I recently finished knitting a pair of cable stockings (knee-high socks) — one that someone might wear with a kilt. I was thinking that I might want to knit a pair of stockings with a Norwegian design, so I began searching my knitting library for inspiration, during which I encountered many interesting wedding traditions involving stockings in Norway and Finland.
In the Selbu region of Norway, it was customary for a bride to knit her groom a beautiful pair of stockings. It was also expected that she would knit a patterned stocking for the groom’s father, brothers and any brothers-in-law. For the women of the groom’s family, the bride was to give them cloth; knitting could be traded for cloth at a local store. In addition, every male guest that attended the wedding was expected to take home a pair of mittens. For these, the bride would receive help from the local village women. However, it was important that each man went home with mittens that were knitted by his wife, and the responsibility for making sure that this happened fell on the bride. Meanwhile, each unmarried woman hoped that the man she fancied took home her mittens. While it did not say specifically, I can only assume that the bride was responsible for this as well. Can you imagine the awkwardness and discomfort that this task must have put on the bride?
In Finland, before marrying a young woman would have to knit enough pairs of stockings to last twenty years and some women knit enough stockings to last a lifetime. A lifetime of stockings sounds almost impossible … I wonder how long it took them to knit a pair. One can’t forget that these women presumably also helped with keeping house and farm work among other duties, although I suppose long, cold, dark winters afforded a lot of time for working on one’s dowry.
Upon her confirmation, a girl was considered old enough to have an encounter with a boy from the area. In the summer, she would sleep in a shed on the farm. She would display all the items that she had made for her future household, including sheets, towels, clothing and all the stockings she had knitted. When a boy came for his “nocturnal visit” [this was the term used in the book, not mine, by the way], he would inspect all of the goods, and one would presume that a marriage would soon follow if he liked what he saw.
When I think of all the knitting that these women accomplish as well as taking care of all the daily needs of the household, it is really quite amazing. I think I would be very hard-pressed to knit a pair of stockings while also putting three meals on the table, doing laundry, keeping the house clean, and anything else required for daily survival. Simply astounding women!
I was wondering the other day as I was knitting on a rather complicated project…I was frustrated because I wasn’t paying attention and was making mistakes, which means unknitting, not my favorite…why people choose to knit. In this day and age, we have everything at our fingertips. Need clothes? Go to the store and buy them. If they wear out or we decide we are tired of them, we throw them out or give them away.
In the not too distant past, all clothing was made at home…unless you had enough money to go to a store and have it specially made for you. You didn’t have to fit into a certain size. Wouldn’t that be nice? Our forefathers and mothers wore what fit and didn’t have to squeeze into a size down for vanity.
But I digress. With all these conveniences at hand, why do we still knit? I have a couple of theories. First I think we are hardwired to work with our hands; it was once necessary for our survival. Hypothermia was a real concern for our ancestors, and we needed clothing that would keep us warm and dry. Since they could not just go down to the local department store and buy it, they had to make it. Can you imagine making all the socks you have in your drawer right now? It seems daunting and make no mistake about it, they repaired their socks when they starting to get a hole. So working with our hands is theoretically in our basic makeup and so we continue to be compelled to create things with our hands.
Second, I find that for many, knitting very therapeutic. I have had my store for almost twenty years, and in that time I have taught many people to knit. I have found that people come to knitting as an escape for illness, pain and grief. It seems that if for at least a few hours out of the day they can concentrate on their knitting, then they do not focus on their other problems. I’ve seen it do wonders for people, giving them confidence and satisfaction because they were able to create something with needles and yarn.
Something that was once so necessary to our existence is now connecting us with the past, raising our spirits and still clothing us in beauty and warmth, even if we can buy it cheaper at the department store.