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Nordic Knitting

The old city quarters in Laholm. Photo: Susanne Pagoldh.

THE FOPPISH KING ERIK XIV is reputed to be the first person in Scandinavia to have worn knitted silk stockings. The ;:::kings were imported in 1562, just one year ar.er England's Queen Elizabeth I got her first pair. Knitted stockings, which elegantly showed :::' the wearer's legs, were high fashion on the ::r_rlnent during that time, particularly for men - h: wore short trousers. We can't be sure what Erik's stockings looked like, but they must have : rrn splendid considering the price, which was equivalent to the annual wages of a chamber valet.

During the 1600s knitted silk sweaters were •.—.ported for those who could afford them. They " ere true luxury garments, decorated with gold :r silver threads. Several of these sweaters have been preserved in Norway (see page 11), and Sweden has two of them. Star and flower motifs, similar to those on the silk sweaters, were later krktted on sweaters and sleeves in simpler mate rials for farmers and shopkeepers well into the nineteenth century. Several eighteenth-century women's sweaters from Halland have been preserved. They are knitted in wool, cotton, or linen, but take their inspiration from the seventeenth-century styles.


The art of knitting (sticka, binda, binga) was known early in Halland, which was a part of Denmark until 1645. The area was poor, the earth sandy and unfruitful, and there were few possibilities for earning an income. In the southern parts of the province, stocking and sweater knitting was a much needed source of support. At certain times, knitting was rewarded well enough that farming was neglected, and it was difficult to find servants. Halland's sheep couldn't provide all the wool that was needed, and so wool was imported from Denmark and Iceland.

The old city quarters in Laholm. Photo: Susanne Pagoldh.

The Nordic Museum has a sweater from Ullared in Halland with the initials OIP S and the date 1898 knitted in a rectangle on the chest. This detail has been kept for the updated version of the sweater, which has a ribbed neck opening and contrasting patterns on the side seams and sleeves. The old Ullared sweaters often had crocheted edgings on the neck and sleeves. Similar sweaters have also been knitted in the Varberg district. Instructions, page 88. Photo: Susanne Pagoldh.

Hand Sweater 1969Folklore Flower Patterns Swedish

Magna Brita Cracau, a Dutch woman from the Vallens estate in Vaxtorp, is known for having spread the art of knitting in Halland. According to Dean Pehr Osbeck, either Magna or her Dutch servants taught knitting to the people on the estate sometime during the 1650s. The tenants could pay their taxes with knitting. The technique quickly spread from Vallens into V&xtorp, and traditions were begun which are still carried on. The knitters from V&xtorp became known for their skills in knitting patterns with several colors.

More commonly, they knitted simple undyed garments like undersweaters and stockings, but pattern-knitted sweaters with several QQlQtS (plattabing) were also knitted, as well as single-color relief-patterned sweaters (flackabing) that had star designs worked in purl stitches on a stockinette ground. Knitters in the districts of Laholm, Halmstad, Hasslov, Hok, and Tonnersjo were specialists at knitting wool stockings quickly, The stitches were large and loose but became firm when fulled in soapy water. The army was furnished with several thousand pairs of stockings. Whole regiments of soldiers marched to war with Halland stockings on their feet.

During the autumn, the poor people of Halland would go to the richer area of Skane, searching for work. In exchange for room and board or cash, they did spinning and knitting on farmsteads. Supposedly, some of them wandered to the Danish island of Amager in Oresund. Knitting was looked down on there—it was something lowly that Swedes did!

Meddlers travelled from farm to farm in the Skane area, selling knitted garments. They would buy wool from one farm and leave it for spinning and knitting at another where there were more workers. The finished goods could be carried on a journey that stretched over a huge area of the country.


During the nineteenth century, the traveling peddlers were put out of business. Sweater merchants from Laholm and Goteborg began distrib uting wool for knitting sweaters and stockings. A certain amount of wool, usually barely enough, was reckoned on for a particular number of garments. The wool had to be carded, spun, and sometimes dyed. This wasn't just a small business concern—during one year in the 1850s, 96,000 sweaters, 66,000 pairs of whole and half stockings, and 28,000 pairs of mittens were knitted in the Laholm district alone! Even though these mass-produced garments were thick and loosely knitted, their quality was fairly high; the patterns used in knitting them were intricate,

Krok, a pattern from the Knitting Cooperative's archives. When it was drawn in 1912, it was regarded as an old pattern. It is similar to patterns knitted on the Shetland Islands. Photo: Susanne Pagoldh.

