As promised here is my post on the Selbu mittens I knit in February and March and a photographic revisit of the snow, cold and freeze we had earlier this month. Right now at the end of the month it seems somewhat bizarre to think that this wasn’t that long ago. However, while our days have steadily warmed up under the April sun from the midway point of the month, our nights have been quite cold still -can you tell I have a formidable group of seedlings that I am herding inside each time the temperature gets too cold and then out the door whenever possible?-. Anyway before I loose myself in garden talk and fully unleash all things spring on this blog lets have a last visit to our winter-in-spring earlier this month and to these lovely colourwork mittens.
These are Norwegian stranded colourwork mittens knit in the Selbu tradition originating from Selbu in the county of South-Trøndelag. Selbu knitting, especially Selbu mittens, are well known in the knitting world and beyond and particularly the eight-pointed star (or rose) in its many variations is famed and recognised around the world. I’ve long wanted to make myself a pair of these iconic mittens and earlier this year during a massive mitten phase I freed up some space on the needles and cast on.
As with any big knitting tradition with a rich history you are spoiled for choice as to what pattern to go with. Even more so, for non Norwegian speakers that is, since Anne Bårdsgård’s fantastic book Selbuvotter was translated from Norwegian to English as Selbu Mittens in 2019. The book features over 500 charts and 35 written out mitten patterns, as well as a wealth of information on the history of Selbu knitting, the construction of Selbu mittens and on the origin of motifs. The book is well researched and a gem for anyone who is interested in Norwegian knitting. If you are a more adventurous minded knitter you need not restrict yourself to the use of the charts only for mittens or gloves but can use them in a plethora of other projects. Late in 2021 Anne Bårdsgård’s other book, Selbu Patterns, focussing on charts for jumpers, cardigan, socks and hats, was translated into English and it is just as good as its mitten focussed predecessor! I like books that encourage your own creativity in putting together motifs and combinations and I think the two books work nicely together in this way.
There are 35 written out patterns in the back of the book as well as a few empty mitten charts to draw out your own mitten designs. The mittens I knit mostly follows the pattern for “Men’s Mittens by Hanna Fuglem from Selbustrand”. Apart from her name and location there is no back story or even a date included for the mittens, which is a pity as most of the other mittens do have some personal history included in the pattern which gives some extra character to the mittens. I really enjoyed reading through the small bits and pieces known about the original knitters of the other mitten patterns, though one pattern in particular was a bit of trip – its original knitter turned out to be a serial murderer – that send me off down several rabbitholes for the evening!
Sadly not much is known about Hana Fuglem, the original knitter and designer of these mittens, but I’m so glad Bårdsgård included the pattern anyway as it’s such a beautiful design. It was a standout pair for me, from the moment I got my first peek at the book. The mittens feature a really small ribbed cuff, followed by a stranded cuff. Traditionally a a stranded cuff would make it a men’s mitten, whereas plain ribbed cuffs or chevron cuffs would make it women’s mittens. However gender binaries are foolish and we are in 2022, so stranded cuff mittens for those who want them it is!
The main motif of the mitten is a twice repeated eight point star variation motif framed by smaller stranded motifs. The star motif is echoed on the thumb, which is adorned by two smaller stars, as well as on centre cuff band which also features small eight pointed stars. The palm pattern features a cross trellis pattern that if you were a knitter during the advent of online knitting communities you will recognise from a very popular fingerless mitten pattern that everyone was knitting at the time.
I made some changes to the stranded cuff. The measurements for these mittens are for men’s mittens, which make them slightly wider and longer than is ideal for my hands. So to remedy that I made some alterations to the cuff: I kept the centre star motif but I replaced the two peerie motifs with other motifs from the book. I replaced them with two other, smaller, motifs from the book to make the cuff less high. In honesty though, I would have replaced the upper peerie row anyway as it wasn’t to my taste. I also did fewer plain rows between the peerie rows than the pattern suggested, also with the aim to make the mittens shorter.
Apart from altering the cuff I purposely knit these mittens at a tighter gauge to take them in a bit. This meant I was knitting the entire pair on tiny needles, which worked really well. They came out a bit stiff and scrunched, but blocking, as usually, beautifully relaxed the stitches and created a nice fabric that is all in all still quite firm. For blocking I just washed the mittens and didn’t pin them or stretch them out over mitten blockers (I don’t have those) but just laid them flat to dry. By chance, the mittens came out the exact size of my favourite store bought mittens which was a lovely accidental stroke of luck as I more or less just eyeballed it and made my modifications on the go.
