Oslo – a knitting capital

Oslo – a knitting capital

If you’re commuting through Oslo by tram, buss or subway, if you take a break at a café, or sit on the train on your way in our out of the city, there’s a high chance you’ll spot someone knitting. When the temperature falls and the long nights of autumn sets in, big parts of Oslo’s population wrap themselves into homemade garments. We explored how the knitting phenomenon unfolds in the city.

 

Oslo's citizens probably don’t think much about knitting. It’s there, and it’s pretty normal for Norwegians to get their knitting out at meetings, on their commute and during lectures. It might turn some heads when there’s a table of knitting ladies at a bar on a Saturday night (yes, that does happen!), but that’s pretty much it. Knitting is a natural part of everyday life. It's just there.

 

Laila Henriksen
Laila Henriksen
Photo: VisitOSLO/Didrick Stenersen

 

A world of its own

 

However, knitting is probably a bigger part of Oslo's culture than people are aware of. In Norway, 43% of all women, and 30% of women under the age of 29, knit. The craft is also clearly visible all across town. You can find yarn stores in just about every borough – which is pretty unique even in Norway.

 

Tone Sjåstad, who is one of the organisers behind Oslo Knitting Festival, describes Oslo as a one-of-a-kind city when it comes to knitting.

 

– There’s just so much happening in the city, knitting-wise. There are knit nights almost every week in Oslo, and on a national level all the big cities have their own knitting festival. 

 

Laila Henriksen, who is the founder and owner of Værbitt garn at Grünerløkka, points to a growing social arena as one of the reasons why knitting is so popular.

 

– We are lucky here in Oslo. We have a diverse selection of yarn stores, knit nights and other knitting events. It’s easy for people to meet. Social media should also get some credit. A small community has grown from knitting, both locally here in Oslo and in Norway.

 

Yarn store boom

 

Within the last ten years, several yarn stores have established themselves in Oslo’s hippest neighbourhood. Just in the district of Grünerløkka , there's four fabric and fibre craft stores, three of them dedicated yarn stores. All of them have their own specialties and focuses, making them somewhat different from each other.

 

Værbitt garn is one of these. The store has quickly become a meeting place for knitting enthusiasts of all ages. Værbitt is a combination of yarn store and micro dyeworks. The name means 'weather-beaten' in English, and alludes to the Norwegian national anthem.

 

– Norway is probably the county where people knit the most, and wear the most wool, Laila says.

 

She’s unsure of what makes the knitting community in Oslo special – if it even is special.

 

 – The knitters themselves aren’t that different from others. People knit all over the world. However, there are very many of them here.

 

Sofaen hos Værbitt
Sofaen hos Værbitt
Photo: VisitOSLO/Didrick Stenersen

 

Locally produced yarn

 

Laila specializes in yarn made from Norwegian wool. Sustainability and ethical production are things she finds important. As one of few, she sells almost exclusively yarn produced in Norway.

 

The yarn is also free of plastic.

 

 – I want the same thing to happen with wool and yarn that’s been happening with food. We should use our local resources. There are good qualities to Norwegian wool, and it really suits our climate. It's environmentally friendly, sustainable, and we know how animals and humans are treated in the production process.

 

In later years, many small businesses selling hand-dyed yarn have established themselves on the market, most of them online. Very few of them dye and sell exclusively on Norwegian, untreated wool.

 

Værbitt is the only brick and mortar store in Norway that dyes yarn on site. 

 

Butikkgulv og garn
Butikkgulv og garn
Photo: VisitOSLO/Didrick Stenersen

 

Yarn tourists and yarn crawls

 

The Værbitt venue is compact, with a yarn store in front, and a small room in the back where Laila dyes her yarn, and has a work area. The storefront is packed with yarn in all the colours of the rainbow, while the back room looks a bit like a lab, with big, steaming cauldrons and a myriad of bottles filled with different coloured liquids. There are also huge bundles of yarns hanging from the ceiling, ready to be dyed.

 

Laila Henriksen farger garn
Laila Henriksen farger garn
Photo: VisitOSLO/Didrick Stenersen


 – It’s a bit messy in here right now, Laila says.

 

 – But it’s rarely tidy, to be honest!

 

We are visiting Værbitt on one of the hottest days of the year, but that doesn’t seem to keep customers away. A steady stream flows through the door. The conversation between Laila and her customers is light, and often filled with laughter. 

 

Do you get many tourists visiting?

 

 – Yes! It almost feels like its fifty, fifty. I get both Norwegian tourists and people from abroad visiting.

 

Yarn isn’t the only thing Værbitt offers. There’s also handmade soap, vintage glass buttons and hand sewn knitting bags on the shelves. In the fridge there’s Tøyen-cola, or “nectar of the gods”, as Laila herself calls it.

 

 – I’m not really a good saleswoman, so I only stock stuff I like. I basically rely on good products.

 

Still, the passion for yarn shines through everything, and Laila rarely misses an opportunity to talk about local sheep breads with the customers.

 

 – One time I had an Australian customer who told me it was impossible to find Australian yarn where he lived. I was shocked. There’s so much sheep breeding going on in Australia, and we get so much of our merino wool from there!

