Northern inspirations

If you were to ask me about my favourite period in history, it is without question the Romans.  It always has been, and I am fascinated by the extent of the Roman Empire and love to see what remains of it even today, and even in the most remote and sometimes unexpected places.

However, if you were to ask me about my favourite parts of the world, then although I do love Italy and the Mediterranean areas, I am always drawn north.  Yorkshire, the Lake District and further north to Scotland.  On my list of places to visit are the Scottish islands and further north still to Scandinavia and Iceland.  I recently finished reading The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell which was in my pile of books to read and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  There’s even talk in the Perry household of Scandinavian city-breaks this year which is very exciting!  When I came to put the book back on the bookshelf, I noticed just how many books I had with a northern flavour, and decided to sit down in the sunshine for an hour this morning to take another look at them all.

I’ve had these two for such a long time.  One day I really will have a go at dyeing my own yarn and although I’ve never taken the plunge, I’ve loved looking at the recipes in this book.  I’m not going to tell you how long ago I bought it and have still never got round to dyeing any yarn!  I’ve had the Alice Starmore book for a long time too.  

This book was a Christmas present many years ago, and I chose it particularly because it is full of Celtic cables and patterns inspired by carvings on stones found in Scotland and Ireland.  I think the thing that does it for me with these types of patterns is that many of them never actually end; you could keep tracing them around for hours without finding a finish point, and the thought of being able to recreate that in yarn seems quite magical.

However, I think it was these books that really sparked my love of northern-influenced crafting at an early age.  These are McCall’s Needlework and Craft books which I think originally belonged to my Grandma and were sent to her for years by my Canadian relatives.  They are a mixture of patterns, pictures of crafts that require a pattern to be sent for, and adverts for all kinds of craft kits and career opportunities.  When I was young, I would spend hours poring over them looking for inspiration for things I could make or adapt from the pictures as sending off to America for the patterns wasn’t an option.

As you can see, some of them are really quite old, and even by the time I started reading them in the 1970s they were quite dated.

It didn’t stop me wishing for a bedroom like this one, though – I don’t know how well you can see in the picture but it’s “for the college or career girl at home or away”.  To my junior school self, that seemed very glamorous!  A bed that turned into a sofa?  The height of sophistication!

But look!  They are filled with patterns like these ones: ski jumpers with various forms of Scandinavian and Fair Isle-inspired patterns …

skirts with traditional motifs (I always quite fancied myself in one of these!) …

cardigans that would be worn by someone who just left their ski gear lying around … 

and this tunic.  Isn’t that fabulous?  I really wanted to wear this but a) I was too small at the time and b) it wasn’t the kind of thing that you wore around our village in the 1970s.  I fell in love with the colours around the cuffs, the placket and the hem; there’s something about that rainbow teamed with the black and white patterns that really shouts out to me!

I was reminded of the braiding on the Four Winds hat that we brought back from Finnish Lapland when we visited one winter.  

I don’t know what it is about the far north that pulls me quite a strongly as it does.  The snow, obviously – I’ve always wanted to live somewhere where there are “proper” winters with snow deep enough to cover the tops of your wellies.  Long winter nights snuggled up with blankets in front of roaring fires, knitting in hand and a hot drink close by.  The Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights – oh, how I love those colours!   In Finland, it’s called Revontulet after a Sami legend of a running fox’s tail striking the snow to send sparks into the sky and I love that too.  It suits my imagination much better than the real reason for the Aurora of solar flares!  The idea of hygge, a Danish word which I read about in Helen Russell’s book which roughly translates as “cosiness” and sounds perfect to me.  Tales of Vikings, trolls and hardy souls who lived their lives in far from hospitable conditions.  I suspect I have a very romantic view of it all and that real life is very different, but it doesn’t stop me enjoying the regular geometry of the knitting patterns and the comfort of warm woolly clothing.

It seems that some things don’t really change.  Looking through this book which I treated myself to the other week, I saw patterns which reminded me of the 1950s and 60s patterns in the McCalls books.   Perhaps I am not the only one who likes the idea of hunkering down in cosy hibernation with a good excuse to sit and knit!

And these books too, are inspired by traditional designs.  It made me think again about the combination of new and old, which I wrote about in this month’s Monthly Musing.  Arne and Carlos are holding a workshop and lecture at Black Sheep Wools in a week or so’s time which I’m lucky enough to be going to, and I’m very much looking forward to meeting them and hearing about their inspirations.  I’ll be sure to tell you all about it!

My Arne and Carlos socks are coming along nicely – they’ve been a joy to knit with the Scandinavian-style patterns appearing magically out of the ball and onto my socks.  I really love these colours, I can’t wait to be able to put the socks on!  

I might even have them finished in time for the workshop but I’m not sure that waving my socks at Arne and Carlos would be very appropriate, even if my feet weren’t in them at the time!  We’re going to be knitting wrist warmers – these ones here that you can see in the bottom of the picture. It’ll be a good opportunity for me to practice colour work holding the yarns in both hands which is something that I’ve never tried before – I’m hoping it won’t seem too fiddly now that I’ve practiced Continental knitting!

