Nordic dream sweater mysteries

Nordic dream sweater mysteries

I’ve somehow lost track of what it was, but sometime in the past year or so somebody (was it you?) knitted a thing in ivory with rusty-red colorwork and it struck me as so incredible that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about adding a weird spot of red to my wardrobe in that way. Since then, red-on-natural colorwork keeps crossing my path. For example, I keep this Michiyo book face-out on the shelf in my studio, and I’m currently coveting Natasha’s Tecumseh in progress, imagining if all of the colorwork were red. Most notably, though, on the long flight home from Portugal, I watched several movies and TV shows on the little screen in the headrest of the seat in front of me (remember when everyone on the plane had to watch the same movie, on the big screen?) and at the beginning of each selection was this rather elaborately produced Delta in-house promo showing brief scenes of people gathered around runway-like surfaces all over the globe. Each time it ran, rather than being irritated at the repetitiveness, I had my eyes glued to the screen, awaiting the moment where they’d come to the Nordic-looking scene and the guy in the stunning red-on-ivory sweater.

My first thought was that it seemed a bit Faroese to me, this sweater — not sure why exactly. Based on the other garments and accessories at that table, I’m not assuming it’s a handknit (although it certainly could be), and yet I half expected to find a pattern for it at Navia or Island Wool. But nope. I asked sweater sleuth Dianna Walla if it was of any particular Nordic/historical signifance or origin that she knew of, and she didn’t, but she noted that the motif is one that’s fairly common to Cowichan sweaters,* such as this one. I don’t know if this motif originated with the Cowichan/Coast Salish knitters, and clearly nothing else about this sweater is Cowichan-like, but that did lead me down a different rabbit hole I’ll tell you about another day!

So I’m left wondering if this is just a really great use of a common motif to make a killer sweater — and one that would be easy enough to replicate — or if there is more to this sweater’s story. If you know anything of relevance, I’d love to hear it!

*You can read about Cowichan sweaters here, although none of the sweaters pictured in that post feature this particular motif.

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36 thoughts on “Nordic dream sweater mysteries

  1. If I’m not mistaken (not home to check my copy), there is an almost identical motif in Anna Zilborg’s book on Turkish socks, called maybe ‘rams horn’? That makes me think it’s a fairly old and universal shape. It’s a nice sweater, for sure. Like the hat on the guy in the orange coat too…

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      • If you can get hold of a copy of her book ‘Fancy Feet’, it’s pattern #17, called ‘heart crook’. Rams horn is similar but rotated 90 degrees so the curls point down.

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        • Hm, yeah. She says it’s “an authentic Turkish sock” — I wonder if that’s construction or motif or both. Does it say anything useful in the book, i.e. in the pattern intro or notes?

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          • She mentions that pattern in particular as one of the ones she found on socks in a Turkish bazaar in Bursa, so I think it’s authentic. Interestingly, in the intro she specifically mentions the similarities between Turkish patterns and Nordic. She speculates that the patterns may have passed from Turkey to the Baltic areas via the trade routes through Russia on both knit goods and rugs. Apparently the Baltic states and Turkey are the 2 places that routinely use a knit braided edging as well. One difference she mentions is that the Turkish patterns tend to be knit with less background, so that the pattern and background stitches are both equally important visually. I’ve knit some of those patterns, and they do play interesting optical tricks.
            Thanks for the push down the rabbit hole!

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  2. Oh my – you are evil! I don’t wear much read either, especially on the top half (I have a red skirt I adore). Now I am also thinking I must have a colorwork sweater (I have yet to knit one – on my bucket list for sure) that is ivory and red! The moment I read Tecumseh, I could so see it! (yes I have the pattern and really want to make it)

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  3. A few years ago you used to see sweaters like this for sale at street markets in NYC – I haven’t passed by one of these markets lately, but I believe they still exist, just not in my neighborhood. They were either hand knit or hand loomed loosely so they resembled hand knits and came from Latin America, maybe Peru. The motifs and embellishments were varied, from various ethnic traditions, and they were probably knit for some broker with access to a stitch dictionary.
    This sweater wouldn’t be hard to duplicate, and would be fun to knit, a little beginning stranded knitting, not as hard as one might think.

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  4. Image is absolutely Norway but my family in that region has not seen the pattern! Now you’ve made me obsessed with it! I’ve looked at Stave church designs, rams head, etc and don’t see it posted anywhere (which is almost impossible to believe) ;-) Please share if you find!

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    • I don’t think any part of it is old — it’s a current promo and hipster-Viking casting — other than the motif itself. Although the sweater looks like it could have been around the block a time or two?

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  5. Hm, not *quite* the same but the wave/horn pattern reminded me of Martin Storey’s “Bodrum” pullover. The pattern looks to be at a finer gauge, but perhaps that would better suit your needs given your previous posts about warmer weather sweaters…!

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    • Lol I’ve had that pattern open in my browser for several days! I can’t get away with anything that wintry/christmasy looking in Tennessee, but it’s so gorgeous, and in red would be the ultimate not-cheesy “Christmas sweater.”

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  6. Man that is some advanced sweaterspotting, Karen. Mad props. I love this color combination. I’m about to get started on a Twigs pullover with Natural wool and Cochineal — it’s a little more pink and a little less rusty. Also OMG I love Olava and Bodrun too! Love me a ivory/oatmeal + soft color combo.

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  7. This motif shows up in Turkish and Andean knitting quite a bit but I’ve seen several close variations in traditional Nordic, Icelandic and Fair Isle knitting books. I just did a quick browse of my library and found an un-mirrored version of the same wave in Alice Starmore’s Book of Fair Isle Knitting (page 50), and another mirrored wave is Mostly Mittens (traditional patterns from Russia). I bet Mary Jane Muckelstone would know more!

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  8. Oh check Polkagris Kerchief by Kate Davies. Little pop of tweedy red, a lovely nubby natural AND stripes!! Not related at all to the motif search but a delightful little knit for dipping into red.

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  9. Karen, the knit sleuth… The color looks more like a rusty orange, or brick, to me.
    In any case, good success with your quest – you’ve already got quite a number of good leads.

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  10. Pingback: New Favorites: Vintage cardigan jackets | Fringe Association

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