If you think about it, many of the most iconic classics of knitting -- Fair Isle sweaters, Shetland shawls, Norwegian mittens -- come from Northern Europe. Which makes sense, because winters there get really cold, and something had to be done to help keep people warm before central heating. The fact that sheep are raised in these areas as well made it a natural for knitting traditions to be established.
British knit designer Lucinda Guy explores the rich knitting heritage of this region in Northern Knits: Designs Inspired by the Knitting Traditions of Scandinavia, Iceland and the Shetland Isles.
The book is divided into four sections: Iceland, Shetland, Norway and Sweden. Each area's knitting history is briefly traced, followed by five patterns (20 in all).
The patterns are all for women and range from delicate shawls to chunky sweaters, twined socks and mittens to decorated caps. Most use fine yarn native to the country that is being highlighted. No skill levels are given, but most are for intermediate and advanced knitters.
Size ranges are wide but there are sometimes large jumps between sizes. For example, the smallest size in the Unnur Icelandic Pullover is 34.25 inches around the bust, while the next size up is 41 inches.
While many of the projects look quite traditional and are certainly inspired by the projects of the part, they also often have a more modern shape or color palette that makes them a little more interesting for today's knitter who isn't terribly interested in historical accuracy.
When I looked through the book the first time I stopped about every other pattern and said, "Oh, that's cute," which is a sign of approval from me.
Some favorites on further inspection are the Hulda Striped Pullover, worked in shades of white, gray, black and red; the Lilja Textured Jacket, with it's highly textured tuck stitch and twisted ribbing; the easy Nell Shetland Cap, with a Fair Isle band of knitting embellished by embroidery; The Pia Laceweight Pullover, featured on the cover, which has a lovely lacy patterns worked in a muted multicolored yarn; and the Ulla Twined Socks, a great way to learn the twined knitting technique.
These patterns are all authentically European, including the supplies used. Dale of Norway is the only yarn used that is widely distributed in the United States. One other yarn company has one American distributor listed on its website, one sells online, but shipping from Sweden is likely prohibitively expensive. The final yarn company does not appear to sell its wares online.
While you can certainly make these patterns with other yarns, it does take a bit of fun out of knitting a project with, say, a traditional Swedish pattern but having to use an American yarn.
Some of the projects also call for size 3mm knitting needles, for which there is no American equivalent. But a change in yarn may well change the knitting needle size you need anyway, and it is possible to find 3mm needles (Addi, for one, makes them).
Despite these extra hurdles placed in the way of American knitters, many are sure to find it worthwhile to find the proper yarn and needles to produce these projects, even if they aren't using exactly what was intended. You do lose a little something that way, but of course it is right and normal that many yarn producers are small and don't have wide distribution outside their home countries.
These patterns would still be fun to knit and give knitters a taste of those Northern European knitting traditions no matter what kind of yarn they use.
Publication date: April 2010