I’ve never owned a pair of wrist warmers before (I might have mentioned that I’m a mitten kind of girl!) so they’ll be an interesting addition to my wardrobe!  And I’m already thinking about socks with Scandinavian motifs … I’d better get those socks finished!

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22 Responses

  1. Het Thuisproject says:

    We seem to be on the same journey with knitting techniques. I learned continental knitting (only the knit, not the purl at the moment) in the hope of getting faster at knitting and to be able to do fair isle. I am happy to report that it really is worthwhile all the struggle. I just finished a hat with two colours (holding yarn in both hands) in a breeze! It looks a lot neater on the backside too in comparison to my previous attempts at colour work.

    • Winwick Mum says:

      That's worth knowing, thank you! I can't quite believe that it's never occurred to me to hold both yarns before, but then I guess knitting is all about learning new skills, even when you've been knitting for a long time! Good luck with your learning too! xx

  2. The House with the Blue Door says:

    What a lovely post, full of pattern and colour! I know what you mean about the far north – it has a pull for me too. My daughter visited Iceland last winter and her photos so made me want to go. I love Scandinavian and Icelandic designs and have Kate Davies' lovely book 'Colours of Shetland' which I drool over – have you visited her blog? (here's a link, in case you haven't So far all I do is pore over lovely colourwork designs like the ones in your patterns and books as I haven't yet learnt how to do it – one day, hopefully! I'm sure you'll make a gorgeous pair of wristwarmers, if your colourful socks are anything to go by.
    Cathy x

    • Winwick Mum says:

      I went to take a look at Kate Davies' blog after your recommendation and thoroughly enjoyed it, thank you! I think that colourwork is probably like much else in the world – you don't know whether you can do it or not until you try and you might surprise yourself! xx

  3. Unknown says:

    Such a lovely post Christine – thanks for sharing! I too love all things Northern (Yorkshire being my most favourite place on Earth!) and I definitely think that snow has a lot to do with it. Very jealous about your upcoming Arne & Carlos workshop – can't wait to see your wristwarmers. I've just discovered the wonder of slip-stitch mosaic knitting which is similar to fairisle but easier (it would have to be for me) so am embarking on all sorts of designs now!!! Much love. x

    • Winwick Mum says:

      Slip stitch knitting does make for some lovely patterns, and I'm sure your designs are going to be fabulous. Fair Isle isn't that complicated, you just have to make sure that your floats (yarns at the back) don't all change in the same place or you can see them. If you can design with slip stitch, you can knit Fair Isle, I'm sure! xx

  4. Lilly's Mom says:

    I loved seeing these vintage magazines. It was a stroll down memory lane. Fair isle knitting is fascinating but I have not accomplished this technique yet. Have a wonderful week, Pat xx

  5. Amy at love made my home says:

    I hope that you have a wonderful time meeting Arne and Carlos! How wonderful!!! A year of living danishly sounds really wonderful!! Happy knitting! xx

    • Winwick Mum says:

      I'm very much looking forward to it – and if the weather carries on getting any colder it will set the scene nicely! 🙂 xx

  6. sustainablemum says:

    Oh those vintage magazines, they transport you right back………although I don't think of myself as vintage!

  7. Unknown says:

    Oh I've just started reading a year of living Danishly, but keep falling asleep into the pages so haven't gotten very far (page 5 I think). Looking forward to trying to stay awake more 🙂

    • Winwick Mum says:

      It's a good read if you can manage to stay awake! At first I wasn't sure how I felt about all the facts and figures that are woven in amongst the real life, but now that I've finished it I feel that I've got a really good picture of a different culture now 🙂 xx

  8. Coastal Ripples says:

    There must be Viking running through your blood I think! I'm the same , love cosines, fires, Nordic patterns and all things Scandinavian. What fabulous vintage books you showed us. Down memory lane! Barbara X

    • Winwick Mum says:

      I'm so glad I fished them out of the attic, I had such a happy time looking through them again! Hmm, Viking ancestry … now there's a thought! 🙂 xx

  9. Liz says:

    I was very excited to see that I am knitting my first pair of socks in the same Arne and Carlos yarn as you are!It's like magic how the pattern emerges

    • Winwick Mum says:

      It's fabulous, isn't it? I love the way self-striping yarn knits up, and how it can be different every time. It really is like magic! xx

  10. Michelle says:

    I love Northern things too and it would be my dream trip to do a scandinavian tour. Enjoy the workshop, I couldn't go as I'm working that day but it looks brilliant.

  11. Unknown says:

    I too loved going through those magazines and have a stack of them that I've saved since the 60's and 70's When the books became smaller in size, I stopped purchasing them…

    Love your latest socks…. great color and fabulous job knitting them

    • Winwick Mum says:

      Yes! I have one in the smaller size and it just doesn't feel the same at all. I like the big pages and the big pictures! xx

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