Thursday, November 17, 2011

Kaamos inspiration

Last time I promised to share more of the inspiration behind these Kaamos mittens. But I have been postponing this post because I have been tossing these words this and that way in my mind and for some strange reason, I cannot put my finger on them. Every single sentence seems a bit odd and clumsy. I could just write down that there were three reasons for knitting these mittens: Finnwool, Finnish raanus and Finnish woollen embroidery but then, would that be enough? On the other hand, to write a good, informative post on any of these would require serious reading and studying and that would then take weeks... So, this is it in its shortness and clumsiness and maybe at some point I write more. But at the moment this is blocking my mind and I need to be done with this.

Finns love stripes. And being a Finn, I love stripes. Maybe you know Marimekko and their sriped t-shirts that became very popular in 1960's when I was a child and that have more or less stayed popular ever since. I had many color combinations then and have many today.

Striped rag rugs are truly part of the Finnish heritage. All the old worn clothing used to end up in these woven pieces and there are still plenty of looms in Finland and lots of weaving knowledge.

Not long ago I was talking to two ladies who still remember well the time when most farm houses in the countryside kept sheep for own wool and how the sheared fleece got sent to a spinning mill and how it then came back in hanks to be woven into raanus or other textiles or were knitted into garments. Raanus are thick, wool coverlets that mostly today are  kept for decoration purposes if even for that. The Samis of Lapland used only wool for their raanus, both in warp and weft while elsewhere the warp might have been either linen or hemp and later on cotton. The weave structure in raanus is very simple and the surface is broken by stripes or groups of stripes. (Like this old piece I showed you long ago.)
When I was growing up raanus were very popular among weavers. While this popularity did lots of good to the old textile, it also did some serious damage. Where once raanus colorings were eye pleasing, they gradually  got very garish and then lost their appeal.
I love these old, sheep's color raanus most but I admire some of the more colorful ones too.
Elsa Montell, Finnish textile artist, wove beautiful raanus. She lived close to Rovaniemi, my home town, and I can well remember her work being talked of and also seeing few of her pieces (and many copies of her work too). She began her career by dyeing her own wool with vegetable dyes but later on she used also yarn dyed with artificial dyes. Elsa Montell respected folk art and found inspiration in asymmetrical and freely designed Skolt Samí raanus.
I have carried these images of stripes in my mind for decades. I have been looking at them, have tried to knit them a couple of times but have always disregarded the idea. I never knew just what to do with them. These horizontal stripes are the landscape of my mind, something I cannot get rid of. So it is no wonder that these stripes finally crept into these mittens. I don't think I had very much saying in the end, it was almost like they just appeared on the surface unintentionally.
Once I had the stripes running through the surface like a distant horizon, I knew where I would look for the image of the sun. Old Finnish embroidered woollen covers were my primary source.
We had a dusting of snow yesterday and I happened to be out right then, the experience was once again thrilling. Most of the snow is gone, it was just a dusting but it could be any day now.

Wool with you,


  1. I just love, love, love your blog! I love your knitting style and the little embroidery, and your love of place. Fantastic and not at all clumsy.

  2. Anonymous15:09

    I wanted to thank you for the post on Finnish textiles. I'm only about 1/8 Finnish (but that's the most I'm anything being a typical American mutt) I love your posts, mostly the knitting. But I love the nuggets of Finnish culture you add.

    Thank you.

  3. I don't think your post sounded "clumsy" at all. We are always our own worst critics. I really enjoyed the post on Finnish Textiles as I'm sort of a nerd in that sense. Please keep writing.

  4. A very interesting glimpse - thank you! Our environment still informs our creativity, I think...but for many, their "environment" is not primarily the natural world. I am happy to say the woodlands surrounding me are always, always in my mind's eye.

  5. Beautifully expressed. Thank you for pushing through the writer's block that was preventing you from sharing this inspiration story. Love your work, your header, and your blog.

  6. Thank you so much for this post! It was very interesting, and not "clumsy" at al! The mittens are so beautiful.

  7. norskiknits16:55

    I love stripes and was moved by your description of them, not sure if I have any Finnish in me but stripes are in my soul. Thank you!

  8. Hi Lene...we had our first dusting of snow today too!
    I love to learn more about your culture...thank you so much for sharing. We are all eager to hear what you have to tell us :-)

  9. Suzy20:16

    Thank you for the interesting posts. Your pictures are always gorgeous. My husband's grandmother was a mail order bride from Finland to the USA and his mother wove rag rugs. We just had our second dusting of snow in Idaho and also looking forward to more

  10. Thank you so much for this, Lene. I too love to hear about your Finnish surroundings--cultural and environmental too. I learn a lot each time you post, no matter how much, so I hope you don't let perfectionism get in your way.

    This is my way of saying that, when you have the chance, I would love to hear more about these things...whatever you can and want to write :)

    I have to admit that you always make me feel a little better with your posts about Finnish winter... we live in northern Vermont, so it gets pretty wintery up here, but nothing like yours! But you also have the benefit of such a beautiful place around you.

  11. Miekin olen miettinyt noita raanuja aikalailla. Äitini on kutonut muutaman ja olen miettinyt niiden kuvioinnin siirtämistä neuleisiin.

  12. Anonymous00:46

    Gosh, your mittens are pretty! your explanation of the
    Finnish stripes was so interesting. Thank you for sharing! The best to you, Jeanie in Montana

  13. Linda Rush08:12

    I am writing to say thank you! What an adventure you sent me on tonight. I live just outside of Sacramento, California. I googled your hometown of Rovaniemi just to find out where it is. Next thing I know I'm on youtube watching pictures flow by to the song Mad World by Gary Jules I haven't heard this in many years and now I have to download it to my Ipod. Then I clicked on one for the northern lights which was set to a song by a young women called Jieva. One of the most beautiful voices I have ever heard I can't understand one word she sings but I'm on a quest to find it and download it. I love your blog and your designs. Thank you much

  14. Todella kauniita raanulapasia! Raanut kuuluivat minunkin lapsuuteeni ja yksi pohjoisesta ostettu roikkui meillä seinällä.

  15. This was such an interesting post today. I have enjoyed catching glimpses of your beautiful knitted designs so much.

  16. Kauniita, tyylikkäitä lapasia. Mukavasti olet saanut yhdistettyä niihin raanujen henkeä.

    Meilläkin on pari Saanion raanua, velipojalla kirkasvärinen ja minulla harmaaraidallinen.