The faroe islands

ACCORDING TO AN old saying, "Sheep's wool is Faroese gold." As far back as the old Faroese sagas, people talked of the trading between Norway and the Faroe Islands: Faroese wool and woolen goods were exchanged for timber to build houses and boats. The islands are spread out halfway between Scotland and Iceland and are devoid of bushes and trees because the Atlantic winds sweep over the green mountainsides. However, the Gulf Stream keeps the climate mild, damp, and changeable. Faroese, a west Nordic language related to Icelandic and Danish, is spoken there. The island group belongs to Denmark but has a degree of self-government.

It is not known how long people have knitted on the Faroes, but by the end of the sixteenth century, knitted stockings were being exported to Norway. During the next century, knitting as an export increased so much that knitted stockings and fishermen's sweaters became the Faroes' most important export goods. For example, in 1765, about 100,000 pairs of stockings were exported. Men carded and spun the wool, at first with spindles and later with hand-driven spinning wheels. The women wove and knitted.

FISHERMEN'S SWEATERS

When Susanna Johansen of Strendor, who was born and raised in Lamba on Eysturoy, was seven years old in 1906, she and her grandmother knitted skibstroyggjur, fishermen's sweaters, to sell. Every day, Susanna had to knit her rows

Faroe Island Knitting

before she was allowed to go out and play. Susanna and her grandmother knitted the body of the sweater together. They sat opposite one another and knitted around on 8 to 12 double-pointed needles, depending on how large the sweater was to be. The yarn was held in the right hand, in typical Faroese fashion. The sleeves were knitted from the top down to the cuffs, which were bound off without ribbing. The armhole was cut open and the sleeves sewn in. The hole for the neck was only a slit with no finishing other than binding off.

The work had to go as quickly as possible, so only simple patterns such as St0ra and Litla skak (long and short slants), Skak og teinur (slants and sticks), and Loppan (lice) were knitted. The small, closely spaced patterns made the garment elastic, and an extra layer was formed on the inside by the threads which were carried so short a distance that they didn't need to be twisted or caught up.

The yarns were thick and gray or dyed aniline red, although the bottom part of the garments was often knitted with natural white yarn. The red color was called korki after a lichen which was used for dyeing before synthetic colors became available at the end of the nineteenth century. The lichen korki gives a blue-red color which can range from rose pink and light purple to dark wine red.

Sweaters similar to those exported from the Faroes have also been knitted in Halland, Sweden. Faroese-type patterns called jyske (which means that they are regarded as coming from Jutland) are found in southern Halland. Such sweaters have also been dubbed Icelandic, but it isn't true that the pattern is knitted in Iceland. Similar sweaters are seen in photographs from turn-of-the-century Greenland, and according to the price list at the Royal Greenland Store, the sweaters were imported from Jutland and the Faroe Islands.

The yarn used for the fishermen's sweaters was thick and hard and spun mostly from the sheep's outer coat of long, thick hairs. Yarn spun from the short, soft undercoat (nappa togv) was used only for the family's better clothes. The labor

A view of the islands ofHestur and Koltur from Velbastadur on Streymoy. Photo: Susanne Pagoldh.

Long slants and sticks is a common pattern on Faroese fishermen's sweaters.

of plucking the down from the hair was so time-consuming that it could take three days to get the wool for one jacket. For a really fine Sunday jacket, a dark brown down wool was used. The Faroese author Jens Christian Svabo, who traveled around the islands in 1781 and 1782, reported that up to 1 kilo (2.2 pounds) could be spun in one day and that two knitters working together could knit 1V2 sweaters per day. When the sweaters were finished, they were taken to shops in the village and sold to merchants. Payment was usually in goods, and those who didn't have their own wool had to knit three sweaters to get paid for one. The work, which involved not only knitting but carding, spinning, and washing, was so demanding that every minute of spare time was used for it. Milkmaids knitted on the way to and from the milking.

Between Christmas and New Year's Day, no knitting was done for the men, according to Susanna Johansen. Anyone who went out fishing in a sweater knitted during that period would not come back. But it was all right to knit garments to sell.

SHOES AND STOCKINGS

When Susanna was young and went to the fells with the cows, she usually wore leggold, footless leggings which covered the lower leg. Both inside and outside the house, she also wore skoleistur, short double-knitted and fulled socks. These are still knitted and are worn like slippers.

Knitting Faeroe IslandsKnitting Faeroe Islands

Skoleistur knitted by Nicolina Jensen from a S0rvag pattern (instructions, page 115). Photo: Susanne Pagoldh.

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Skoleistur knitted by Nicolina Jensen from a S0rvag pattern (instructions, page 115). Photo: Susanne Pagoldh.

Sweaters for export had simple patterns such as long slants, long slants back and forth, long slants and sticks, and short slants and sticks (see page 24). Loppan, (lice) and Pikkini ("pecking with a bird's beak") are at right and left at the bottom of the chart.

