Since Dylan and I got hitched, we've taken an international vacation every 2 years or so. (We've traveled internationally for work a fair bit too.) We honeymooned in Guatemala, fulfilled one of Dylan's dreams by going to Iceland in 2013, and explored the south coast of Ireland in 2015. This year, we planned 7 days in the Faroe Islands, 6 days in Western Norway and 2 days on either side in Copenhagen. As I've only recently become an avid knitter, this trip fulfilled two desires - to holiday in Scandinavia with my beloved hub, and to stock up on amazing yarn and patterns whilst abroad! (Though it would have been great to have been a knitting enthusiast while we were in Iceland and Ireland too!)
:: I wrote a post about some inspirations I had in the Faroe Islands. If you're keen on hearing more about the trip itself, head on over there first. This post is all about knitting! ::
Brief History: Knitting in the Faroe Islands
Wool has been an important commodity in the Faroe Islands since the Viking Age. Records from the 1200s revealed that the Faroese people had stringent regulations about sheep farming on the islands, and even quantified wool's value in records as early as 1584, which stated that “1 Faroese guilder (the currency at the time) was equal to 10 sheep hides, or 4 pairs of red knitted socks, or 5 pairs of white knitted socks.” (All historical references in this blog post come from the book: HNJ's Indispensable Guide to the Faroe Islands: Knitting in the Faroe Islands)
By the 1880s, about 80% of the Faroese population earned their livelihood from sheep farming. Given that statistic, it’s safe to say that nearly every family was involved in wool production in some way, shape or form. Typically the men would spin the wool, and the women would knit, although if the price of knitted socks was high enough, men would also knit.
Black and white photos from the 1900s, show Faroese women knitting while walking the hills. As the stories go, when the women would leave to milk the cows during the day, they always brought their knitting along in case there was any spare time. And they weren't just knitting for enjoyment. Female housekeepers had a particular length of knitting that had to be done each day along with other chores. With the knowledge of this history fresh on my mind, I brought my knitting with me on hikes when we were there (carried my project along in the portably convenient Fringe Field Bag! Made in the USA!). If Dylan wanted to set up a particular landscape shot with his camera, I’d take out my project and knit a couple of rows, thinking about the women before me walking the same hills with their projects.
A book by the name of “Føroysk bindingarmynstur,” or “Faroese Knitting Patterns,” is considered to be the cornerstone of modern Faroese knitting and can be found on the shelves of bookstores and even in some yarn shops in the islands. Printed in 1932, the book displays charts of 143 different patterns collected from all around the islands. It is said that these patterns were recorded at “the 11th hour, as many of these patterns were only known by the oldest women.” I picked up a copy for myself, and look forward to learning to read charts so that I can try some of these authentic and traditional patterns!
Fast forward to World War II when the British occupied the Faroe Islands. (There is a lot of history that I’m skipping over, but this next bit is one of my favorite parts of the history of knitting in the Faroes…) At night, there was a curfew and no lights were allowed to be on, lest anyone on the other side discover that people lived on these islands in the middle of the Atlantic. During this time, knitting clubs became very popular on the islands. Women on the Faroes even sometimes got their hands on some knitting designs from England. Because few Faroese women understood English, it was up to the bravest ladies to ask the British soldiers to translate the instructions during the occupation. To this day, knitting clubs remain a popular way for women to connect over their craft in the islands, as well as around the world. (I love the knitting group I joined!)
While knitting has gone in and out of popularity on the Faroes over the years, in this day and age it's popularity is at an all time high. Faroese knitwear designers have achieved international acclaim, their knit fashion appearing on runways in NY and Milan, and even making a splash on TV. In Torshavn, the capital of the Faroe Islands, knitwear is sold in almost every shop. The biggest sellers are the patterned "Skipstroyggian," or "ship's jumper" and the monochromatic "Myrkamorreyd troyggia," which is a sweater named for its dark brown color. Both types of sweaters, which originated in the late 1700s and 1930s respectively, remain the cornerstone for new designs and creations by domestic knitters and Faroese designers.
I actually tried a couple of the sweaters on in some of the high-fashion shops (going into high fashion shops is so unlike me, but where there’s a wool, there’s a way!) But, instead of purchasing a sweater there, I bought the wool to make one. (and then bought a little more wool for other projects, too!)
Which brings me to: The wool!
Faroe Islands Wool
There are three wool producing companies on the Faroe Islands - Sirri, Navia and Snaeldan - and nine yarn shops in the capital of Torshavn. I made it to many of the shops over the course of two afternoons, and I managed to bring home yarn from all three producers, for good measure.
