Going to the Chapel in Gloves

rosesaum embroidered mittens

Rosesaum mittens, designed by Nancy Bush and Jane Fournier.

“Show me your hands!” may never make the list of great pick-up lines anywhere but Norway.  Embroidered handwear played a prominent role in courtship, betrothal, and wedding ceremonies for men and women in the nineteenth century. Women would knit gloves, mittens, or fingerless mitts and then embroider colorful flowers onto them, displaying their talent for handcrafts and potential future contributions to a household economy. Once betrothed, young women would make more mittens for (male) future in-laws or to wear themselves as bridal gloves.

Veronica Patterson provides all the background in her article, “Fancy Dress for Hands: The Rosesaum Mittens of Norway” in the November/December 1996 issue of PieceWork:

rosesaum mitten embroidery pattern

The pattern for the embroidery that embellishes the thumb on the rosesaum mittens.

[F]ingerless gloves (fingreløysu) were worn in several regions of Norway, but the rosesaum embroidered ones flourished in the district of Hallingdal, where both married and unmarried women wore them to church. A bride wore them in the procession to the church, during the wedding ceremony, and as she and the groom greeted the guests as they left the church for further festivities at the home of the groom’s parents, a celebration that might last a week or more. In addition to being worn on special occasions, elaborately embroidered gloves and mittens were given as gifts.…

In Norway, mittens and gloves, along with socks and stockings, provided a highly visible canvas for a woman’s best work. Perhaps in part for that reason, they have long been important traditional gifts. Like other examples of a woman’s best weaving, knitting, and embroidery, mittens were used as sweetheart or betrothal gifts. A girl might give a young man a pair of embroidered mittens, for example, as a sign of a binding promise and intent to marry. Such a gift was sometimes called a “pleasure gift.” In some regions of Norway, a bride gave mittens not only to the bridegroom, but also to his father and brothers, as well as to the page and train bearers.

I love the idea of embroidered mittens working as engagement rings for men–especially bright mittens with colorful flowers on them! Imagine the deceptions begifted men might have invented: taking off their mittens before going into a tavern, “losing” mittens that seemed too feminine, or promising girlfriends they had never accepted pleasure gifts from other women. Maybe the marital implications of rosesaum work, not just its foreign appearance, helped to hasten its decline in the United States.

Our new kit contains PieceWork’s eBook Knitting the North, knitting yarn, and all the embroidery wool to make your own rosesaum mittens. Knit the mittens, full them to provide a stable working surface, then embellish with simple embroidery–just satin stitch, stem stitch, and French knots. If the men in your life don’t want to wear flowers on their hands, Knitting the North includes three other beautiful mitten patterns. Keep your embroidered masterpiece on your own hands, whether it’s your wedding day or not.