The Norwegian Knitters: A man on the scene

traatilIt was about time, really, that more men joined the Scandi knitting community, in keeping with the gender balance which the Scandinavians are so rightfully concerned with. But did you know that historically, it was the men who knitted?  

It was the Vikings, actually. Out at sea for months on end, they needed to keep warm, so they picked up a pair of needles – or, you know, made them with their bare hands. They weren’t the first either; one of the earliest examples of knitting can be traced all the way back to the 11th century. So what better way to welcome a new male knitter than with this small history lesson?

Enter Simen Ødegaard – or @traa.til which many are now more likely to know him as. Simen is one of the new kids on the block, and one to follow on the knitting scene for the foreseeable future. Though his relationship with knitting is pretty complex, having stopped and started more times than he can count – this time, he’s in it for real.

“The first thing I remember knitting was a case for my recorder, and that was my first meeting with pointed needles,” says Simen. “I’ve always knitted a bit throughout my whole life – but some of it has been because I had to in school projects.”

image1After knitting a hat here and there – one of them being so big that two people could’ve fit into it – Simen started a Norwegian folk high school (a non-formal educational institution that some Scandinavians choose to attend after they finish school), and chose knitting as one of his electives.

“I remember seeing my brother in the hat I knitted him for Christmas on New Year’s Eve, but I never saw it again,” he laughs. Over a nine-month period, he slowly made his way through the traditional Norwegian cardigan Fanakofte, before putting the needles down again. The next time he picked it back up, he knitted a jumper that lay unfinished for two whole years.

But let’s get down to it, Simen. What exactly is it like being a man on the Norwegian knitting scene? And a man knitting in general?

“Well, when I first started in the folk high school, there were only about three guys in the whole class,” explains Simen. ”The others were knitting ties and hats, but I wanted to embark on something bigger, so I often sat with it in the evenings, which made some people go a bit like ‘oh my god, why are you doing that’. But they thought it was quite cool as well.”

In school, he was taught that the Vikings were the first people to knit, which he felt was quite inspiring. “I think it’s cool to find a few butch things about knitting. It’s a pretty female-dominated hobby, so it’s cool to know that the Vikings did it too,” he adds.

Fascinated by Norwegian traditions, knitting became a natural thing for Simen to take an interest in. But being a man in a female-dominated community isn’t exactly new to him. When he’s not knitting, he works as an educational supervisor at a nursery in Drammen, where the majority of the staff are women.

“When I started working in the nursery, I hadn’t knitted for a while, but suddenly I saw all the kids running around in their knitwear. I noticed a lot of the staff were knitting on their lunchbreaks, so I decided to take it back up again,” he explains.

Patterns for men

He often struggles to find patterns for men, and found himself knitting the traditional Marius sweaters and other designs that are available in unisex models. “Traditionally, there were only small adjustments that made it a women’s or men’s garment – and you couldn’t always see it either. But these days, there are much bigger differences in men’s and women’s designs,” he says.

Simen likes to keep up-to-date with the knitting community, and enjoys seeing what others do, including Pia from Guttenogstrikkemor. “I think Pia has got a really cool concept, where she creates designs that can be altered for the child, mother and father,” says Simen. “Then there is Tore Tveit, a male knitter who was asked to publish the book ‘Strikk til Mannen’ (‘Knits for the Man’), where he’s been inspired by architecture and patterns that surround him. Sandnes Garn is also developing more modern patterns for men.”

However, Simen believes that the menswear category is more limited for designers due to men wearing more basic garments. “You can experiment with patterns, but for men, it’s mostly jumpers,” he adds.

The gender obsession

Simen gets a lot of positive attention for his knitting, and says it’s nice that a lot of people in the knitting community have welcomed him with open arms and tell him they need more men in the community. He is now officially part of the Snapchat group ‘strikkere’ (‘knitters’) as one of their regulars. However, he finds the gender obsession a bit peculiar.

“I think it’s exciting when they bring out these books for men, but it’s funny that they need to call it ‘Knits for the Man’ and ‘Knits for Boys’. You never see books called ‘Knits for the Woman’.

“When people get so fascinated by me knitting, I think it’s the educator within me that comes out. Why is it so special? Is it just cool because I’m a man? I mean, I could be really terrible. I don’t think I’ve done well just because I’m a man – but I think it’s easier for people to notice me,” he adds.

To keep updated on the latest interviews and stories from the Scandi knitting community, follow us on Instagram @knitlikeanorwegian.

You can catch Simen next on the snapchat group Strikkere on Sunday 19th November.