Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Book Review: Norwegian Handknits

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Norwegian Handknits. Heirloom Designs from the Vesterheim Museum
by Sue Flanders and Janine Kosel
Voyageur Press 2009
ISBN: 978-0-7603-3428-7

This book was published in 2009. I bought it because I wanted a book on Norwegian knitting, but didn't want one where the emphasis was on large garment patterns. This book offers a mix of content so was just what I was looking for. I am reviewing it now, some time after purchase, because I have at last knitted one of the designs from the book.

The foundation underlying everything in the book is the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum in Iowa. The museum was initially set up as a repository for materials, belonging to Norwegian immigrants to the US, which might otherwise have been thrown out. The authors have been frequent visitors to the museum (which is introduced to readers at the start of the book) and all the patterns have been inspired by textiles in the Vesterheim collection, the heirlooms of the subtitle. The word "inspiration" is appropriate, in many cases the patterns do not recreate items in the museum, instead a different item has been designed, using a motif or features from another. So a knapsack uses a Selbu star pattern from some gloves and a cushion cover is inspired by an embroidered shirt.

Norwegian Handknits has four chapters. The first includes seven patterns that use the most basic of knitting techniques, many of which were inspired by a baby hat knitted in 1891 and now in the museum. Chapter 2 includes five slightly more advanced patterns all including traditional embellishment of some sort. There are instructions for additional techniques, including on how to apply "shag" (a cut wool decoration). Chapter 3 is the longest chapter and focuses on two-colour knitting. There are 18 patterns here, for hats, headbands, socks, mittens, a knapsack and jumpers. Finally, chapter 4 covers what are described as Adventurous Techniques. There are four patterns, two using entrelac and two for cushions.

The two colour patterns are charted (only), and the charts are adequately sized. Some of the single colour patterns have both charts and written descriptions. A range of yarns from a number of manufacturers is used in the book, there are details of US suppliers and sufficient information provided for substitution.

The book starts with a Foreword about the museum, and includes photographs from the Vesterheim archive. My favourite photo is at the start of chapter 1, taken in the 1890s it shows a mother knitting as her little daughter sleeps. There are photos of the inspirational historic items (some more historical than others, I'm not too sure about gloves from 1950!) as well as clear pictures of the finished projects and step by step photos for techniques.

On first reading, in spite of the variety offered, none of the patterns really made me want to pick up my needles. However, a time came when I wanted to make a pair of traditionally-shaped Norwegian mittens with a big flower motif on them. The perfect pattern turned out to be in this book - Flower Mittens (p93). I found the pattern easy to follow and quite educational. Although there is no section in the book on traditional mitten thumbs and shaping, just making these mitts was an excellent primer. I used my own handspun for the contrast colour and some standard DK weight yarn for the background. I am delighted with the result. However, do check for errata before starting work. There are quite a few - find documents listing them here.

This is a great book if you like a little background (but not too much) about your patterns, like knitting accessories, enjoy old photos and have an interest in traditional techniques. It is not ideal for you if you want many large garment (jumper/jacket/coat/dress) patterns or want to work only with truly authentic materials.

Disclosure: I purchased this book

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