This nineteenth century konufolka-troyggja from the Torshavn Museum has more than 60 stitches and 70 rows per 10 cm (4 in)! Photo: Nicolina Jensen.

Faroese Sweaters
This sweater is knitted in a softer and finer yarn than the heavy sweaters previously knitted for export. The pattern is called Gäsaryggur, gooseback. Instructions are on page 85. Photo: Susanne

The men who went out to sea needed several changes of sweaters, mittens, and stockings. A fishing expedition to Iceland lasted two months and required four changes of clothes. A trip to Greenland lasted four months and needed seven changes. Even into the 1920s, some men who fished in small open boats were clothed in the traditional fisherman's costume of sewn hide and three-quarter-length trousers worn over wool clothes. They wore knitted stockings, pulshosur, which came up over the knees, and soft skin shoes. Sk0lingar, a type of knitted and well-fulled outer shoe with a sole of heavy felted fabric, were worn over the skin shoes (see p. 9). The sk0lingar made it easier to walk on the wet cliffs without slipping, and both they and skoleistur were also worn in the fells.

NATIONAL COSTUME

The thick, natural-colored sweaters which are now knitted in the Faroe Islands and sold to tourists were previously worn only by men and boys while working or at sea. In the old days, men who worked in the towns wore a woven wool vest over a blue-and-white knitted undersweater similar to Danish striped undersweaters or Norwegian Fana sweaters (see page 43). These undersweaters were sometimes edged with red woven bands or cloth strips; they were worn up until the beginning of the twentieth century.

Another part of the men's national costume is the knappatroyggja, a knitted jacket patterned in light and dark blue and edged with red bands. Twelve red-bordered buttonholes and twelve silver or tin buttons lined the front opening. The jacket is still worn with an embroidered vest, black wadmal (felted fabric) knee pants, and knitted stockings for festivals such as weddings or national holidays. Men also wore frynsamuffur, knitted wrist warmers which were embroidered and had fringe sticking out at the wrist.

Konufolkatroyggja, short-sleeved, pattern-knitted bodices were part of the women's national costume. Four colors are traditional: red, blue, green, and white. Older women and those in mourning wore bodices knitted in dark and light blue, and never in red. Now the bodices are often knitted in red and dark blue with thin yarn and fine needles. The old patterns were often named after the knitter who first created the pattern. One pattern which has been preserved is the eight-pointed star in a diagonal box.

A woven striped skirt was worn with the bodice. It was said that when a woman got a skirt, a man got a cap. A piece of the striped fabric was cut out from the skirt's front section and replaced

12 TECHNIQUE AND STYLE

National Patterns ScandinavianFaroe Islands Heimavirki

many different sources. By the sixteenth century, printed pattern books from Germany and Italy were available in Scandinavia. Even though the patterns were originally designed for embroidery in cross stitch or petit point, they were also suitable for knitting. Weaving patterns were also adapted for knitting, although it was most common to copy directly from a colored fabric or a sampler with many patterns knitted in a strip.

During the nineteenth century, inspiration came from books, newspapers, and fashion magazines which published instructions especially designed for knitting.

Many similar motifs found in knitting came from several parts of the world where they had various symbolic meanings. Often they had religious significance, but it is uncertain if those who knitted them regarded the figures as anything other than decorative.

For example, the eight-pointed star is used in several textile techniques, particularly weaving. It occurs in all the Nordic countries, but in knitted form it is regarded as typically Norwegian. Such stars were knitted and embroidered by the Arabs in Spain during the thirteenth century, and they are seen in the roof carvings of the Moorish palace Alhambra. In Islamic art, the eight-pointed star symbolized the four elements: earth, air, sun, and water, and the qualities of heat, dryness, coolness, and humidity. In Christian art, the eight-pointed star symbolized rebirth. The stars appeared as relief patterns on the expensive silk sweaters imported into Scandinavia during the seventeenth century and are still found on sweaters, mittens, and socks knitted today. The eight-pointed star is based on geometric forms—the

The Danish woe. -. -laenketr0jen (knit-ted sweater) frorr. Radbjerg on Fal-ster is an examp'.-. of how the empire style influenced : '- ■: length of women s sweaters at the beginning of the nineteenth century. The neck is edged wit h a silk band. On Fz ster, the word laenke means "to knit". Compare th: ■ sweater with the Danish one on pas-: 22 and the one from Skane (Sweden) on page 61. This sweater is in the National Museum in Copenhagen. Photo: Niels Elswing.

A sun wheel design from a mitten knitted in rust brown and white wool from Tofta on Gotland. The mitten is at the Nordic Museum in Stockholm.

