Last night I had the opportunity to take a class with Annemore Sundbo, from Setesdal, Norway. I’ve been an admirer of hers since her first book, Everyday Knitting: Treasures from a Ragpile came out in 2001. It’s an amazing book of history of the sweater tradition in her specific region of Norway. It sounds kind of dry saying it that way, but the book is pure eye candy and is filled with amazing photos of sweaters literally dug out of a pile of rags meant to be recycled.
Well, when I heard that the Yarnery was bringing her in to teach a class, I signed up immediately. I just wanted to hear her stories, see what she had to say in person, yadda yadda. I’ve never done much embroidery (aside from a few early forays into cross stitch), let alone considered working the fancy decoration on traditional Norwegian sweaters. Actually, I didn’t really realize that the trim on those fancy sweaters was hand-sewn embroidery – I guess I just thought it was fancy ribbon. D’oh. Still, I figured I’d take whatever class she was offering and go with the flow.
It was well worth it – I’m so used to being the expert teacher, it’s good to be the abject newby again. Not to mention that Annemore was very nice, and had some funny stories and new insight to offer.
First, let me show you what we worked on…It’s just a little pincushion design, but it was just the right size project for the time allowed. She started us off with little felted flannel squares, and some waste canvas to stitch on. We basted the canvas down, then started embroidering red triangles. This embroidery is a free-form art, and each piece is meant to be unique, but there are some strict rules. You have to start with the red triangles, and you have to two two reds for every third other-color triangle. Apparently the red stands for love.
I sat next to my friend and co-worker Peggy, who has done embroidery before. Her work was faster and a little neater than mine.
Annemore brought several beautiful samples with her, as inspiration…
Mostly samplers at different stages of completion, but really rich in variety and beautifully worked.
Apparently the little old ladies of Setesdal are very picky about the stitches and will not hesitate to tell someone that their stitches are not small enough, or not right altogether. Annemore said that one of her neighbors looked at a sweater she had copied from one of the originals dug out of the rag pile, and that the neighbor told her she’d done it wrong. When Annemore said, no, I copied it stitch for stitch from this sweater from 1869, the woman said “Well, they didn’t know the right way to do it back then.” It sounds very familiar to knitting culture I’ve seen much closer to home.
I got the obligatory visiting-knitting-celebrity picture with her (and in my spiral sweater to boot!)
Once we’d finished the triangles, we did an outline with stem stitch around the square, then a second time round the square – both in red. We took out the waste canvas, and then added in some more decoration. Mine still isn’t entirely done, but I can’t quite believe how pretty it is – mine’s the one on the bottom right – and how all of them are beautiful in their own unique way despite the similarities.
I’m considering possibly doing some embroidery for the sweater I just started, even though it is not going to be a traditional Norwegian style. We’ll see if I have the patience for it at the end of that project.
Oh! and one more tidbit about traditional Norwegian sweaters. I was asking Annemore about what technique is traditionally used for securing steeks in these sweaters, and she pointed out to me that mostly the bodies of them are machine knit – the people don’t want to spend the time hand knitting them, so they are worked in separate panels – usually a front and a back, and sometimes with separate side panels. A girl might get a traditional outfit for her confirmation, and then add in side panels if her size changes as she grows older.
Okay – hopefully I have time for a couple more round on the new sweater before I head off to bed!