December 05, 2002

Everyday Knitting: Treasures from the rag pile, by Annemor Sundbo

Knitting as a popular pastime seems to be making a comeback in the last year or two. By that I mean that other people besides the die-hard fiber enthusiasts are taking it up and the publishing industry is responding with really expensive books geared to the new knitter making faddish sweaters with ultra expensive yarns. Normally, I page thru the books, find every glaringly stupid design flaw they have included, sniff and spend my money on yarn. Badly designed sweaters on twig thin models aren't going to look good on the average lumpy body no matter how expensive that glitzy yarn is. I prefer to spend my book money on books about knitting history, fiber production and design techniques that work with more than a $35 dollar an ounce yarn. It really ticks me off when I see a new knitter struggling with difficult yarn and a badly written pattern that some shop owner sold her. Anyway, I found this book after hearing about it at my knitting group and quickly snapped it up.

Annemor Sundbo bought a shoddy factory in a out of the way corner of Norway as a way to finance her own fiber habit. "Shoddy", in the textile industry, is the word for recycled wool. It's drifted into the common language to mean "of poor quality" since the recycled wool is no longer fit to spin for knitted clothing. It's used, rather, as filler for quilts, for carpets and for weaving tweed fabrics which are rough and usually lined in the construction of garments. The factory Sundbo bought took castoff old woolen garments, and picked and ripped them into shoddy wool for Torridal Tweeds. However, as she was going thru the warehouse of old garments she found thousands of garments handknit in folk patterns dating back at least to the turn of the century. Some were earlier. Truly a treasure trove for a knitter and a lover of folk knitting. But the interesting part of the book is when she organizes the garments and then does historical research using old pattern leaflets, old paintings and photos and yarn company flyers to date and find the location of where they came from. She traces patterns to England, Iceland, Sweden, Latvia, and even Holland in her research. Some of the color designs have roots in Persian carpet elements. Norway had a healthy sea trade and all those sailors brought home gifts which were translated into design elements for sweaters, mittens, and stockings.

The book does have problems. It is badly written and even more badly translated. There were a couple of times I wondered what she was actually trying to say and did the translator really know English? Plus, she bounces all over the place in her organization of the book, making it difficult to follow the text and giving me a real appreciation of what a good editor can do for a book. All of that is completely and totally offset by the fabulous color plates of the sweaters, often placed next to the painting or leaflet she used to date them with. They were astonishing. Breathtaking. Inspiring. The pictures are worth the price of the book alone.

Posted by Deb English at December 5, 2002 06:07 PM

Beverly King said:

I am looking for someone to knit an orginal Setesdal sweater for me. Is their a source like Devold that has inventory of the Setesdal sweaters. Please reply.