The Norwegian Knitters: Preserving a Norwegian identity abroad

IMG_20180304_181557_798Upon moving to London in 2011, designer Eli, behind the brand Skeindeer, realised she missed being recognised as a Norwegian. So she did what any homesick Norwegian would do – and took up knitting.

“I could already knit because in Norway we’re taught to knit in school, but at the time, I prioritised school over knitting,” says Eli, sitting in her usual podcasting spot in her East London apartment.

Her podcast Skeindeer Knits, which now boasts over 10K subscribers on YouTube, is simply one of her many ventures in the knitting industry.

The queen of Selbu mittens

IMG_20161025_141812Eli is widely known as the queen of Selbu mittens, and one of her local shops, run by a woman from the same town as her, asked her if she wanted to run a Norwegian knitting class.

“I was like ‘how do you teach that?’” she laughs, and went on to look for free patterns she could use for her course. However, after looking around, she realised she might as well start making patterns herself.

“I started developing mittens that were authentic Selbu mittens. I didn’t want them to be too much, but to perhaps just have two different colours to start with,” she says.

She created a no-nonsense Selbu pattern, where knitters simply needed to know left leaning and right leaning increases, picking up stitches in the thumb hole, “nothing too complicated, but what makes a mitten,” she explains.

After running her classes, she put the pattern up on Ravelry and it was an instant success. “I thought, if people are buying it, they must want to knit it. There’s something that makes you launch a pattern and you get so impatient to see the finished results – and that’s how I started my knitalongs,” Eli adds.

Her knitalongs are joined by people from all over the world who are interested in the traditional patterns, and she is constantly starting new ones.

Building a community

IMG_20180304_181557_818Having lived in London for seven years, Eli has seen a change in the crafts culture in the city.

“Maybe I was just really ignorant when I moved here, but I feel like it’s changed so much. I couldn’t find any yarn when I moved here – maybe some acrylic yarn, and perhaps a bit in John Lewis and Liberty.

“But the explosion in yarn shops has happened in the past five years,” she says.

For those traveling to London on a yarn hunt (or for those already living there), Eli recommends Loop, Knit with Attitude and Wild and Woolly.

“They’re such huge community-building shops. They’re different from the Norwegian shops where it’s just retail. You can come in there, sit down and knit. In Norway, you just go in and buy the things you need, but in London, a yarn shop is a place to meet people,” she says.

And as much as she feels the yarn shops have brought her closer to local knitters, going online has brought her a whole range of international acquaintances.

“I’ve been traveling the world and staying with knitting friends – it’s amazing,” she explains.

The knitting camps

IMG_20171206_223945_076According to Eli, the knitting community is an interesting one, made up of several camps; in London, you have the affordable and practical knitters who enjoy acrylic yarn and free patterns, who may also have been knitting since before she was alive. Then there are the luxury knitters who spend a lot of money on yarn.

In Norway, she’s discovered several other camps; the baby knitters, the traditional knitters who only do what the big yarn companies tell them to do, and the Instagram knitters.

“The Instagram group can be anything from PetiteKnit to Stephen West. They’re more progressive where they’re looking at what’s happening internationally, such as other construction methods. They’re bringing their innovativeness from America into Norway, which I think Norway could use.

“But I’m in the opposite camp again, and I’m looking internationally with speckled yarn. I’m applauding modern stuff to Norway, which diversifies Norwegian knitting, but I’m trying to mix the Norwegian stuff up with what’s happening internationally,” she adds.

“But as much as I like the new innovative knitting, when people say ‘it’s not just what your grandmother did’, I get a bit like – what’s wrong with what my grandma did? I don’t think we should dismiss what they did, but I also appreciate that fresh line of thinking,” she adds.

Eli’s preference are the meet-ups where all camps meet.

So that’s Eli. She is a knitter, designer, podcaster, teacher, knitalong curator – and on top of it all, she is doing a PhD in Psychology.

“It’s funny how many people in the knitting world come from academia or tech, and have actually gone from having PhD degrees and gone full-time into the creative industry. I think that’s quite striking, and it’s nice to know I’m not the only one who considers doing this.”

Because when it comes to her knitting, she has a lot of plans and collaborations – ones that aren’t quite ready to be shouted about just yet. So keep an eye out on her Ravelry or Instagram account for more updates.

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