This pheasant design is one of the older ones in the Knitting Cooperative's collection in Halmstad. Photo: Susanne Pagoldh.

Bjarbo is one of the oldest and most popular designs of the Knitting Cooperative. It is thought to have been knitted in Halland since the eighteenth century.

and the short floats on the inside of the garment gave the fabric substance.

Women knitted the bodies of the large fishermen's sweaters, and men and children knitted the sleeves. Two people could sit opposite one another and knit on the same sweater body. One classic sweater pattern is called jyske because the pattern was thought to have come to Halland from Jutland. The Nordic Museum in Stockholm has an old Halland fisherman's sweater with the jyske design knitted in light purple on a natural white ground. Skdk og teinur (slants and sticks), a similar pattern from the Faroe Islands (see page 24), has also been knitted in that colorway. Another typical Halland sweater pattern has red stripes and blue checks on a white ribbed background.


By the end of the nineteenth century, the knitters in Halland were having difficulty selling their work. The West Götaland shops failed, and handknitting ceased to be so highly paid when it had to compete with machine-made garments. In 1907, Berta Borgström, a doctor's wife from Laholm, founded the Knitting Cooperative to help the jobless people in the area and to put new life into old knitting traditions. She recruited her first handknitters from the farms around Valien in Vâxtorp. She imported soft fine-wool yarns from England, and the knitting was soon under way.

For the first few years, mostly military socks and sweaters and hunting mittens were made. Knee-length pattern-knitted sports cardigans with striped edgings and ribbing sold well. The department store MEA, Militär Ekiperings AB, and the royal household in Stockholm were among the first customers. Crown Princess Margareta and Princess Maria ordered caps and jackets for the members of their golf club. Princes Gustaf Adolf and Sigvard were photographed bobsledding in bjärbo-patterned sports sweaters from the Knitting Cooperative.

Beata and Lars Petter Jönsson were also good advertising during those patriotic times.

They wore traditional Halland costumes in: worked together knitting sweater bodies fo r exhd-bitions and advertisements. During many uf the cooperative's first summers, its members under parasols and sold knitting at fashionable sea resorts like B 4s tad, Marstrand. and Stromstad.

After the cooperative started, traditionalp a:-terns from the district were quickly collected Its most popular pattern throughout the years has been bjarbo, which is said to have been knitted _r Halland since the eighteenth century. The Hishult woman's costume has a bjarbo-patterned waist-length sweater knitted in red anc black and cut open at the front. Nowadays, bjcri-c usually knitted in red and blue on a white gr: ur d Pattern-knitted fiddler's caps and long, pa:-terned double caps were traditional men's ferments in Halland collected by the Knitting C :•: p-erative.


During its first years, the cooperative employed about a hundred knitters. Today. :<ni;.

Traditional Swedish Knitting MotifThe Man The Red Sweater From 1800s

A man's sweater from Kungshamn in Bohus province was the model for this updated sweater. The old sweater, which is in the Nordic Museum, has a knitted side stripe, triangular neck and underarm gussets (see page 8), striped ribbing that is slit at the sides, and the initials A K S knitted in the lower edge. Here the sleeve stitches were picked up around the armhole and knitted down to the cuffs. On the old sweater, the sleeves were sewn in. The simple overall pattern is not limited to Bohus province—■ it was also knitted in Norway, Latvia, and on the Faroe Islands. Instructions, page 89. Photo: Susanne Pagoldh.

A woman's wool circular-knitted, sweater from Vemmenhog district in southern Skane. The neck opening is lined with linen cloth and edged with a narrow velvet band and a silk band 5 cm (2 in) wide. It is part of the Nordic Museum's collections. Photo: Birgit Br&nvall/Nordic Museum.

about ten knitters work for what has been renamed the Halland Knitting Cooperative. One of them is Inga-Britt Dahlin of Laholm, who knits only by special order. The customer chooses the patterns, colors, and style. Inga-Britt has been knitting since she was five years old, when her mother taught her how. At first, she knitted only for her own family, but later she became a professional knitter.

When Inga-Britt has an order for a cloak or jacket, both popular garments now, she knits both the body and sleeves on circular needles. Both sleeves are knitted at once in a long tube. When all the pieces have been knitted, she gives them to her good friend Barbro Nilsson for assembly. The assembly (called brattningen) is unique to Halland knitting: the knitted fabric is cut and handled just like woven cloth. It's been done this way since the cooperative was started.

