There’s nothing that can make you feel more like an inferior knitter than opening the book Twined Knitting by Birgitta Dandanell and Ulla Danielsson, and noting the many, many pictures of women toting small children and farm implements about as they work industriously on a beautifully detailed piece of knitting. It also brings home the fact that knitting used to be a more utilitarian part of everyday life with a small bump. I’ll quote here the first three sentences of the book:
“‘An industrious knitter could just about finish a man’s stocking in a 15 kilometer stretch of even, easy walking.’ So said an 80-year old woman from Leksand in the 1890’s. While certainly not true, it expresses the diligence of Swedish knitters at the time.”
Well, thank heavens it’s not true. I think we’ve all got enough to feel inferior about without thinking we should be capable of walking 15 kilometers and knitting a stocking at the same time. Nonetheless, it is true that knitting was not something that Swedish women did to the exclusion of other activities. One woman born in 1890 described how her mother taught her to hold a rake under her arm and thus leave her hands free to knit.
The summer months were often given over to knitting, meaning that by the time winter rolled around, a family would have a good stock of socks, mittens, and other winter necessities. These were all knit in the style known as twined knitting (tvåändsstickning). Twined knitting differs from other forms of knitting in its extreme durability, its incredible warmth, and its unusual stiffness, which meant that the fabric held its shape.
All of these qualities, as you can imagine, were useful during the cold Swedish winter. (The Cold Swedish Winter, coincidentally, is the name of a song by Jens Lekman. He has nothing to do with knitting at all, but I encourage you to check him out.) Mittens and stockings needed to hold up through work and weather, and the inflexible and thick fabric created by twined knitting was perfect for the job.
Knitting was not a uniform art throughout Sweden. In parts of Sweden, the Norwegian tradition of using the purl side of mittens on the outside was common, while in other areas, the knit side was the one favored. Naturally, the Norwegian crossovers occurred close to the Norwegian border, and it seems that Swedish knitting similarly influenced Norwegian knitters. Early drawings show Norwegian knitters of the 19th century plugging away at their twined knitting.
We can see, then, that twined knitting, though rarely used and nearly unknown today, was a common and useful tool that Scandanavian knitters have utilized with great results. I’ll continue the history of twined knitting in a future entry. As to how I intend to use it myself – well, obviously the winter months in California simply don’t have the bite of a frigid Northern icestorm, but still, my extremities begin to turn blue with cold. I’m thinking that the stiffness and warmth of the cloth would make this technique perfect for slippers.