This is my workhorse sweater. I have always loved the traditional Norwegian lusekofte (“lice jacket”) sweaters. Yeah, sorry, it’s not snowflakes, it’s LICE. This one I completed some years ago; the pattern is from Dale 4405. The yarn is Heilo, and has worn like iron. It’s warm and gets many compliments.
Several years after I completed it, Annemor Sundbo published Setesdal Sweaters: The History of the Norwegian Lice Pattern (2001). According to Annemor, whose knitwear studio in Kristiansund Norway I hope to visit, these sweaters, also called “setesdalgenser” (setesdal sweater) have a long history. Here is a bit of it:
Setesdal is an traditional district running north and south along the Otra river valley in southern Norway. Before the Viking age (late 8th to 11th centuries), these traditional districts were often petty kingdoms. Before telecommunication and updated travel means (bridges, airports, railroads) as late as the the 1960's and 70's these traditional districts were fairly self contained, allowing for preservation of traditional culture.
Annemor says that everyone in Norway has owned a variation of a setesdalgenser at some time in their life. Personally, I feel that the human eye is drawn to a traditional repetitive pattern and that fact adds to the appeal of these sweaters. Traditionally, lusekofte were working men’s sweaters, and in some ways still are: even today in Norway a setesdalgenser with a shirt and tie may be considered business attire.
From old photographs and works of art, Annemor dates these sweaters to the early 19th century. Adolph Tidemand (1814-1876), painted beautiful historical views of Norway’s people and some of these include depictions of lusekofte. Karl Sundt-Hansen (1841-1907) was another painter whose images includes some views of old knitwear. Annemore has many beautiful art images which include garments in her book.
Lusekofte are practical, warm garments. An old one is seen above. These sweaters were knit in their natural colors from the sheep. The black wool was less prevalent and thus used for the visible part of the sweater, above the waist. Men often wore woolen trousers with very high waistbands, sort of resembling overalls, so the garment need not be long. Traditionally the bottom part of the sweater was done in solid white, which was not visible below the waistband. The double strands to create the two color pattern provided warmth. In the traditional manner, the body of the sweater is knit in the round; originally on four long double points, now often on circular needles. Fancier lusekofte had lovely embroidery done in traditional patterns around the neck and sometimes the cuffs, this is still sometimes seen. Helene whose blog I’ve read for a long time has instructions for adding embroidery here. (Helene blogs in Norwegian these days but she is fluent in English is case you've a question for her.) Annemor’s book has instructions as well. My lusekofte has sewn on purchased braid.
Sometimes one sees this type of patterning called “fair isle,” referring to stranded knitting, in common parlance. As we all know (right??) Fair Isle is in Scotland. I have read that due to early shipping, fishing, and of course invasions in the northern hemisphere, knitting traditions were easily transferred from one culture to another. An example of an invasion: one of Tidemand’s paintings is Sinclair’s Landing in Romsdal, an illustration of a Scottish clan invasion in Norway in 1612.
Many variances and variations of all patterned sweaters exist, both due to tradition or cultural variations, and the individual knitter’s or designer's creativity. The incredibly lovely sweaters by Dale of Norway and other companies are all derivatives of these earlier designs. More on updated Norwegian and Scandinavian designs in future posts.
Information on Annemor can be found at her website. For more fiber eye candy, apparently she has a flicker site with many photos of old knitted garments! The story of how she acquired these is in another book of hers, Everyday Knitting: Treasures from a Ragpile. I should mention that one of my favorite books on Scandinavian knitting is Susanne Pagold's Nordic Knitting. She has a beautiful pattern for a lusekofte as well.