Vikings, wool, and Greta Garbo

Published on Tuesday March 17th, 2009

When the likes of Nancy Bush, Susanna Hansson, Marianne Isager and Evelyn Clark, to name a handful of the excellent instructors featured at the 2009 Nordic Knitting Conference, turn up within 200 miles of your home, there’s only one thing for it: pack your needles and hit the road! So that’s just what Jen and I did.

We drove up Saturday and perused a couple of yarn shops (I grabbed two skeins of lovely heathered brown Raumagarn for Husband Gloves at Acorn Street; Jen chose some natural alpaca at Weaving Works to stretch the double-knit scarf she’s been knitting as long as I’ve known her a bit farther), then met several of my childhood friends for Thai food.

Next morning we rose early to an unexpected snowfall–just to get us in the mood for Nordic woolens, apparently. Warmed by cream of wheat and the anticipation of a whole day’s glorious knitting in the presence of the masters, we drove to the Nordic Heritage Museum in Ballard. Fluffy flakes the size of crumpets–really, some of the largest snowflakes I’ve ever seen–were falling and obscuring the street signs, but we made it to class with plenty of time to pour ourselves some coffee and find our classrooms. Jen was off to study Rovaniemi mittens with Susanna Hansson; I tackled an Estonian Lace Sampler under Nancy Bush’s tutelage.

The Nordic Heritage Museum is in a building that looks as if it may have been a school–a stately old school with the most enormous lighted windows and cozily worn wooden handrails on the broad stairs. The snow lingered long enough for Nancy to take advantage of the dimmer light and show us slides of Haapsalu and the surrounding countryside, then cleared off under a violent east wind that brought sunshine and flooded our room with natural light. Just the thing for lace knitting and for appreciating the workmanship of the scores of beautiful shawls Nancy had heaped on the center table (and quite a contrast to my experience trying to study color for fair isle under horrid fluorescents in a hotel conference room at Madrona).

Nancy gave us seven different Estonian lace charts to try: twig pattern, leaf patterns, peacock tail, several lily-of-the-valley variations, and a rose motif that looks like hearts in quatrefoil named for Greta Garbo. Greta Garbo is all made with nupps, a technique I was eager to learn. My tablemate Ingrid got me started while Nancy was busy elsewhere, and soon I was nupping away with confidence and pleasure, convinced that the nupp is an ingenious invention that I ought to be putting all over my knitting. I also managed a peacock tail segment and one of the lily-of-the-valley motifs by the end of the class:

Yes, it badly wants blocking, but I’m planning to add the rest of the charts from the class handouts, plus others from Nancy’s Knitted Lace of Estonia. And I’ll say more about this next time, but I’ve already worked a fourth segment that makes me feel like a total rockstar. So eventually I’ll have a whole little scarf, if the Jamieson’s Ultra holds out.

During lunch we wandered the parts of the museum that were open, including a big exhibit of Elsebeth Lavold’s Viking Knits and a room full of historical woolens. I saw many of the famous Selbuvotter, a tam and a rad viking ship pattern on a sweater I’d love to copy, and a few intriguing construction techniques I want to try. There was also a wee marketplace upstairs, and after class I went back and splurged on a couple of skeins of Toots LeBlanc angora/merino. Michelle, the owner, was wearing a little cocoon-stitch capelet of it that I couldn’t take my eyes from, and since I’ve been groping her yarn at every Northwest fiber festival for the past three years, I decided it was time some came home with me.


Jen and I were plenty tired by the time we made it home to Portland (having stopped for tasty Mexican food at La Tarasca in Centralia, our go-to spot for nourishment on the way home from Seattle-area knitting events), but it was well worth it. And I did this in the car:

Pomatomus is finally getting a mate. Mrs. Pom is already the better sock by virtue of my reading the instructions instead of watching World Cup soccer while knitting. (Yes, the World Cup was in 2006. Mr. Pom has been baching it a long time.) And ain’t she cute on the Darn Pretty needles? This is one of the best yarn : pattern marriages I’ve ever achieved. Claudia Handpainted is one of my favorite sock yarns, and I’m excited that it now comes in semi-solids.

Next time I’ll show you how I took on an Estonian stitch that looks like lotus flowers… and won. (And failed to impress upon my husband just what a badass I am.)

12 Comments to “Vikings, wool, and Greta Garbo”

  1. Wendolene Comment Says:

    Estonian lace by winter light in an old schoolhouse–what an experience! I’m envious : ) I can’t wait to see the rest of your sampler!

  2. Tuulia Comment Says:

    I have read your blog for a long time, but I didn’t realize it was you in Nancy’s class! I remember your amazing cardigan – what a beautiful job! I still have to tackle the Greta Garbo, yours looks really amazing 🙂 Did you do the nupps with 5 or 7 stitches?

    And NHM used to be a school. They’re building a new modern building for NHM, which is good, but kind of sad, as I love the old school feeling of the building. It feels like there’s tons of history in that building alone!

  3. Ingrid Comment Says:

    The lace looks great, and I was impressed that I was able to teach anyone how to do a nupp. It was a fantastic conference, wasn’t it?

  4. Anne Comment Says:

    It sounds like a really wonderful class. I adore Nancy – I think she’s a great teacher, and oof! what wonderful places she’s been to.

    Are you doing a shawl from her new book next? 😀

  5. mamie Comment Says:

    you have made me wish my first weekend away sans children would have been seattle rather than mammoth. i am pretty sure tim would have have avoided injury had he been surrounded by swathes of lace versus hard outdoor ice.

    someday i am going to make it to one of these things. your trip sounds lovely.

  6. lolly Comment Says:

    I had no idea that you were gong to be there! I was in Tuulia’s classes on Friday and while I wanted to go to other classes, I also wanted to see the city and explore a bit, so I didn’t so any over the weekend. I am so glad to see that you enjoyed it. I loved the museum! Hoping to get my blog post together tonight 🙂

  7. Veronique Comment Says:

    You took a class by Nancy Bush?! I’m hyperventilating. Your sampler rocks.

  8. Seanna Lea Comment Says:

    I really need to finish my Poms. I’m somewhere in the foot of the first one, but it’s been at least 3 months since I picked it up last! Yours are gorgeous, and I’m not a pink person at all.

  9. Rebecca Comment Says:

    *Sigh*. That sounds like a perfectly dreamy day!

  10. Debby Comment Says:

    It sounds like you had such a delightful time, and I’m completely envious of all the wonderful classes in your area!

    It’s too bad that even the best husbands cannot appreciate those rock star knitting moments of ours. Mine tries, but it doesn’t compete with his killer sprint. 🙂

  11. Jodi Comment Says:

    That sounds heavenly! I’m visiting the Bohus exhibit at the American Swedish Institute next week. Thank heavens for spring break, as it’s the last week of the exhibition!

  12. whitney Comment Says:

    Wow, that sounds like a perfect day! How incredible, to take an Estonian lace class with Nancy Bush. Your lace sampler looks gorgeous, and I can’t wait to hear about how you took on the lotus motif and won!