Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Wonderful mittens: a review of Selbuvotter

A post of Maia's led me to this wonderful book:

(read more about the book here)

Terri Shea has written an informative and inspirational book about the black and white mittens developed in the Norwegian town Selbu during the late 19th & early 20th centuries. You can see pictures of traditional Selbu knitting at their Knitting Museum (in Norwegian) and at this new-to-me blog, Norway Needles.

The book arose from a project to catalog mittens in Seattle's Nordic Heritage Museum (they're having a Nordic knitting conference in October), and features many mittens from the museum. Other mittens come from Annemor Sundbø's collection. I find these especially appealing because they are used -- they came from the shoddy pile described in Everyday Knitting: Treasures from a Ragpile. The wear on them reminds me that the point of all that knitting is to keep someone warm, and the mending shows how a special textile can be treasured and used even when it is no longer new.

Shea has charted and reproduced 9 pairs of gloves and 22 pairs of mittens. In all but one case she has charted the mittens exactly as they were knit, even when that produces an oddly shaped handcovering -- one pair is nearly square. (The design on the other mitten was knit freeform; the chart tidies it up a bit.) There are good sized pictures of the newly-knitted mittens and (in most cases) tiny pictures of the originals. I found I missed those tiny pictures when they weren't included. For instance, NHM #1, on pp. 86-87, was apparently originally knit using three shades of the pattern color, perhaps to use up leftovers. I'd like to have seen how that looked, but no picture was included. (The photos are all in black and white, but value differences ought to show up.)

Instructions for the mittens are thorough, and include a discussion of how to alter the pattern to change either the size or the shape. There's also a nice introductory section on techniques particular to these mittens & gloves. It's probably not enough for someone who has never knitted mittens before, but is rather intended to orient knitters who are new to Selbu-style knitting.

The yarn originally used for most of the mittens is no longer made. Shea and her test knitters have used several different yarns to knit the patterns in the book. This is especially nice, because some are thicker than others. You could easily alter the size of the patterns just by switching yarns. Yarns used include Jamieson & Smith jumper weight, Raumagarn Røros Lamullgarn, Dalegarn Tiur, Raumagarn Gammelserie, and Harrisville New England Knitter's Shetland, among others. Gauges range from 28-38 stitches per 10 cm; most are around 28-32.

I have only a few criticisms. One, as mentioned above, is that I would have liked to see the original mittens in all cases. I wish there was a little more discussion of the arrangement of motifs in the designs -- why are so many of the animals (reindeer, moose, a wonderful dog) upside down from the wearer's point of view? It's not like your hands hang at your side very often. Perhaps it's so the animal is right side up for the viewer when the wearer reaches out to them?

But my only serious criticism is the ordering of the patterns. If there's any logic, it escapes me. Gloves and mittens are jumbled together; patterns for men's, women's, and children's sizes are intermixed. A mitten labeled as "a great first Selbuvotter pattern" (p. 113) is nearly the last one given.

I'm not sure exactly how I would have ordered them myself. I might have started with the most typical mitten designs (Shea describes the pairs on pp. 43-44 and 118-119 as "textbook"), then given more unusual mitten designs, and finally glove designs. Or I might have started with the oldest style and ended with the most recent, though that seems much trickier to determine. Perhaps I would have included a chart giving the gauge, needle size, finished size, and page numbers of each design, so that knitters could see their options laid out in one place.

But these are minor quibbles. This book is exactly my cup of tea. I raced through it on first reading, and look forward to a slower re-reading and many happy days knitting the patterns. I especially like Shea's liberal references to other books on the history of Scandinavian knitting; I'm sure I'll be on my couch soon, surrounded by all of them, reading in first one and then another. If you like traditional knitting, or mittens, or knitting history, or all three, then it will be your cup of tea, too.

1 comment:

jessie said...

Ha, I set up a new google account! Problem solved.