More historical mittens

The Norwegian film director Tommy Wirkola is planning a new film about World War II in northern Norway and NRK, the national broadcaster, has very kindly made a list of potential subjects for him. From the article:

“It could be interesting to shed a light on the female side of the war — the women soldiers. On Sørøya they were enlisted and took part in fighting — in direct exchanges against the Germans,” explains Gro Marie Nilsen.

Like the soldier retreating to Østerdalen, the women also wore handknitted mittens. Here is Eva Charlotte Kristine Bjerknes, who volunteered at age 18 and became known as a skilled weapons instructor.


And three unidentified women, also part of the same effort in the north.


Both photos are from the NTBS Krigsarkiv.

These mittens reminded me that years ago I’d read somewhere that Nancy Bush had talked about a Finnish sharpshooter who used handknitted mittens while fighting the Soviets during WWII. A bit of googling led me back to that anecdote! Read it here.

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State of the stash

Whenever Odd-Even asks about the How and Why of stashing, I’m inclined, almost automatically, to cast it as a moral failure: I lack the willpower to keep myself from buying more. At the same time, every few months (as you may have realised, dear reader), I take stock of the stash and tell myself in no uncertain terms that there will be no further yarn allowed in the house. Of course, that oath never goes unbroken for long — and there’s the rub, quite literally in a sense, for the stash is always a potential source of friction and discord depending on how much of it I allow Odd-Even to view at any one time.

He did, however, support my endeavour to catalogue it on Ravelry. Photographing the yarn took less time than I had imagined, which was a good thing, because it suggested that I could actually manage the stash. The relatively small fiber stash surprised me, to say the least, but I didn’t photograph the many samples that dyers often send. Half-skeins and other leftovers have also been weeded from the main stash, with the view to making another granny square blanket in the future. Nevertheless, I’m going to need not a few patterns for one-skein wonders if I’m to get through this.


And the fiber…


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Faux Faroese: Gjogv

When I first started knitting lace, Faroese shawls were all the rage. I even found a copy of the legendary Føroysk Bindingarmynstur Bundnaturriklæðið at my local library (in retrospect, it was amazing that no one had stolen it yet). Somehow prior to borrowing it I had managed to trick myself into believing that German would allow me to read Faroese and that summer that year would consist of many happy miles of garter stitch punctuated with some lace. However, to put it mildly, skills in German did not translate into skills in Faroese (and as I have learned, skills in Norwegian do not translate into skills in Faroese either). I laboured to little avail and with too little yarn: for anyone who wants to consider deluding themselves that 100 g of Heilo will stretch to make a Faroese shawl, trust me, it won’t.

Myrna Stahman’s book Shawls and Scarves came to the rescue, with her top-down Faroese shawls. Since then I’ve made many such shawls; Mum does love the shoulder shaping and squishy garter stitch of the traditional ones; but nowadays I mostly eliminate the shoulder shaping, work in stockinette, and call the resultant style with gusset and border “faux Faroese.”

My imagination failed me utterly when asked to dream up a name for this series of 3 shawls. Instead I looked at a map of the Faroe Islands and picked out a few names that 1) sounded somewhat melodious and 2) looked not entirely impossible to spell/pronounce (although I see now that I did so from a Norwegian perspective).

Anyway, it’s nearly the middle of September, which means that winter’s on the way and so it’s time to introduce the first in the series: Gjogv. Knitted on a stockinette ground from the top down, it combines a strong geometric motif, so typical of true Faroese shawls, with Estonian nupps and an attached edging.

The pattern has been tested (twice!) and assumes that you know how to cast on provisionally, read charts, knit nupps, and attach an edging. You’ll need at least 620 m / 680 yards of fingering weight yarn and 4 mm / US 6 needles.


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I’ve got lots of them! At least woolly ones! Recently while digging through my yarn box I discovered some more UFOs — mittens in handspun Icelandic. I loved this yarn, spun with roving from Peter, Paul and Larry, but I also remember that this fibre, which wanted to be a woollen-spun 2-ply sport weight, ended up a 3-ply worsted-spun worsted weight. Incredibly dense and heavy and perfect, in the end, for mittens, but since I fought the fibre every inch of the way I think this batch is very much a one-off.

They made another pair of Mors du Cheval mittens (one of my very first patterns) and a variation inspired by Susan Cooper’s novel The Dark Is Rising.


