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  • Robin Sweeney

Selbu Knitting

What the heck is Selbu Knitting?

I have to admit that was my first reaction when GBKG’s Education Director, Laura Konopka, announced she would be having six sessions on Selbu Knitting at the Monday Night Knit Chats. I suspected they were Scandinavian in origin but otherwise did not know anything about them, so I did a little research.

Norway’s knitting tradition started in the 15th century, and historians speculate that the practice was introduced in the century prior by Danish knitters who travelled through Normandy. The region is best known for its knitted eight-point star-roses pattern from Selbu (a municipality in Norway), commonly referred to as the Selburose. In the shape of a regular octagram this traditional motif is most often used today for all types of winter clothing, but originated first as a vertical column of two snowflakes on the front side of mittens, today known as “Selbu mittens” or “Selbuvotten.”

The origin of these mittens is attributed to a young girl named Marit Emstad, who in 1852 was living in a very secluded valley in Norway. She was helping out on the farm by herding the cattle and sheep and in her spare time, she would knit with the home spun white yarn from the sheep on the farm. But, the story goes, as the farm also had sheep with black wool so she had brought along some of that wool/yarn as well. Then she tied something completely new--knitting a few stitches with the white yarn, then some stitches with the black yarn. She kept trying and testing and then realized the contrast between the white and black yarn would make it possible to create all kinds of patterns in the knitting. In 1857, Marit attended church with her two sisters, all wearing what we now know as Selbu mittens, knitted by her. Marit’s two-color two-strand technique fascinated the community and was quickly adopted across the land. Today there are over 400 “registered” Selbu mitten patterns in Norway alone. The municipality of Selbu, Norway even has the Selbu Rose as their Coat of Arms.

Traditionally only worked with two colors, patterns for these mittens could often be very intricate. Because of this, Selbuvott was used as a form of a dowry for young girls since Selbuvott required an intense amount of time care and skilled practice in order to perfect the technique and get the desired look. A girl would start knitting these mittens from a very young age so that she could present them to her future husband and wedding guests.

The Selburose motif and its many variations continue to be the most commonly used, modified and adapted visual in Norwegian knitting. It is even found on the sweaters for the Olympic teams. Pretty impressive for an 11-year-old girl!

To learn more about Selbu mitten knitting, consider attending the Monday night Knit Chats, and watch Laura share what she has learned about each step of the process. There is bound to be information shared that would help with any kind of colorwork.

References:; Wiki; Knits & Pieces, 2017, by Danielle Holke

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