vaguely heard of the Selbu tradition but hadn’t really delved any further. Then I came across a 1920s or ’30s vintage American booklet ‘Ann Orr’s Spreads & Doilies’ which strangely had two patterns for what Ms Orr called ‘sports’ mittens and gloves in the middle of all the patterns for lacy bits and bobs – by ‘sports’ I presume she means skiing and not wrestling. I fell in love with the bold graphic designs and that was that.
As ever I couldn’t just knit the things I needed to get all academic and wax lyrical about the history behind them so I delved around a bit … pay attention you at the back, I’ll be asking questions afterwards …
Selbu is a Norwegian municipality in Sør-Trøndelag county, and well-known for its fair isle designs and lusekofte. The latter are traditional jumpers – the literal translation is ‘lice jacket’ due to the repeated use of isolated black stitches. The mitten and glove designs particularly have moved on from their folk origins and become something of a design icon and successful cottage industry.
As I posted the project on Ravelry, I had a look around and came across the Selbustrikk group, created around the same-titled book which is packed full of gorgeous designs … in Norwegian. It seems you can get hold of a copy with English translation in the US but couldn’t find how to source it directly in the UK. I ended up contacting Eva at Hellyle in Sweden who could provide me with the book but without translation. I think the diagrams are pretty self-explanatory with these designs though, so possibly transcend the language barrier.
Another Selbu knitting book, Selbuvotter by Terri Shea is available from the author’s US website (or indirectly through Amazon.co.uk but at a greater cost) and looks like an interesting read, written with love and combining a detailed history and 30 classic patterns. In English too which is useful when you’re struggling with 4 needles and desperately trying to keep correct tension while you’re interweaving … and then translating into Norwegian.
Finally, if you’re looking for something a little more general, there’s an old favourite of mine lurking on my shelves, Traditional Scandinavian Knitting written by Sheila McGregor in 1984. Sheila immersed herself in Scandinavian knitting design and tradition to produce this wonderful guide which explains the origins, various types and techniques from the regional styles of Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Iceland, and includes charts and patterns.
Cold hands = warm heart but also a rather nasty case of frostbite so I know which I’m going for this winter.