The only other pair of mittens I’ve knit before are, and have been for a while, in a poor state of pilling and disarray to the point where the palm pattern is completely obscured by a fluff layer. The yarn was the recommended yarn, but I don’t think it was well suited to the project given the pilly mess it’s been in for years, despite not super heavy usage. Anyway, because of this yarn mismatch I wanted to make sure that the yarn choice for this pair of mittens would be a good or at least better choice then my previous mitten adventure.
The yarn and fibre of sheep breeds were Selbu mittens of old were made from aren’t really available as such any more because breeding has irrevocably changed the quality and characteristics of the fibre even when using the same sheep breed. From what I gathered from the book, mittens were made from firm, rough, and strong yarns. An unsurprising choice for hardy, warm work mittens. These mittens also didn’t felt as easy as mittens knit in later periods, which were slightly fuzzier. I find this type of thing super interesting and it might be an intriguing spinning rabbit hole to fall into at a later date to try and spin up something resembling this strong and resilient Selbu yarn of old with fibres available today. The book also mentions the Selbu Spinneri, a small Norwegian mill, that has, amongst other things, been making an effort to recreate yarns used in selbu knitting throughout history by using old (and rare) Norwegian sheep breeds. If you are not in Norway this yarn is hard to come by though, but it is definitely on my list of things to check out should I ever find myself on those shores.
I decided to go with Rauma Gammelserie, which is among the yarns used in the book to recreate the historical mittens. The name translates as “the old series” and is spun with extra twist making it more durable and resistant to pilling. The yarn is also recommended for traditional Norwegian socks, mittens and hats. This all sounded very promising for my purposes and since I have good experiences with their Finull yarn I decided to place an order. This was my first project in this yarn and it was a pleasurable experience! The yarn is indeed noticeably smoother and has more twist than the Finull yarn but retains some of the same characteristics and woollyness. As with all new yarns I try I was a bit worried about colour leaking as I used such a strong main colour, but there was zero leaking so all was perfect. I hope this yarn is indeed strong and will hold up with wear and will fare better than my other pair of mittens. Time and wear will tell I guess, but I would like to use this yarn again and will keep it in mind for my next mitten forays and possibly as a no-nylon sock candidate.
Selbu mittens, as most Norwegian colourwork, mostly used two colours with strong contrast. The samples in the book are all black on white colourwork. This was indeed a popular choice in the old days but I think the book also intentionally choose to make all samples in the same colours for uniformity. The book does show some examples of old mittens and mentions different (frequently) used colour combinations. I knew almost instantly that I was going to reverse the colour value of the colourwork; so light on dark colourwork instead of dark on light. Gammelseries doesn’t have as many colours as the finull range but there is still a nice selection to choose from. When I saw this gorgeous dark copper red colourway it was an instant winner. For the contrast colourway I went with an undyed natural colour that is actually a (VERY) light heathery grey. This was the only natural heathery colourway they had at the store I bought it from but I decided to go with this one over the bleached off-white for some extra interest in the mittens. I really like Selbu mittens with a coloured main colour and think it will look equally fantastic in a green, ochre or blue main colour.
Thumb stitches are picked up from the thumb gap over the palm. It’s important to pick up the stitches in continuation of the palm pattern, if you pick the stitches up with just the solid colour the pattern will be broken up noticeably. Continuous pattern from palm to inner thumb is a feature of traditional Selbu mittens but apart from that I also think it looks great and is well worth the extra bother of paying attention to the patterning when picking up stitches.
I’m happy and super pleased with how this first pair of Selbu mittens came out. The colour and pattern combination just sings to me. I think it goes great with my new handmade Shetland coat, especially when the lining peeks out ever so slightly. The patterning is quite intricate and detailed, and with the different star motifs on the mitten is such a spectacular representation of Selbu knitting. The fit of the mittens is really good on my hands, so I’m glad my on the fly tinkering work out. It sounds somewhat bizarre given the snow photos in April, but our winter was extremely mild. I hope next winter and all our coming winters do not follow that same trajectory, mostly because I don’t want our planet to be destroyed, but also so I can wear these gorgeous, cleverly designed mittens loads!
See you later!