Sirri is the only wool manufacturer in the Faroe Islands that uses 100% Faroese wool in their products, while the other companies blend fibers from other countries with the Faroese wool to soften it. I will admit, it is quite coarse, but I was told that as soon as it received a little bath, it would soften up.
Faroese wool is special because the sheep from which it comes have become quite accustomed to the harsh climate of the Faroe Islands. As a result, their wool is more water-resistant and wind-resistant than wool from sheep from other countries. For ages, fishermen in the Faroe Islands survived the elements at sea by wearing Faroese ship's jumpers, and they still do to this day.
I bought a sweater’s worth of Sirri 3ply yarn for my Faroese sweater from the very fancy store, Stadid, which was a stone’s throw from our AirBnB. It took me forever to decide on the colors, but in the end, I went with white and grey. (Sirri only recently introduced a color line, but for years they only sold wool in the natural, undyed colors from the sheep: white, brown, black and grey.)
Navia, short for Scandinavia, blends their Faroese wool with Shetland wool and Australian lambswool, or English lambswool, for softness. They also sell Cotton Wool, Silk Wool, Alpaca and sock yarn that is blended with Nylon. There was actually a Navia knitting book on the coffee table in our AirBnB (how cool!), so I had to go to their shop at the mall in Torshavn to see what they were all about.
In each store I went to in the Faroes, I would point to a pattern and asked the woman tending the store, “is this complicated to knit?” and every single time, I was eagerly told, “No, it’s not hard at all!” I probably should have weighed that response with the fact that a. These women have probably been knitting for MUCH longer than I have, and b. The patterns are actually in their language and they don’t have to translate them, buuuut, I did no such weighing. In Navia, I bought a kit for traditional Faroese knit booties - an 'easy' pattern. Google translate, here we come!
:: I also bought a Norwegian pattern book and yarn for 50% off at Navia, but I’ll talk about them in another post! ::
The company Snaeldan has the oldest manufacturing mill in the Faroe Islands. I didn’t get a chance to visit the mill, but I stopped by their shop in Torshavn.
Snaeldan’s shop was unlike the others. For one, it was a ways off the tourist strip, so it is unlikely that they get many foreigners. (But who knows, maybe people go looking high and low, like I did!) It wasn’t as ‘glossy, fancy, or high fashion’ as the other shops either. It was the type of shop I pictured my grandmother going into, the kind of store that has been around through generations. Traditional. Old school. And judging by the fact that they have the oldest mill in the Faroes, it fits.
I looked through their racks of garments and shelves of yarn, but I had no idea what to purchase. It wasn’t actually until later when I had purchased my sweater yarn at Sirri, and my bootie yarn at Navia, that I decided to get some Snaeldan yarn for practicing Faroese patterns.
I purchased my Snaeldan yarn on a different day at a different shop that sold all different brands of yarn from around the world. The store, Togvhusid, was a cute corner shop that was also off the main drag. (Keep in mind that this city is very small, so I’m only really counting one street as the main, tourist street!) They had a couple of different rooms for their different assortment of yarns and notions. I also purchased a couple of tags for clothing, one of a Faroese flag (to go on my sweater when it’s finished) and 2 that say “made by me.”
2 Days of Yarn Shopping : Need A DRINK!
After the grand shopping spree, Dylan and I were exhausted, so we ducked into the coffee shop, Cafe Paname, in the heart of Torshavn. It was the perfect place to regroup, have a hot beverage and enjoyed a most delicious piece of wild berry cheesecake. Dylan set about toning pictures, and I worked a little with Google translate and a pattern book just to be sure I could figure things out when I got back home. (Actually we stopped there both days, and one of the days we just sat on the couches with a Faroese beer!)
I have never been to so many yarn stores in such a short amount of time (and neither had Dylan.. He’s learning quite a bit and being such a dear, taking photos for me!). I’m realizing that going into a yarn shop abroad can be overwhelming if you don’t have a plan in mind. The desire to take back yarn is very high, but there’s the lingering question of how much you can fit in the luggage and what can be understood from foreign patterns. Don’t worry, I didn't let overwhelm get the best of me, I did quite well for myself in the Faroes! And who am I kidding, I always desire to take back all the yarn from a shop - be it down the street, or across the pond so that wasn’t new at all!
I’ll end with a note of gratitude for my Twig and Horn Crossbody Tote that came in just in time for me to pack for our trip. It came in very handy while shopping for yarn, and it is ever so lovely. I can’t wait to get a project in it (or two or three!) and travel with it everywhere I go! It’s all made in the US, excellent quality. I highly recommend!
Photos by Dylan Trivette