Thursday, 22 April 2010


Those of us not born Norwegian tend to think of this country as a land of snow and ice and cold. We just can't help it...that's the general impression. So some people are a wee bitty feart when they are told to come here....just how cold is it going to be? And how do people manage to keep warm? So, naturally enough, when I first arrived, I innocently asked a Norwegian how the Norwegians survive the cold.

‘Ull, ull, ull,’ she said flatly. I quickly thumbed through the dictionary, pages flapping in the freezing wind. 

‘Ah, wool, wool, wool,’ I cried.

She began to elaborate. ‘Woollen socks,vital. Woollen underwear, essential. Woollen jumper,of course.  Woollen gloves, naturally. Woollen hat, at all times. You will need all of these. Go and buy them immediately.’ I’ve been obeying her ever since.

Now, in an attempt at clarity, let me be just point out, for the sake of our American and Canadian friends, when I say ‘jumper’ I mean ‘sweater’....this curious British term for an everyday garment has already caused no end of confusion amongst the international community here, so I apologize for my pedantry in pointing this out.

So in trying to keep warm, it is no wonder the Norwegians are accomplished knitters. They have a big need for good, warm, woollen clothing. They are particularly fussy about socks....only pure wool socks are any use to anyone contemplating a stroll, ski or climb, the point being that even if the wool becomes wet, it will still keep your tootsies toastie.

This Norwegian practical approach to the wearing of weather-appropriate clothing has quite an effect on one’s wardrobe. I am shocked to discover I no longer own a single stiletto. Gone and my silks and satins, my feathers and frills and fripperies. In their place I have a monstrous heap of fleece, denim, gortex and wool. And you should SEE the jumpers.

I’m sure there is many a Christmas card sporting cheery families round a piano gleefully singing carols, each person decked out in a knitted jumper sprinkled with snow-flakes and prancing reindeer. We could do that. We could take that shot and send that card. It was almost irresistible last year, but I WILLED myself not to succumb. We have so many of those jumpers now, we could easily stage a Yule-tide musical.

But they are enchanting, you see. I challenge anyone to come back from this country without a fabulous Norwegian jumper which will last them for years and years.

As with many things round here, the Vikings started it. When at home, Mr Viking did what Mrs Viking said...she was the one who held the keys of the house, generally ran the place, and did the knitting. It took SO LONG to create a garment from scratch, having had to her your own sheep first, shear it, card the wool, spin it, dye it and then knit it, that clothes were extremely valuable. So from then on, a decent knitted jumper has held the status of a family heirloom, the best ones being handed down through generations.

However, it wasn’t just the jumpers themselves that were handed down. With much of the population living a fairly isolated life, cut off from each other by natural boundaries, the traditions and crafts of rural communities determined what is ‘Norwegian design’ more than anything else. The long winter months meant people had time for a variety of home-based industries, decorating their interiors, making furniture, and creating beautiful clothes. Skills, forms and patterns were handed down from one generation to another, and this love of handicrafts is very much a living tradition even today. Fortunately for me, various companies now design and manufacture Norwegian jumpers, so thank heavens I don’t have to knit my own...I just buy them. The designs are still evolving, but it is true to say there is a particular look to a Norwegian jumper.

One does have to be a SLIGHTLY careful. You can over-do it as far as the prancing reindeer are concerned, and I don’t want to end up looking like that Christmas card. So I’m wondering just how much I will be wearing these things back home in Scotland. But they are so warm, and so decorative, and so well-made, I’m never going to get rid of them. I’m hooked.


  1. When my "mother-in-law to be" knitted me a "Fana-kofte" (the pattern shown on the photo accompanying your previous article) twenty eight years ago, it was her way of showing that I could ask for her daughter's hand. We are still married, I still have the kofte in my closet - and it still fits :) Norwegian sweathers are timeless.....

  2. Jane, great blogs as always, I must say I always enjoy Tors comments too, they add to the Norwegian-ness (yes it is a real word!)and bring on my nostalgia for Norway, its history and its way of life. Love from vicki

  3. that a Norsk tradition? And how you must have kept 'in trim' all that time to still be able to fit it?

    Vicky...I guess once you have lived in Norway, it never quite rubs off.