A Guide to Traditional Scandinavian Garments from Mary Jane Mucklestone’s 150 Scandinavian Motifs

Have you ever wanted to try knitting with traditional Scandinavian motifs, but aren’t sure where to start? In her book 150 Scandinavian Motifs author and expert knitter Mary Jane Mucklestone suggests that before you start knitting motifs that are unique to a specific culture, it’s best to study the traditional garments that feature those motifs. This will offer you a deeper understanding of the culture and help you to gather more ideas for your own knitting.

Start planning your own Scandinavian inspired knitting by following along with Mary Jane’s guide to Scandinavian garments from 150 Scandinavian Motifs.
— Hayley DeBerard

The origin of Scandinavian iconic designs is found in a number of places: sometimes in regional dress from the nineteenth century; occasionally a particular style can be traced back to a single individual’s burst of inspiration; and in a couple of instances knitting cooperatives were responsible for the development of new styles or keeping old styles alive. Clearly, Scandinavian stranded knitting is a living, breathing art, changing and developing day by day.


The folk of the Setesdal valley in Norway developed what is arguably the most recognizable Scandinavian sweater style, the lusekofte or lice jacket. It is named after the smallest pattern motif, a single color stitch on a contrasting background. These are typically black sweaters patterned with many different white elements, usually including a “kross og kringle”(cross and circle) at the shoulders and a ground of lice on the body.


In this class photo from Norway the children are dressed in many different arrangements of classic Scandinavian motif elements; most are interpretations of a Lusekofte. Photo © Quarto Inc. courtesy of Arne Ola Grimstad.


The Fana sweater features a classic arrangement of checkerboard bottom, followed by stripes with lice, and finished with eight-pointed roses or stars at the shoulders.


Marit Guldsetbrua Emstad is known as the “Mother of Selbu Knitting.” She was born in 1841 and as a teenager, greatly influenced by the textile patterns around her, she experimented with placing a natural black “Selburose” or eight-pointed rose (also recognized as a star) on a natural white background. Her designs were a hit in the neighborhood, so her sisters and neighbors began to work these patterns and started selling them in nearby Trondheim. This mitten became part of the folk costume of the area, eventually becoming an important export of the region.


These modern gloves from Selbu Husflid feature an eight-pointed star on a white background. Photo ©Quarto Inc. courtesy of Garberg Foto, Selbu, Norway.


Knitters of the Hälsingland region of Sweden, which includes Delsbo and Bjuråker, produced interesting sweaters with very large allover patterns. It takes a person steeped in the decorative textile arts of the region to instantly understand the patterns, but with practice they begin to make sense. With large spaces between color changes, they are knit at a very tight gauge to mimic a woven fabric, or knit with the twined knitting technique called “tvåändsstickning,” which eliminates floats altogether.


This nineteenth-century sweater is from the Hälsingland region of Sweden. Notice how the color placement of the motifs that span the chest divide the motif at different points, fooling the eye into seeing two different motifs. Photo ©Quarto Inc. courtesy of Mona-Lisa Djerf ©Nordiska Museet.


Bohus Stickning began as a knitting cooperative in 1939 to provide relief work to the women of the economically hard-hit, stone-cutting region of Bohuslän, Sweden. It evolved over thirty years to become a house of high-fashion knitwear worn by elite women of the world. Designer and director Emma Jacobsson hired other talented designers to keep the brand fresh; for example, Kerstin Olsson, who is best known for her luxurious yoked sweaters that incorporate purl stitches into the colorwork patterns and are sometimes worked with a blend of wool and angora yarns. Jacobsson also revived interest in the local landrace sheep while searching for the perfect fibers for the cooperative.


Binge was established in 1907 to provide relief work to women of the Halland region of Sweden. It strived to preserve some of the local traditional pattern motifs. Gradually the cooperative grew to employ as many as 100 professional knitters. Garments were knit in various combinations of white, red, and blue.


Traditional Danish sweaters, though knit in a solid color, use many of the same motifs as stranded knitting but picked out in purl stitches on a plain stockinette ground called “damask knitting.” These “damask” garments are closely related to knitted “nightshirts” found all over northern Europe during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Not always meant for sleeping in, “nightshirt” was merely the name of a ubiquitous garment, worn by people of all classes, that was gradually incorporated into the national dress of the region.


In the Faroe Islands, thought to mean “sheep islands,” wool was so important to the economy that it was referred to as Faroese Gold! They are known for knitting sweaters with small allover repeat patterns often worked in natural colors. Faroe made a brisk trade in fishermen’s sweaters knit with these small patterns using fairly thick yarn, confusingly often called Islanders. Fine work was reserved for family member’s garments and folk costume.


Though color patterned knitting can be documented as far back as 1695, Lopapeysa, the iconic Icelandic sweater is quite young! Dating from the 1950s, this practical garment was possibly inspired by “Eskimo” sweater patterns found in Danish and Norwegian knitting magazines in the mid-1950s. Clearly inspired by the beaded collars of Greenlanders folk costume, these yoked sweaters feature evenly spaced decreases that are incorporated as part of the pattern. Fashioned from Icelandic lopi yarn, they are instantly recognized as “Icelandic” the world over. When knit from the plates of un-spun roving, the resulting sweater is an amazingly warm, yet incredibly light, garment perfectly suited for the climate. Visiting Iceland today, it is great fun to see all the people of both sexes and all ages wearing different versions of this sweater.


The Mounte Lorne Pullover from Interweave Knits Winter 2018 is a great example of a modern interpretation of a Lopapeysa sweater. Photo © F+W Media Inc. by Harper Point Photography.

KORSNÄS: Finland

The Korsnäs is an unusual garment from the western islands of Finland that combines tapestry crochet worked in the same pattern motifs as found in knitting, followed by stockinette-stitch knitted ground of lice, and finished at the shoulders with more tapestry crochet. This interesting garment is great inspiration for today’s craft revival, which often combines different needlework techniques in the same project.

Learn more about traditional Scandinavian knitting and find the perfect motif to start planning your own inspired garment with 150 Scandinavian Motifs!

—Mary Jane

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