 

Vegg med gensere
Vegg med gensere
Photo: VisitOSLO/Didrick Stenersen

 

Laila tells us that many of her customers who are coming from out of town, travel around the city to visit all the best-known yarn shops.

 

This phenomenon is called "yarn crawl", an expression borrowed from "bar crawl". The idea is to visit a number of yarn stores to have a look, a chat, knit where possible, and maybe buy some yarn. Yarn crawling is also popular in big cities like New York and London.


 – It really is a testament to the fact that we have so many different yarn stores in Oslo. Compared to the size of our city, the amount of yarn stores is staggering, and there's something unique to every one of them. There’s room for all of us!

 

What do yarn crawlers look for in your store?

 

 – If they’re from abroad, they usually want something uniquely Norwegian. If that's the case, I usually sell them something extra fun like yarn from one of the small factories around the country, or yarn from Norwegian Wild Sheep, Grey Trønder Sheep, and Pelt Wool Sheep – the old Norwegian sheep breeds that you can’t find abroad. Norwegian tourists are mostly looking for hand-dyed yarn, and come well prepared.

 

Garn og knapper
Garn og knapper
Photo: VisitOSLO/Didrick Stenersen

 


A million kroner industry

 

Værbitt is not the only store to receive attention from abroad. Many of the yarn stores in Oslo experience yarn tourism. Oslo Knitting Festival has chosen to communicate mostly in English, and attracts attention from people abroad.

 

 – We have international course instructors and businesses exhibiting at the market, and we get a lot of visitors from other countries, Tone from Oslo Knitting Festival says.

 

Flasker med syrefarger
Flasker med syrefarger
Photo: VisitOSLO/Didrick Stenersen

 

 – We want to spread the message of what is happening in Norway abroad. So all information is in English as well as Norwegian. The weekend after this year’s festival we are also hosting a group coming from Canada. We are guiding them through a knitting-related programme where the visitors will learn about Norwegian knitting history. We will also teach them how to knit traditional Selbu mittens. That’s really something we are excited for!

 

Many still associate knitting with something cosy and cute, which it is ofcourse is. But knitting isnt just for housewives and grandmas, as many still believe. Knitters come in all ages, shapes and sizes.

 

 – Knitting is underrated, Tone says.

 

 – Both by knitters themselves, and by others. It’s mainly a female activity, and many within the industry are women. That might have something to do with it. But it isn’t just cute. It’s high time for people to take knitters seriously. People are a bit shocked when I tell them that we managed to gather over six thousand knitters at Oslo Knitting Festival last year, Tone says laughing.

Go on a yarn crawl!

Explore the interactive map below and see our tips for knitting attractions in Oslo. Klick on the different points on the maps for more information.

A closer look at Oslo Knitting Festival

We had a chat with Tone Sjåstad, one of the enthusiasts responsible for Norway's biggest knitting festival.

 

Cecilie Sweater by Marie C. Dahl
Cecilie Sweater by Marie C. Dahl
Photo: Ingvild N. Tjessem


Please tell us a little about the festival.

– Oslo Knitting Festival is an international fibre festival. It was started by Katie Griffiths in 2015, and was originally held at Deichman Library. At that time, she was hoping that at least fifty people would come. 1500 knitters showed up. Since then, the festival has doubled the amount of visitors each year. I joined her in planning the next year, and in 2017 we moved to the Norwegian Museum of Cultural History.

 

How has the festival developed through the years?
–When the festival started, there was nothing like it in Norway. Now the situation is pretty different. That’s why we’ve adjusted our focus. We don’t want to just be an arena where people buy stuff. We wish to be a festival with a focus on sustainability, an arena for knowledge and learning.

 

Workshops, talks and lectures have been given more space. Material knowledge gets to stand in the centre of almost everything. It’s also important for us that people can trust that what they think they get is what they get. So we’ve become stricter with our exhibitors. Goods are ethically produced and environmentally friendly. People who care about the environment should be able to buy whatever they want.

 

Vandriar Mittens by Laila Henriksen
Vandriar Mittens by Laila Henriksen
Photo: Ingvild N. Tjessem


Why the Museum of Cultural History?
–The museum is a very special place to be, and it gives us the opportunity to make use of the historical buildings for courses and workshops. It’s also much more personal than an exhibition venue. We are more than a market, and the surroundings underlines that fact.

 

In theory, the museum has an unlimited amount of space too, so the festival has room to grow. In 2017 we still underestimated the amount of people who were coming, though. It became a bit crowded. That’s why we’ve moved parts of the market place outside.

 

Granskog tee by Renate Yerkes
Granskog tee by Renate Yerkes
Photo: Ingvild N. Tjessem


What are people interested in?

–The more experienced crafters are interested in more advanced techniques and not just knitting. We want to offer something for everyone. That means people who are not that interested in knitting, those who wants to learn, and those who are experienced and want to take a step further. We offer workshops, classes and talks on all things woolly – not just knitting.



You've doubled the visitor numbers every year. How many do you think will come this year?

–That’s difficult to say. I hope people will come, I think its going to be a great party! But I don’t dare to speculate. Maybe as many as last year. I don’t think we’ll double this year. It will be fun at any rate!

 

Cecilie Sweater by Marie C. Dahl
Cecilie Sweater by Marie C. Dahl
Photo: Ingvild N. Tjessem


Read more about the festival on their webpages