Many who knit have someone else do the assembly because they are afraid to cut the fabric, but Barbro Nilsson is a trained seamstress and isn't the least hesitant to set her scissors into the stitches. She has been assembling garments for the cooperative for 20 years, and she knows that knitting doesn't rip out so easily. Proper binge should be so tightly knitted that a finished garment can be hung on a coat hanger without stretching. That means it's knitted well enough that it can be cut up also.

Barbro cuts the circular knitted tubes open, presses them out flat, and cuts out the pattern parts. She pin-bastes the pieces on the person who will get the garment and cuts and shapes the darts, pockets, and collar. She cuts out the arm-holes when the basted pieces are being tried on. Then she sews the garment together on a machine using a tricot stitch.

The old patterns which were collected at the beginning of this century are still in use, although with new color combinations and styles. In the 1940s and 1950s, waist-length jackets were knitted. During the 1960s, longer jackets were in style. Now all sorts of jackets, capes, and outfits are knitted. When the royal couple visited Halland during a royal tour in 1980, Queen Silvia received a knitted poncho constructed by the

Delsbo Knitting Charts

handicraft consultant Kersti Nilsson. A su garment for Sweden, but it had many :: the traditional Halland patterns on it.

Interest in the old Halland designs has increased during the 1980s. During the las: :Y years, Inga-Britt Dahlin has conducted se- era-knitting courses. A group of Lebanese women were among her students, but very few men ha a participated in the courses.


Closely patterned sweaters similar to th : se knitted in Halland have also been knitted in Bohus province. The Nordic Museum has an :. a man's sweater from Sotenàs which is rich an detail (see page 8). The neck and the sleeves have triangular gussets, making the garment fit well The welt has side vents and a monogram knitted in. The seams in the body and sleeves are markea with distinctive patterns. These decorative ana practical details were adapted from garments sewn of woven cloth. Similar details were ale: knitted into fishermen's sweaters in England an a on the islands of Jersey and Guernsey.

The Bohus Knitting Cooperative, like the Ha. • land Knitting Cooperative, was started in 1939 : : help women in need of work. Their work mad; Bohus knitting famous. Sales of their stylish cardigans and sweaters made with wool and ang:ra yarns were at their height during the 1950s, when the garments were exported to the United States The cooperative closed down in 1969.



Nordic Knitting


There is a rich textile tradition in fertile S'iáne, but knitting was not considered as prestigious an occupation as, for example, weaving. Hmrring was usually done by poor Skáne residents or migrant workers from Halland. Peddlers

Even during the 1700s, people in Skáne wore ¿nirted stockings, spede sweaters, and wool un-ders^veaters. Similar sweaters knitted in Denmark were called night sweaters (see page 22).

Spede sweaters got their name from speda, ■=rhich means a knitting needle. Spede sweaters ere knitted in the round with a thin, tightly —_sted %vool yarn and were narrow and tight-fit-ring. They were usually worn under a vest so that : nly the sleeves were visible. After being knitted, 5-: — e of these sweaters were fulled so well that .r. i:-.idual stitches could not be distinguished.

Spede sweaters were always knitted in one rcIoT ">h relief patterns on the sides of the body ir. i on the sleeves. Occasionally they had allover patterns. One popular pattern was the eight-roinied star. The neck opening and the lower edges of the sleeves were often decorated with snk or velvet bands which were sewn on. In the "•esrem parts of Skáne, green sweaters were —: st often worn during the summer; blue or black sweaters were for winter, and red ones for festivals and holidays.


People on Oland and Gotland have been knit-v.ng garments to sell since at least the end of the seventeenth century and possibly even longer. Trading on the Baltic was lively during the Middle Ages, and the Hanseatic city of Visby was a

A Gotland gauntlet mitten. Pattern and details were adapted from Hermanna Sten-gard's collection at Gotland Handicrafts. Instructions, page 113. Photo: Susanne Pagoldh!

Wool stockings from Bollebygd (left) and Skdning district (right) in western Gotland. The patterns on the stocking at the left (see diagram) are reminiscent of the so-called "flame yarn" stripes which occur when cloth is woven with ikat-dyed warp. Here the effect is achieved by using yarn in two shades of blue. The red patterned bands in the stocking on the right are knitted with ikat-dyed yarn. Both stockings are in the Nordic Museum. Photo: Birgit Branvall / Nordic Museum.

