Bright copper kettles…

Published on Saturday January 10th, 2009

As you may know, Portland saw some unexpected Weather during the holidays. Many of us relished the taste of a proper winter, although we were ill equipped to get about except on foot. We tromped around our neighborhood, ferrying groceries home on a Yankee Clipper sled from the ’50s that’s been patiently biding its time in the garage, shopping for gifts more locally than ever, since the mail wasn’t even getting through. We stayed cozy with visiting friends who were nearly stranded with us for Christmas, making candied orange peels from Parikha’s recipe and muffins with the last of the blackberries I picked and froze in August. And day by day, we ventured farther out. The reliable folk of the Trinity choir managed to straggle in for practice before Christmas Eve services, and as I sorted my music, something black and white and woolen under the chair of an alto caught my eye:

I pounced. Where had these come from, I asked? Did someone make them for her recently? No, they were 80 years old, worn by her father for skiing in his youth near Spokane. The family wasn’t from Norway, but they must have had friends who were, because these are unmistakably Selbu mittens. In fact, they’re very close cousins to these:

Remember my Trøndelag mittens? They’ve been languishing, but these are the mittens I cast on last winter after seeing an alluring picture of a pair in a museum in Norway. The pine boughs and central motifs (Terri Shea says they’re spiders weaving webs among the branches, but given the Christian symbolism that appears in these mittens, I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re also crosses – look at the negative space) are identical, although mine are worked at a finer gauge and include that compass-shaped motif on the sides. Terri Shea’s NHM #8 bear a related design, with the Selbu rose in the center and a simplified compass:

The exact chained-rose thumb pattern appears on a number of other patterns in Selbuvotter. All this makes my nerdy little heart sing: historic mittens, glimpsed in the wild! (I’ll leave you to imagine the extent of the geek-out I inflicted on the alto section, and then on the tenors when I demanded my husband take pictures with his phone.) But let’s take a moment to appreciate that those mitts are EIGHTY YEARS OLD. I noticed a little hole in one cuff and a bit of wear to the cast-on edge, but otherwise they’re in perfect condition.

Warm woolen mittens are definitely on my list of favorite things. Mine just happen to match this:

20 Comments to “Bright copper kettles…”

  1. merete Comment Says:

    they are fab. and elizabeth z learned about steeking from some lady’s norwegian sweater. that is so much fun. i have a little book with all these patterns by annechen sibbern bohn. you should get it if you ever come along it. there are some mighty pretty charts in it.

    i have an armenian student in my class now and i am dying to ask her if she knows anything about armenian knitting. call me crazy.

    hope you are allright.

  2. Lisa Comment Says:

    Wow, 80 year old mittens. That’s incredible. And from your picture they look to be in great shape. What a great spot of a hand-knit in the wild!

  3. Karen Comment Says:

    That is so awesome! They really look great too. How inspiring!

  4. =Tamar Comment Says:

    Wow! circa 1928! Notice how much more complex (finer yarn allows
    that) the earlier examples usually are. Thanks for the photo!

  5. heidi Comment Says:

    I can’t believe how old these mittens are – it’s really says it all:)

    And yes, warm mittens are wonderful:))

  6. Elli Comment Says:

    Neat-o! A good reminder to keep our eyes peeled for handknits 🙂

  7. tiennie Comment Says:

    Catching up on your posts – your knits are so pretty! Happy 2009 to you!

  8. Christina Larsen Comment Says:

    I can believe 80 year old mittens, as my Norwegian father still happily wears his 50 and 60 year old sweaters. One favorite lusekofte has finally given up the ghost after too many elbow patches, and I’m felting it into Christmas stockings next near. It’s gray and white, and I think I’ll add some sirdal braid at the top, and hopefully give that sweater another long life.

  9. whitney Comment Says:

    Oh, wow, how neat to find mittens that old still being used and loved. I absolutely love the Selbu-style mittens.

  10. Lissa Comment Says:

    Sarah – its good to know I’m not the only person who notices other people’s handknits, has a (sometime!) inappropriate interest in them and takes pictures for posterity.
    My mom’s family is Icelandic – and old knitwear abounds there too.
    Thanks for sharing.

  11. Seanna Lea Comment Says:

    That’s terrific. I don’t think I have seen anything with quite as deep a history in my area, but I am always staring at everyone in their winter gear looking for the signs of handknits.

  12. Kristen Comment Says:

    How beautiful – visually and otherwise! I truly think that any sort of interest in history makes life a little richer. You can find history in every single moment of every day, and it changes perception marvelously. I hadn’t realized how much could be crammed into a pair of mittens!

  13. Wendolene Comment Says:

    80 years–that’s amazing! I’ve been a fan of Scandinavian mittens ever since making my first pair this summer. The color on your Trondelags is beautiful, just like a copper kettle–what yarn are you using?

  14. heather Comment Says:

    i saw that first picture and thought – “sarah knit selbu mittens!” i can’t believe those are eighty years old. i love the history and continuity.

  15. colleen Comment Says:

    Weeellll, since it happened at CHOIR practice (itself kind of a niche activity, no?) I’m not sure how much the altos can complain about your geek-out.

    It’s just amazing to me that those mittens would last 80 years, and two wearers without being lost or mishandled in some way. Wow!

  16. KimWW Comment Says:

    I love those mittens! My own knitting skills are still in the beginner/intermediate range. Seeing things like that make me want to practice more and learn, learn, learn!

    (And seeing your pictures of “warm woolen mittens” and “bright copper kettle” makes me want to get a picture of my three daughters in white dresses with blue, satin sashes.)

  17. Debby Comment Says:

    What a find! I’d be snapping photos too. It’s extra-special when you see knits with a history like that. I bet the current owner will not look at those mittens in the same way again!

    I’d love to find some in my family, but I’m not sure Italians had much in the way of wool mittens, living near the Mediterranean. I do have some lovely crocheted pieces from one great grandmother. If you know of any places where I might find out about Italian knitting patterns, please let me know.

  18. Nonnahs Comment Says:

    That’s so cool!

  19. britt Comment Says:

    aren’t mittens just THE project right now? man i love winter. oh yeah and the sweaters in the last post were gorgeous as well.

  20. Jen Comment Says:

    I can totally imagine the geek-freak out, because that’s what I would be doing. 😀