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This article was previously published in the August 2007 issue of Knit Together Owner/Editor: Cynthia MacDougall Knit Together was the earlier publication of Canadian Guild of Knitters. C.G.K now provides their members with A Needle Pulling Thread. Cynthia MacDougall is now a regular contributor to the magazine.
My Icelandic Knitting Voyage by Leanne Dyck
My Icelandic-Canadian grandma taught me to knit. Knitting has been handed down in my family for generations. It took 150 years for a member of my immediate family to return, but, in 2007, I did.
Emigrating from Iceland was very expensive; when my ancestors left, it was expected that they would never return. Space on the ship was severely limited, so emigrants took few belongings with them. I imagine, however, that my great-grandma would have brought her knitting needles.
Knitting came to Iceland in the 16th century. Traditionally, both girls and boys were taught to knit.
(in front of the Textile Museum)
TheTextile Museumin Blondous has a display of a woollen undershirt and fisherman's leggings. The leggings encased the pant leg from toe to upper thigh. At theIcelandic Emigration Centreat Hofsos, I saw traditional Icelandic mitts. These unusual-looking specimens have two thumbs, one on either side of the fingers. Icelanders knew that the first part of a mitten to wear out was the thumb. By knitting a second thumb, fishermen could turn the mitten around and keep working. That's a fine example of Icelandic ingenuity!
(beautiful Hofsos--the Emigration Centre in the foreground)
The Icelandic sweater craze that swept the knitting world in the 1970s and 1980s was impressive, indeed, considering that it originated from this tiny island: Iceland's population is only 306,000! On my visit to theNational Museum. I discovered that these famous sweaters of the late 20th century were a recent development in Iceland's knitting history that first appeared in the 1940s. A recent adaptation of the Icelandic sweater features detachable sleeves.
(in front of the National Museum)
While in Hofsos, I spoke with Rosa Tryggadottir, who told me that grade school in Iceland only goes to the equivalent of our grade ten. Then, students can enroll in studies of their choice. Rosa enrolled in a school that offered needle-craft classes. Some of her friends studied knitwear design at a university level and, after graduation, they formed an association to sell their work--much like the Handknitting Association of Iceland
(Icelandic sheep during fall round-up)
Iceland has a unique program for Icelandic-Canadians and Icelandic-Americans over the age of thirty, calledSnorri* PlusParticipants spend fifteen days touring Iceland and living with relatives while they mirror the relatives' occupation or hobby. What an opportunity for a knitwear designer or knitter!
(Iceland from the air)
Iceland has a rich knitting tradition, with customs old and new. Learning about them is an intangible souvenir of my trip that I will have with me the rest of my life.
(*Snorri Thorfinnsson, born of Icelandic parents, is credited as being the first ethnic European to be born on North American soil (not including Greenland).