Birgit Aittamaa

spring wool. People knitted every day, but the days between Christmas and Epiphany were considered knitting holidays. Traditionally, it was thought that the sheep would not thrive if a spindle or spinning wheel were used during that period. It was also believed that a garment wouldn't come out right if scroll patterns were knitted counterclockwise on it.

One of the old Gotland sagas tells of an old woman who was working outside and longing for her husband. While she was walking along, she knitted a new pair of mittens for him. After she had been walking a while, she met the fearsome giant Hobersgubben, who sat on a rock and was shivering in the cold, gray weather. She felt sorry for him and gave him the mittens which she had just finished. He was so pleased with the warm wool mittens that he gave her three wishes.

Gotland mittens characteristically have all-over patterns which are continued onto the thumb. Some have a curving pattern around the wrist Besides mittens and sweaters, quite a few stockings, caps, suspenders, belts, and bands were knitted.

Thanks to Hermanna Steng&rd, an elementary school teacher from Rone parish, many of the old Gotland stocking and mitten patterns have been preserved. She went around to the farms, seeking out and collecting traditional patterns. Her findings were published in the book Gotland Knitting in 1925, and her collection is now at Gotland Handicrafts in Visby.

Little of the Oland knitting has survived. Its mittens have patterns similar to those found on Gotland. On north Oland, heavy work mittens with two thumbs were common. Natural-colored handspun wool was used for everyday garments. When machine-spun English wool became available at the beginning of this century, black-and-white and black-and-green combinations became popular.


In Dalarna, most garments are knitted in two-end, or twined, knitting. The technique, tvaandsstickning, has been used for decoration and for knitting patterned edges on sweaters, stockings, socks, and mittens in the Nordic countries since at least the seventeenth century. The technique was especially useful for stocking heels and work mittens which had to withstand hard wear.

One outstanding garment in Dalarna's rich textile tradition is the jacket worn by both men and women in West Dalarna, and particularly in the parishes of Gagnef and Floda. The sweaters, which have been knitted since the early 1800s, have richly patterned sleeves in twined knitting sewn onto a cloth body. The sweaters were worn both inside and outside, on weekdays and Sundays, but never in church. When one of these

Enviken Sweden
  • left) The pattern for these knitted sleeves comes from Hams Farm in Enviken in Dalarna. The body is sewn from fine fabric and lined with cotton. The sleeves are exceptionally elegant and finely knitted. It's not a project for beginners, but if you are patient and don't economize on the yarn and fabric, you will have a long-wearing and timeless garment. Here the body fabric is black, which is not traditional, as black was reserved for better clothes and church wear and these sweaters were not worn in church. The Dalarna Museum in Falun is the source for the patterns for these sleeves. Instructions: page 103. Photo: Su-sanne Pagoldh.
  • top right) Sweater from Gagnef in Dalarna. Note that the buttons are only decorative; there are no buttonholes. From the Dalarna Museum. Photo: K. G. Svensson.
  • right) Three sleeves from Dalarna. The top two are from Gagnef, and the bottom one comes from Floda. The middle one shows how the sleeves looked before finishing. These sleeves are in the Dalarna Museum in Falun. Photo: K. G. Svensson.

sweaters was worn out, it still found service as work clothing. The women's sweaters were waist-length and, beginning in the 1870s (when sewing machines became available), usually had machine embroidery on the chest and on the bands at the lower edges of the sleeves. Men's sweaters were hip-length, single- or double-breasted, and occasionally had pockets.

The sleeves were knitted in the round in natural white and natural black unwashed wool yarn, and dyed after they were knitted—most often red. Then the already dense structure was fulled, and the natural black color took on an even deeper shade. The importance of making sturdy sleeves is shown by the number preserved in

Dalarna's museum in Falun.

This type of jacket was part of the fc Ik tumes in N&s, Floda, and Gagnef parishes, and the jackets are still knitted today, alth: nrh m ordinary pattern knitting. Green wadmaluser for the bodies while the sleeves are knitted with red and black wool yarn. Because two col: rs are used in the pattern, the threads are twiste i : r the back side, but the structure looks quite different from that of twined knitting.