12 TECHNIQUE AND STYLE

Scandinavian Knitting MuseumNordic Scandinavian Cross Stitch

many different sources. By the sixteenth century, printed pattern books from Germany and Italy were available in Scandinavia. Even though the patterns were originally designed for embroidery in cross stitch or petit point, they were also suitable for knitting. Weaving patterns were also adapted for knitting, although it was most common to copy directly from a colored fabric or a sampler with many patterns knitted in a strip.

During the nineteenth century, inspiration came from books, newspapers, and fashion magazines which published instructions especially designed for knitting.

Many similar motifs found in knitting came from several parts of the world where they had various symbolic meanings. Often they had religious significance, but it is uncertain if those who knitted them regarded the figures as anything other than decorative.

For example, the eight-pointed star is used in several textile techniques, particularly weaving. It occurs in all the Nordic countries, but in knitted form it is regarded as typically Norwegian. Such stars were knitted and embroidered by the Arabs in Spain during the thirteenth century, and they are seen in the roof carvings of the Moorish palace Alhambra. In Islamic art, the eight-pointed star symbolized the four elements: earth, air, sun, and water, and the qualities of heat, dryness, coolness, and humidity. In Christian art, the eight-pointed star symbolized rebirth. The stars appeared as relief patterns on the expensive silk sweaters imported into Scandinavia during the seventeenth century and are still found on sweaters, mittens, and socks knitted today. The eight-pointed star is based on geometric forms—the

The Danish woe. -. -laenketr0jen (knitted sweater) frorr. Radbjerg on Fal-ster is an example of how the empire style influenced the length of women s sweaters at the beginning of the nineteenth century. The neck is edged wit h a silk band. On Fz ster, the word laenke means "to knit". Compare th: ■ sweater with the Danish one on pas-: 22 and the one from Skane (Sweden) on page 61. This sweater is in the National Museum in Copenhagen. Photo: Niels Elswing.

A sun wheel design from a mitten knitted in rust brown and white wool from Tofta on Gotland. The mitten is at the Nordic Museum in Stockholm.

Nordic Knitting Motifs

with cloth of lesser quality, which wasn't visible under the apron. One still sees men in Torshavn wearing red-and-blue striped cloth caps with twelve folds in the top which protect the wearer against the trolls.

WOMEN'S SHAWLS

On the Faroes, the triangular knitted shawl is called bundnaturriklaehib. It is uncertain whether the name comes from binda, to knit, or from the fact that the shawl is worn bound at the back. The name could also refer to an old technique of tying the shawl onto a triangular board with nails.

Triangular shawls have been knitted in several Nordic countries, and they have been knitted in the Faroe Islands at least since the end of the nineteenth century. They are still popular among young women. They are distinguished from those knitted in Norway by the extra gore in the center which makes them four-edged. The gore narrows towards the upper edge so that the shawl fits well around the shoulders. The shawl's ends are long enough that they can be crossed over the chest, wrapped around the back, and then brought back to the front and tied at the waist. The shawls were also large enough to draw over the head during bad weather.

Shawls are knitted in natural colors, usually in one color with a lace border or with one or more borders in various colors. Traditionally, most shawls were knitted with only a simple crocheted edge rather than a fringe. The finer shawls knitted with thin yarn often had fringe and were lined in white so that the lace pattern would show up clearly.

DEBES'S PATTERN BOOK

As the nineteenth century ended, contacts with the outer world increased, and interest in the national costume and old patterns were almost forgotten. Patterned sweaters were replaced with solid-colored dark blue or dark brown ones. However, some people still interested in handicrafts organized several exhibits, and a number of the old knitting patterns were collected and knitted up in a long sampler which was shown in Copenhagen in 1929. The Danish queen Alexandrina was so charmed by the patterns that she gave the master tailor Hans Marius Debes the mission of collecting and publishing a book of Faroese knitting patterns. F0roysk bindingarmynstur by Debes, published in 1932, listed more than 100 patterns which are still knitted today, and the book has been reprinted by Heimavirki, the handicraft center in Torshavn.

Many older women continue to knit shawls, mittens, sweaters, and skdleistur to sell, although they earn very little. The fishermen's sweaters are knitted by hand in simple patterns because it is too difficult to knit tight, complicated patterns in heavy yarn. More intricately patterned sweaters knitted with thin yarn are usually done by machine with pattern cards. These are exported worldwide.

Susanna Johansen still knits, mostly for her own family. Susanna's daughter, Nicolina Jensen, continues the tradition. For the past fifteen years, she has taught courses on the old Faroese wool crafts, including spinning, and she helps with the textile collection in the Torshavn Mu-

Frynsamuffur (at left), knitted and embroidered wool wrist warmers from the Torshavn Museum collection. Photo: Susanne Pagoldh.

The instructions for the shawl Johanna Maria comes from the Faroese Handicraft Center. It can be knitted in either a one- or two-ply yarn. Instructions, page 110. Photo: Susanne Pagoldh.

Faroe Islands Shawls
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