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They have been used as a symbol of resistance in times of war.
They have been worn by athletes at the Winter Olympics, workers, and pretty much everyone, including people in other countries.
They also provided women a way to earn their own money, playing an important role in women's independence.
The Selbu pattern has a key place in Norwegian history and traditions.
Let's travel to the small village of Selbu in Trøndelag, where it all started.
Do you love knitting? Then you have something in common with the people of Selbu! Learn the story behind Selbu's famous icon, Selbu mittens.
If you drive about an hour south-east of Trondheim in the Trøndelag region, you will arrive at the idyllic village of Selbu.
With only a little over 4,000 inhabitants in the whole municipality, it's not a large village. But it has rich traditions and is an important centre for Norwegian handicrafts. The village even has its own home crafts heritage centre, called Selbu Husflidscentral, which is dedicated to the preservation and dissemination of local crafts, knowledge, and traditions, with a special focus on double stranded knitting, which is the technique used to craft the famous Selbu mittens.
Selbu Husflidscentral is located in the same premises as the Selbu Bygdemuseum, a local history museum situated right beside Selbu church in the centre of the village. The museum is housed inside a beautiful former vicarage and houses a massive collection of Selbu mittens, including some of the oldest known examples. The exhibitions tell the story of how Selbu went from being a mining village to a knitting paradise.
“Selbu used to be known for just one thing, and that was millstones,” says Annee Grøtte Viken, managing director of Selbu Husflidscentral.
Millstone production was Selbu's most important export industry from the 16th century and right up to around the start of the First World War, when Germany started producing stones industrially. The villagers needed to find another way to make money. That's when knitting Selbu mittens started to become really popular.
The Selbu mitten pattern dates back to the 1800s, and was originally designed by a young woman named Marit Guldsetbru Emstad. It's said she was only around 15 or 16 years old when she first made the complicated double-stranded pattern with its famous Selburosa, or Selbu rose.
“She was inspired by a headpiece she saw worn in church,” says Annee.
When millstone production was winding down in Selbu, tradespeople in the village gradually turned from millstones to mittens. A local tradesman, F.R. Birch, gave the mittens a flying start by sending them to national and international exhibitions, such as the industrial exhibition in Kristiania (now Oslo), and the Exposition Universelle in Paris.
Marit Emstad herself was also very much aware of their potential. From the very beginning, she played an active role in selling and marketing the mittens. Shortly after the end of the First World War locals founded Selbu Husflidscentral and started to export Selbu mittens all around the world on a grand scale.
“For the many women of Selbu, knitting mittens in many ways made their work visible for the first time. It not only enabled them to show off their skills and creativity, but it was also a chance for the women to make their own money and gain their independence” says Annee.
It was also popular to knit sweaters with the Selbu pattern, as well as socks and other items of clothing.
Selbu Husflidscentral is a home crafts centre dedicated to preserving and sharing knowledge about local crafts and traditions, and is committed to supporting locals who are involved in making Selbu mittens, from sheep farmers to knitters. The centre has a strong focus on sustainable materials and production.
Selbu Husflidscentral shares premises with Selbu Bygdemuseum, where there is a knitting exhibition featuring some of the oldest Selbu mittens ever made, as well as new models. Here, you can also buy yarn, patterns, and everything you need to knit your own mittens.
The centre is applying to be registered on UNESCO's list of intangible cultural heritage.
Source: Selbu Husflidscentral
As the popularity of the Selbu mittens increased, more and more Selbygger, Selbu residents, began to knit for money. When the popularity of the mittens reached its peak in the 1930s and 1940s, as many as around 3,000 knitters had knitting as their main source of income.
The knitters were fast, could knit without looking, and did absolutely not need a pattern in front of them. By the 1930s and 1940s, it was no longer just the women who knitted the mittens. Both children and men knitted as much as they could. The men could often be seen knitting during breaks in their forest work.
The village even had its own mitten exchange. At first, it was located in the local grocery store. The knitters could deliver their mittens and get money or food in return.
In the 1930s, Selbu Husflidscentral opened. In addition to receiving the mittens, its most important job was to ensure their quality. Selbu Husflidscentral served as an inspection post, a duty it continues to fulfil to this day.
There are strict rules on how to knit the mittens if you want to call them genuine Selbu mittens.
All Selbu mittens are made with one pattern on the inside, and a different pattern on the outside. The pattern also feature a stolpe, a pole pattern around the edge of the mitten where the front meets the back. The thumb is knitted with a thumb gusset, called kile in Norwegian.
Traditionally, the mittens for men have patterns on the cuff, while women's mittens have variations of stripes.
Although Selbu Husflidscentral encourages people to knit the mittens in whatever colours they want, black and white yarn was used originally. When they first become popular, it was seen as groundbreaking that more than one colour yarn was used to make the beautiful Selbu star pattern.
The yarn was, of course, made from wool from local sheep.
Today, there are two types of yarn the Selbu Husflidscentral approves for Selbu mittens: yarn from local producer Selbu Spinneri and yarn from Rauma Garn.
The former is sold at Selbu Husflidscentral's shop, while Rauma yarn is sold online and at numerous knitting and yarn shops across the country.
There's a lot of history and tradition behind the mittens from Selbu. Here are some fascinating facts.
During the Second World War, Selbu mittens were used as a symbol. The Norwegian resistance movement would sometimes wear Selbu mittens with the Royal coat of arms knitted into the pattern.
Selbu mittens are featured in the Guinness Book of World Records from 2014! The record is for the world's largest knitted mittens. Each mitten was 237 cm long and 97.5 cm wide! It took 68 women to make the mittens, and an impressive 5.5 kilos of yarn. At first, only one mitten was completed, but for the record to be approved, the women needed to knit a full set of two. You can see one of the mittens on display at Norsk Bygdemuseum in Selbu.
In former times, it was a tradition for the women of Selbu to knit mittens for their wedding! The practise was simple: each man on the guest list would receive their own pair of mittens, either knitted by the bride herself or by a female guest at the wedding. During the wedding celebrations (which usually lasted for 3–5 days) the mittens were displayed in the so-called 'bridal attic', brudeloftet, where the wedding guests could take a close look at the women's handicrafts. It's fair to say that there was much prestige in having knitted the prettiest mittens.
It was not unusual for single women in the bridal party to be delegated the task of knitting for one of the single men in the wedding, either. Forget about the saying “the way to a man's heart is through his stomach” – at the time, it was all about keeping your hands warm with a fabulous pair of mittens!
Wool is breathable and insulating, keeps moisture away from the body, and is temperature regulating and self-cleaning. In Norway, children are dressed in wool from a very young age in order to keep them dry and warm regardless of the weather. Wool remains comfortable because it feels warm in winter and cool in summer.
Norwegian wool is washed and prepared without chemicals, and is known for its strength and lustre.
Norwegian wool is used in all kind of clothes, knitting yarn, carpets, upholstery, blankets, and more.
Each year, around 4,000 tonnes of wool is processed in Norway.
It keeps you warm and never goes out of fashion!
Want to splurge on yarn or pick up a traditional knitted item? Here's where to go!
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