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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.

A home crafts heritage centre

If you drive about an hour south-east of Trondheim in the Trøndelag region, you will arrive at the idyllic town of Selbu.

With only a little over 4,000 inhabitants in the whole municipality, it's not a big town. But it has rich traditions and is an important centre for Norwegian handicrafts. The town even has its own home crafts heritage centre, calledSelbu 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.

From millstones to knitting

Selbu Husflidscentral is located in Selbu Bygdemuseum, a local history museum situated right beside Selbu church in the centre of the town. 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 town to a knitting paradise.

“Selbu used to be widely known for producing high quality millstones,” says Annee Grøtte Viken, managing director of Selbu Husflidscentral.

Millstone production was one of themost important industries from the 16th century and right up to around the start of the First World War, when local production started losing ground to industrially produced stones. But by that time, knitting Selbu mittens had started to become really popular.

High fashion

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.

“It is said that she was inspired by a garment she saw worn in church,” says Annee.

At the same time as millstone production was winding down in Selbu, knitting was slowly growing more popular. Many credit a local tradesman by the name of Birch with giving the mittens a flying start by sending them to exhibitions, including the industrial exhibition in Kristiania (now Oslo) in 1883.

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.

Mittens for bread

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 town even had its own mitten exchange. At first, it was located in the local grocery shop. 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.

Did you know …?

There's a lot of history and tradition behind the mittens from Selbu. Here are some fascinating facts.

A symbol in times of war

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.

A world record

Selbu mittens are featured in the Guinness Book of World Records from 2014! The record is forthe 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.

Wedding traditions

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!

Handicrafts in Norway

Want to splurge on yarn or pick up a traditional knitted item? Here's where to go!

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