Patterns on the sweaters vary from district to district, and there can also be small differer:; r within one parish. The form of the sleeves als.: varies. The oldest ones were narrow. At the end of the nineteenth century, the very wide ler-:f-mutton sleeves were in vogue, but by the twentieth century, the sleeves were again narri w an d fitted.


Flax production was more widespread in Halsingland than sheep breeding or wool production; linen was well known for its lovely luster and high quality. The income from linen -s a; lucrative, at least for some farmers.

Both men and women wore showy, pattern-knitted sweaters. In Delsbo and Bjuraker the sweaters had strong, striking patterns in red. black, and green wool with details in white cc tt: n yarn. In the nineteenth century, the stark white

Jarvso Sweden

cotton yarn was considered especially elegant.

Men's sweaters had squared necklines and were drawn on over the head. Women's sweaters were cut open into cardigans. A number of Delsbo sweaters from the 1800s have been preserved. Many of these have the date and initials knitted in. The cuff opening, increases, and side seams were all marked with contrasting patterns made from various fabric pieces that were sewn onto the garment.

In other parishes, such as Ljusdal and •Jarvso, the patterns were smaller and simpler, and more spread out over a red background. During a recent inventory of costumes in Ljusdal, women's sweaters were found that had green patterns on either blue or black backgrounds. The patterned area of women's sweaters were short ending just below the breasts) so that its "skirt" could be seen (see photo page 67).


Erika Aittamaa knitted the first pair of Lovikka mittens in 1892. When a woodsman wanted some particularly thick and strong mittens, she spun an extra-heavy wool yarn. She knitted two pairs which were so thick that she thought they would last several winters. But the man who ordered them thought that she had ruined the wool. She took the "spoiled" mittens back home and washed them several times and then carded them, first on the inside and then on the outside, to soften them. The result was a new way of finishing mittens. The soft, brushed mittens became popular, and the style quickly spread throughout the district. Erika Aittamaa got a number of orders for the mittens, which she began to decorate with turned-back cuffs embroidered with multicolored wool threads.

More and more women learned the trick of carding, and the mittens spread farther south. One reason for this was that Hildur Olsson, an ingenious businesswoman from Vittangi, gave a pair to Princess Sibylla. The princess wore her mittens during a royal tour and on a skiing trip to Boden in 1933. This royal sign of approval was certainly noted in Tornedalen. During the depression years of the 1930s, mitten knitting was an extra form of support.


In Frostviken in Jamtland, people often went sockless; shoes were worn without stockings even when it was bitterly cold outside. Instead, they filled their shoes with hay, which was considered warmer than wool stockings. Otherwise, half socks were commonly worn during the winter. They had very short cuffs, scarcely reaching the ankle. The half socks were knitted in two-ply yarns spun from coarse leg wool, sometimes blended with goat or human hair. People also wore footless leggings until the 1890s. Knitted stockings didn't become widespread among the peasants until the nineteenth century. Itinerant peddlers sold them, and they became known as West Gotaland stockings as a result of the asso-

It doesn't take long to knit a pair of Lovikka mittens. You can knit them in an evening, but set aside time for preparatory and finishing work. The mittens become extra soft and fluffy when they're knitted from well-spun yarn and brushed with teasels or a steel brush afterward. Instructions, page 114. Photo: Susanne Pagoldh.

Handspun Yarn Denmark

A red patterned wool sweater is part ofLjusdal's folk costume. Inspired by her own costume, Inger Rosell has designed a better-fitting and more comfortable garment. The colors and the patterns are the same, but the body is longer and the sleeves are wider. Not having gussets, the sleeves on the old models were often narrow and tight-fitting. Here we see Inger Rosell in her newly knitted cardigan together with her daughter Mia in a :-aditional Ljusdal : ostume. Instruc-r.ons for the Ljusdal cardigan ire on page 100. Photo: Susanne Pagoldh.

ciation with the peddlers.

When my grandmother, Thea Maria Larson, was a child living at Hallan farm in Overkalix in Norrbotten at the beginning of this century, she wore white or gray wool stockings and stuffed her shoes with hay. At that time, all of the children in Overkalix, even the rich ones, wore shoes with upturned toes stuffed with hay. Without the hay, their feet would have frozen in temperatures as low as -30° C (-22° F). But when Thea Maria had her own children during the 1930s, they wore ski boots and ragg wool socks. She knitted the socks herself with black and white blended wool yarns that she purchased. During the 1930s, only the poorest people had to continue using hay in their shoes.

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