The Norwegian Knitters: Kicking chronic illness in the butt

MiriamW3 - 1Miriam Wennerberg’s body can’t cope with stress. When she was diagnosed with a life-changing chronic illness in 2011, she decided it was vital for her to find a way to stay creative and useful, in order to live a happy life.

Getting signed off her teaching course due to autoimmune illness Morbus Addison, which affects the body’s ability to produce cortisone, Miriam’s life didn’t turn out exactly like she planned.

“You think you can do anything you want when you grow up in Norway and you’re young and excited,” explains Miriam, who doesn’t like to dwell on her illness and explains that her life quality is in fact really good.

“I’m very sociable and creative, and I love doing things. In a way, I’m lucky that I don’t have a chronic illness which means I’m in pain every day. When I got signed off, I needed to find a way to be creative and useful, so I decided to take up knitting again,” says Miriam who laughingly explains that knitting helped her sit still in school, to the point where the teachers would let her knit during class.

But it was a bit of a random choice for the 28-year-old soon-to-be mum of two, as she explains it could have easily been sewing, music or painting. “When I think about knitting, it’s mainly to do with my grandma who taught me how to knit,” she explains.

“I always loved the woolly socks she made me, and I loved going down to the sea wearing our Icelandic jumpers and our traditional cardigans. That was my idea of knitting. But I never felt like the traditional knitting shops appealed to me.”

A kid in a sweet shop

MiriamW - 1After discovering the much-loved Oslo-based shop Pickles, where she lives, Miriam became really excited about the prospect of taking knitting back up.

“It was like a sweet-shop,” she laughs. “I used to collect old embroidery threads and buttons when I was a child – I used to sort them by colour. That’s the feeling I got when I first went into Pickles – the yarn was different, the style was simpler, and the patterns were a lot easier to read.”

She soon became hooked and started getting inspiration from the quickly growing online community. However, Miriam doesn’t want the social media aspect of knitting to take up too much of her time. “For me, Instagram and knitting are in their own category. It’s not real life – I don’t spend the majority of my time with people in the online community.

“There have been a few people I’ve met here and there, but we’ve been incredibly lucky that we have lots of really good friends who live nearby,” explains Miriam, who adds she feels very privileged to be surrounded by a lot of good people.

“When my son gets home from nursery, I don’t want to sit on my phone and feel like I have to post pictures to stay in the game,” she says.

Nowhere near picture-perfect

MiriamWennerberg“It should be fun and inspirational – and I really don’t believe in picture-perfect – we’re not a tidy family at all. We’re messy and we don’t have any nice white surfaces,” she laughs.

“But I think that’s great – it’s honest and it’s real, that’s the way our life is. I don’t want to worry about taking pictures between 12 and 12.30 because that’s when we get the best lighting.”

However, Miriam loves the social media community due to the vast differences between people’s tastes and preferences. “I’ve been to a few knitting meet-ups in Oslo. It’s so much fun, because there are so many different kinds of people who like different things, but that’s fine,” she says.

“If you don’t think the garment the person next to you is knitting is amazing, at least you can appreciate the work that goes into it and say ‘that is really nicely knitted’,” she says, adding that she loves having a genuinely shared interest with people.

A terrible knitter

Miriam jokes that she’s a terrible knitter, because she’s always way too hot to wear woollen jumpers. “I can’t cope with anything that comes up to my neck, so I mainly knit jackets, which I find the most practical,” she says.

Miriam_son“For my son, I knit lots of practical wear that’s comfortable to play in. I have a tall and skinny boy, so dungarees and ribbed knits are my favourites. It’s important to me that it’s useable, and in all honesty, I prefer the basic knits in a nice colour, although I know how to knit patterns as well.”

She remembers her grandmother teaching her a rhyme about knitting, which was about a boy who forgot his hat. He went into the house and got the hat and went out again and shut the door.

“This was the rule of thumb for knitting a loop,” she says. “My grandmother passed away this summer, and towards the end, I knitted her a few scarves because she was always really cold, and I think that was really special for her because she was the one who taught me.”

The benefits of transparency

For Miriam, it’s important that her illness doesn’t dictate her life. “Some people get awkward and uncomfortable when I say that I don’t work, but I’m not embarrassed or ashamed, so I don’t. I didn’t choose this, and I understand if people think it’s uncomfortable because they don’t know what to say, but I’d rather they just ask me questions about it,” she adds.

“I have a great life – I’m really happy, and I think it’s important to not just sit down and say ‘okay, this is life now’ – but rather, find something that makes you happy,” Miriam says, and adds that being a mum is the only thing she always knew she wanted to be – and now she is.

Miriam’s top tips

  1. Write things down. “@Middelsstrikk came out with The Bullet Journal for Knitters, which @IdaWitre gave me. My best advice is to write things down – which projects you want to do, which ones you’re doing and what you’ve got in your yarn storage.”
  1. Don’t buy yarn without a plan. “I try not to buy any yarn without a plan, because although it’s worth it, yarn is expensive. If I go to Pickles, I have to be really strict with myself and stick to my list.”
  1. Don’t cast on too many things. “I have to finish things – I’m incredibly impatient. I need to see that it’s growing, if not, I lose interest. If I cast on too many things, I get overwhelmed and then I don’t finish them.”
  1. Knit a cheat gauge swatch. “I never really bother doing a proper one, but I’ve realised that I knit very loosely and need to go down half a needle size in everything I knit. That’s why I cast on a few loops and knit half of it to check, because as dull as it might be, it is essential.”

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