Why do Norwegians love wool so much?
Some months ago in the Living a Nordic Life Facebook group, we had a conversation about knitting that got me thinking about how much wool Norwegians wear. They certainly seem to wear more than any other nation in Europe.
There's a good reason for wearing wool and it's the weather. Norwegian winters are generally pretty cold with temperatures dropping to well below -10C for months at a time. When it's that cold and you have no choice but to be outside for periods of time, you need a fabric that is guaranteed to keep warm. Wool of different types has been used for thousands of years to keep us humans warm (and sheep and goats before us!!). Spinning wheels have been found in Viking graves and wool from certain sheep (spelsau) can be woven into a fabric so thick that an arrow can't pass through it. But more important to us today, even the thinnest wool will do a supreme job of keeping out the cold.
There are more than 14000 sheep farms in Norway providing annually more than 4000 tons of wool. And all that farmed on just 3% of the country's land! Between 20% and 30% of the wool is sold right here in Norway, as yarn, or made into knitted items.
But there is more to the Norwegian love of wool than it's abilities to warm us; it's a cultural identity. I bet if you showed many people a photo of a "klassisk Norsk" sweater they would instantly say "Norway". For generations specific designs have been passed down and they are very easily recognisable by their patterns and styles.
Probably the most famous and recognisable is the Marius pattern. Either seen with a dark blue or white background, this sweater is the one that most people identify with Norway.
The Setesdal, Fana, Valdres and Telemark patterns make up the rest of the top 5 iconic patterns. All named after regions in Norway and many of the them with a long history of being used as everyday workwear when people needed a reliable and easily available item to keep them warm.
In other parts of the world, the woollen sweater has become less popular, but its popularity in Norway never seems to wane. I have noticed that people make a point of complimenting a knitted item and there is a lot of respect for the time and skill taken in making them.
Recently Norway has seen a huge upsurge in knitting as people look for activities that bring them calm and the satisfaction of a doing something constructive at a time of uncertainty and stress. I am always surprised at how many young people knit here and by doing so are keeping the skill alive and thriving.
So next time your hand hovers with uncertainty over that handknitted wool sweater and you wonder "shall I wear it?", the answer should be a resounding "yes!" Be proud to wear something that was created with talent and dedication, and not to mention the fact that you will always be warm.
Why not join us in the Living a Nordic Life Facebook group? We'd love to meet you there.