Knitting is wonderful, and embroidery is wonderful, but a knitted piece with lavish embroidery is simply sublime. Master crafters, the Norwegians knew how to make utilitarian necessities into wearable art. For centuries, knitted and nålbinding hand coverings were embellished with colorful folk and geometric embroidered designs that were not only decorative, they also made use of small scraps of fiber and added a just a little more warmth—valuable ideas for us to add to our gloves and mittens today. Past PieceWork editor and current Spin Off editor Kate Larson gives us a fascinating glimpse into this intriguing intersection of different needle art techniques that will inspire you to add a touch of history to your hand accessories. —PieceWork Editors
Like many other examples of everyday cloth, handcoverings not only serve a humble purpose but can also express a personal aesthetic and connection to local community. In Norway, as in other parts of Scandinavia and the Baltic region, mittens and gloves were symbolic gifts during betrothals and weddings, often decorated with regionally specific patterns. Finely crafted handcoverings were worn to church or other special occasions as a show of skill and cultural identity.
Norway has a long tradition of embroidered handcoverings made with crewel (woolen embroidery) adorning woven fabrics and pieces created with nålbinding or knitting. Knitting is the newest of these textile techniques, but it makes up the largest group of extant handcoverings. The earliest knitted fragment found in Norway to date is currently on display in the museum at the University of Bergen and has been dated to the early sixteenth century. The fragment was discovered during excavation in Bergen’s historic Bryggen area. Since Bergen was a historically important trading port, it is unclear whether this fragment originated in Norway. The Hallingdal district of Norway is particularly well known for its embroidery style. The mitts shown below were brought to the United States by Borghild Halvorson from Hallingdal in about 1907.
Left: The rosesaum style of embroidery resembles the folk art painting style known as rosemaling. Right: Bright millspun embroidery yarns were widely available by the close of the nineteenth century. Photos courtesy of the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, Decorah, Iowa.