Knitting and Culture: Norway

If the post scheduler is working correctly, I am currently on vacation and absolutely nowhere near a computer. Since I plan to spend a good bit of my vacation in Norway, I thought I’d share with you a bit of info on the history and culture of knitting in Norway.


Map courtesy of Google

Did you know that Norway was actually one of the last European countries to adopt knitting? For as much as we overseas think “Scandinavia” every time we think “knitting”, the earliest known pieces of Norwegian knitting are from the 1600s. I guess it makes sense when you consider how far that knowledge had to travel just to get to Scandinavia at all.

Knitting didn’t really become common nationwide until the mid-1800s,when it became part of a growing movement toward nationalism. This is also when the first of what we tend to think of as the “traditional” two-color patterns began to appear. In particular, dot of darker color on a lighter background (unfortunately nicknamed “lice”) and borders of eight-petal flowers are now considered distinctly Norwegian.


Pattern: Norwegian Stockings to Knit by Terri Shea

After the Norwegian division from Sweden in 1905, there was a serious push to develop a national identity, and this included national styles of dress and handicraft. At that time people began to closely examine and make an effort to preserve the best regional and rural traditions from Norway, but they also began to borrow or modify ideas and designs that spoke to them from other cultures. For example, the Nordlandskofta style of sweater frequently includes borders inspired by Greek culture, but is a distinctly southwestern Norway creation from the 1940s.


In 1956 Dale of Norway created the now-iconic sweater for the Norwegian winter Olympics teams, which really cemented the idea of “Norwegian knitting” in the international world. It also transformed knitting in Norway from a rural tradition to a nationwide fashion statement. It had a wholesome, productive, and thoroughly feminine connotation that no doubt appealed to the “housewife culture” so common in the mid-century Western world. Knitting was not only a way to show national pride, but to show you loved your family and were skilled.

dale olympics 1956


Then in the 1970s there was an interesting phenomenon called “Hønsestrikk”, (“Chicken Knitting” or  “Hen Knitting”), which was actually a feminist movement. Take that, grandma stereotype. Danish writer Kirsten Hofstätter objected to tendency toward traditional knitting, much as other feminists of the time objected to traditional family structures. She felt it limited creativity and encouraged elitism. Hofstätter wrote a series of books encouraging use of bright colors, non-traditional designs, and saving money (and adding color!) by using scrap yarn whenever possible. Basically, she encouraged individuality. In fact it was not unusual to see hen knitters work their own names or personal stories and symbols into patterns. The trend became massively popular in Norway, where knitters not only began to buy patterns separately from yarn, but grew less inclined to use patterns at all.



No doubt the emergence of Ravelry in this generation has changed the face of knitting once again in Norway, as it is in so many other nations. I look forward to seeing what people will say about the next trend in another decade or two! I know some of my readers come from Norway or from Norwegian backgrounds; if you have more to add we’d love to hear it!


7 responses to this post.

  1. Wow this is really interesting thanks for posting!


  2. So interesting…..I love learning the history of craft


  3. I hope you have had a fab vacation. It was really interesting to read about Norway. Currently working on a colour work piece these designs no longer seem so daunting!


    • They are always amazing looking! I find I don’t do colorwork as much as some other methods because I have to constantly refer to the chart, which makes it hard to do anything else while knitting. The result sure is worth the effort every time though…


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