Norway still in knots over knitting

Knitting has cast off its old-fashioned image to become as hot as, well, the warm garments it creates. Wool creations now grace the catwalks, Norwegian-style knitwear is trendy around the world and knitting books topped bestseller lists this Christmas. A younger, hipper crowd is casting on, and yarn producers are clacking up the profits.

The classic “Marius genser,” a sweater named after war hero, skiing legend and actor Marius Eriksen, has had a massive upswing in popularity in recent years. PHOTO: Dale of Norway

Knitting has always been a part of Norwegian culture, but used to have a rather staid, rural image. Now a young urban crowd, not shy about getting their knitting out whenever and wherever they can, have made it cool, and not just in Norway. Pictures of their creations, preferably modelled by the knitter, are posted on blogs and knitting websites, and viewed  all over the world.

Sonia Huanca Vold, who runs the fashion website minmote.no, says that hand-knits fit in perfectly with this winter’s “scruffy” look, and have featured heavily at this season’s fashion shows. “If you knit something yourself, you also have something that nobody else has, and which is guaranteed to be good quality,” she recently told Oslo-based newspaper VG.

As well as being fashionable, knitting is also good for you, according to expert Annemor Sundbø. “With your knitting in hand, you come into a kind of balance. … it can also be an antidote to loneliness, and even if you knit something you don’t actually need, it still feels meaningful,” she told VG.

Celebrities have also played a role in making knitting cool. Norwegian TV celebrity Dorthe Skappel’s “Skappel jumper,” a pattern that her daughter released online, became an instant hit, and is easy even for beginners. It uses luxurious Alpaca wool, which quickly sold out in shops around the country. The type of Faroe Isle knitwear worn by actress Sofia Gråbøl is now highly sought after, and has even coined the description “a Sarah Lund jumper,” after the detective she plays in the Danish TV series “The Killing” (Forbrytelsen).

It was the classic “Marius” pattern that first made Norwegian knitwear famous around the world, and first had celebrity endorsement. Containing the colours of the national flag, it was designed by Unn Søiland and worn by the war hero, skiing star and, later, actor Marius Eriksen, playing a handsome ski instructor in the Norwegian film  Troll i Ord. His brother Stein Eriksen, who won gold in slalom skiing in the 1952 Winter Olympics in Oslo, was also photographed in the sweater, helping to secure its place as an icon that the Eriksen boys’ own mother also had a hand in creating. Books with patterns for the “Marius” sweater topped the bestseller lists for this Christmas and the pattern itself has also inspired countless spin-off products.

Fashion designers Arne & Carlos have also played a role in knitting’s renaissance. PHOTO: Arne & Carlos/Cappelen Damm

Valdres-based fashion designers Arne & Carlos (Norwegian Arne Nerjørdet and Swedish Carlos Zachrison) also have written books on knitting and set off another craze last year for so-called Julekuler (Christmas ball ornaments) featuring hand-knitted patterns. Their book on 55 different ornaments to make went into its fourth printing this fall and has sold 37,000 copies.

‘Sexy’
Norwegian yarn producers have also, unsurprisingly, welcomed knitting’s image change. When Harold Mjølne  first took charge of the ailing woollen mill Sandnes Uldvarefabrik in Sandnes, he was told that “it was just old people who knitted, and in 10 years all my customers would be dead.”  Instead, as newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) recently reported, its sales jumped by 50 percent and it’s become the biggest wool supplier in Norway. Mjølne reckons that Sandnes sold about NOK 2 million worth of wool for the “Skappel jumper” alone.

Dale of Norway, known for designing special sweaters for the Norwegian national ski team, also hopes to profit from the knitting craze. Dale’s knitwear sells well in the global sports market, but tourists are its main customers in Norway. “Dale has in the past had a bit of an ‘old lady’ image,” Elisa Røtterud, fashion director of Cosmopolitan magazine, told newspaper Aftenposten. “Now all the old traditions have become high fashion and the concept of ‘National Romanticism’ has become very sexy.”

Views and News from Norway/Elizabeth Lindsay

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  • Anastasia Hobbet

    I love these deadpan faces, a parody of a pop-rock duo.