“The glowing thing came out of the wall easily from a break in the stucco where the Chiltern flints of the wall showed through. It lay on his palm: a circle, quartered by a cross. It had not been cut into that shape. Even through the light in it, Will could see the smooth roundness of the sides that told him this was a natural flint, grown in the Chiltern chalk fifteen million years ago.”

On reknitting this pattern, I realised just how difficult it was to place the knots and i-cord, so I’m going to rewrite it in order to add two rows of eyelets. And a lining, because I always wished the original mittens were lined. Then, hopefully I can convince Odd-Even to contribute his skills with pens and ink to redraw the knot instructions.

For now, I’m thinking about busting out the spinning wheel for another Return to Dragon Gate Inn. And this time I’ll try really hard not to lose the charts so a new and improved version might actually reach you in the near future. Until then we will make do with the current version, which despite my best efforts back in the day resembles the ones below (from a building set for a Chinese temple model) a little too closely for comfort. If in any doubt, FOR MORE INFORMATION PLEASE REREAD.

IMG_4984 (1)

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Books for the bunker

There’s a series on BBC Radio 4 called Desert Island Discs, where famous musicians are interviewed about the music they’d take to a desert island. Although I’m neither famous nor a musician I thought I’d make a similar list with books for the bunker. Let’s conveniently forget for the moment the fact that there is very little chance of the stash accompanying us into a post-apocalyptic future…


As a person who primarily knits lace and who dislikes following patterns, I couldn’t do without Heirloom Knitting by Sharon Miller and The Haapsalu Shawl by Siiri Reimann and Aime Edasi. These books both contain information on how to knit a traditional Shetland shawl and Haapsalu (Estonian) shawl, respectively, as well as being monumental stitch dictionaries. It’s mainly for the latter reason that I’d like them on my shelf in the bunker — I can sit and dream about all kinds of combinations.

Then, in the event that I would actually be called upon to clothe the family, Barbara Walker’s Knitting from the Top would prove an invaluable companion. With formulas or rather formulations to assist in the calculation of stitch counts for custom sweaters of various constructions (drop sleeve, raglan, yoke, set-in sleeve), pants (trousers for any Brits out there!), hats and skirts it will ensure that we stay warm from head to toe despite any nuclear winter.

Those sweaters might get quite boring if they were knitted straight down with no embellishments, so to that end Elsebeth Lavold’s Viking Patterns for Knitting and Alice Starmore’s Book of Fair Isle Knitting round out my choices. While Lavold’s book does contain patterns, it’s a stitch dictionary of sorts as well (upon which I draw every year for Knoll’s sweaters); Starmore should need no introduction. At present I don’t intend to ever knit a traditional steeked sweater with a million ends to weave in, but the charts can also be used with a mere 2 colours, and who knows, maybe I’d make an attempt at mastering Fair Isle in order to forget the impending end of the world.

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A photo from the Defense Museum


This photograph can be found at the Norwegian Defense Museum — “Norwegian soldiers retreating to a new position further north in Østerdalen” during WWII. While American women were encouraged to knit for the troops, I can’t find any similar exhortations to women in Norway so I imagine, perhaps too sentimentally, that this soldier wears mittens knitted for him by his mother or sister or grandmother.

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The last of summer; the first of autumn

Two new patterns today, dear reader! The first is Cherries and Fairies. Using just between 550-600 m of laceweight yarn, this lightly curved triangular shawl knits up quickly. An Estonian variation of the cat’s paw pattern gives way to a nupp border and it’s finished with a crochet chain edging.

The size of the shawl can be easily adjusted by knitting more/fewer repeats of cat’s paw. The original shawl measured 60” x 24” / 152 x 60 cm after blocking.

As usual, the pattern has been tested and assumes that you know how to cast on provisionally, knit nupps, and read charts.

So ends summer 2016 for us.

Autumn begins with Merofleda, the second scarf in the Not Quite Samite series. The alternating leaf and nupp pattern is knitted here in gold to evoke the autumn aspens of northern New Mexico. Half a lifetime on, I still can’t forget the leaves against the endless blue sky.

This pattern uses about 400 m of fingering-weight yarn, so it’s a great stashbuster for single skeins of sock yarn. (The original is knitted in Sweet Georgia Tough Love Sock and measures 8” x 73” / 20 x 185 cm so if you have less yardage you can consider a slightly shorter scarf.) The scarf is worked from the bottom up in a single piece and finished with a crocheted picot edging.

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