For this American, learning about knitting on the Faroe Islands has been absolutely fascinating. Their beautiful shawls and unique colorwork are as unique as the islands are remote.
Geography has never been my strong suit. In school, latitude and longitude lines swirled in my head and made little sense. I have been told I’m directionally challenged more than once by my dear husband. Probably because on more than one occasion I’ve lost my van in a parking lot because I couldn’t remember my way back.
When I met Leigh on Instagram last year I literally had never heard of the Faroe Islands. I had no idea that such a place existed with a rich culture and strong knitting heritage. According to Vogue Knitting the islands are equidistant to Norway, Iceland and northern Scotland. Basically in the middle of the North Atlantic. Brrrrrr.
While Leigh was born and raised in the United States she married a Faroese sailor and they have raised their four beautiful daughters mostly in this remote part of the world. The more I got to know Leigh the more I wanted to learn of her story and the rich knitting history of the Faroe Islands. (You can read her full interview a little farther down in the blog post).
Knitting has been an important part of Faroese culture for centuries, first as a way of making warm, durable clothes for survival of the harsh climate but then in more recent times, still for warmth, but also for an outlet of creativity and fashion, for community and finding out the latest gossip and for the passing on of valued traditions that makes Faroese women part of who they are.Leigh Hjaltalin
Local Connection: Serendipity
Leigh and I have never actually met. We connected on social media and she ended up buying a crocheted doll I had listed in my Etsy shop last year. But the most astounding thing is that Leigh’s sister goes to my church and not only that but I know her sister quite well! That’s what I call serendipity.
Although I don’t have the travel bug, I do enjoy learning about other countries, especially ones I’ve never even heard of. The more I’ve learned about the Faroe Islands the more enchanted I’ve become.
Faroese Knitting Culture
While the Faroese landscape is indescribable, the knitting culture is what has me so intrigued. Leigh stated that upon meeting her mother-in-law for the first time she was greeted with the question, “Do you know how to knit?” As an American that may seem like a strange thing to ask when you meet someone for the first time. But after learning just a little about life on the Faroe Islands it makes perfect sense.
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Faroe Islands Documentary
I found this visually spectacular documentary on YouTube (you can find it below). It’s worth watching if you’re interested in learning more about the Faroe Islands or you just want to see the incredible scenery. Not only is the landscape breathtaking, the inhabitants seem as warm as their knits. There is a small section about knitting and its importance starting at 40:02. Turn on your closed captioning because only parts of it are in English.
My favorite part of the film is when a knitwear designer speaks about the Faroese history of knitting. She explained that women would knit warm sweaters for their husbands who spent most of their time fishing out in the cold North Atlantic. The women were able to recognize their husbands from a long distance off just from the design on the sweater.
It made me think of those ladies who spent hours upon hours knitting a gorgeous garment and knowing in an instant which one was theirs. She may not have been able to recognize her husband’s stature or facial features from such a distance but her colorwork recognition was instantaneous.
In the Vogue® Knitting The Ultimate Knitting Book there are a couple of sections exclusively about Faroese knitting. They developed stranded knitting patterns similar to Icelandic and Scandanavian designs with intricate geometric shapes.
They are also known for their Faroese Shawls, which have butterfly wing shaping that allows it to stay on the shoulders without slipping. I found this beautiful pattern on Ravelry. I can see this being a future project.
Full Interview with Leigh
- My name is Leigh Hjaltalin. I’m 48 years old and originally from Lancaster, Pa. I was actually born in Rome, Ga during the short 3 year period my parents lived there but at nine months of age we headed back to our hometown in Pa where I was raised. My mom’s always called me her Georgia peach but I guess I officially qualify a Yankee, though I have a deep love and appreciation for the South with all its charms, warmth of hospitality and slow paced way of living. I’m married to a handsome Viking, sailorman from the Faroe Islands. We have been married nearly 22 years and have 4 beautiful girls ages 11, 14, 17 and 19. We have lived a total of 16 years on the Faroe Islands and 5 years in Calhoun, Ga., when our girls were small.
- My husband and I met the summer of 1996 doing missions work onboard a ship in Greece that was helping Russian Jews make their “Aliyah” home to Israel. He was a ship’s officer on board and I was a cook in the galley. I soon realized there was an actual place called the Faroe Islands hidden away in the North Atlantic, a tiny but hardly insignificant place that was destined to be my future home. He swept me off my feet and a little more than a year later, we were married and moved to the Faroe Islands at the end of 1997.
- To describe the move from big America to little and isolated Faroe Islands as a shock is a bit of an understatement. The country with its 18 islands and small population of around 50,000 people has preserved it’s way of life for centuries. It’s a place where everyone knows each other and “this is the way it’s done” is a given. Surrounded by mountains and ocean, seafaring occupations and traditions, treacherous winds and storms, shepherds and sheep and hidden-away villages, deep rooted ways of life and community, all this makes you feel as though you’ve stepped back in time. This and so much more became a part of the new life that I had made my own.
- One of my first discoveries about the Faroese was that they were a proud people; proud of their traditions and way of life, their language, their food culture and of course their beautiful islands. Immediately, one of the first questions I was asked by my mother-in-law (and many others) was, “Do you know how to knit?” I quickly learned that this was a very important skill in Faroese culture among the women. I did not know how to knit at the time and only knew a little of needle point and crochet. My mother-in-law introduced me to the basics but a new friend, who invited me to her knitting club, was the one who got me started on my first project and helped me to make my first blanket.
- Knitting has been an important part of Faroese culture for centuries, first as a way of making warm, durable clothes for survival of the harsh climate but then in more recent times, still for warmth, but also for an outlet of creativity and fashion, for community and finding out the latest gossip and for the passing on of valued traditions that makes Faroese women part of who they are. I don’t think I have met a Faroese woman who does not know how to knit but I have met a few who prefer other crafts. The Faroese national clothes of which the people are most proud are all hand knitted, hand woven and hand crafted. On the national holiday, you can experience a most proud display of this age old tradition of both young and old. In daily life, almost anywhere you go, you’ll see someone take out their knitting needles while they wait, while they chat, while they ride the bus, while they listen to the preaching…the list goes on.
- I have enjoyed knitting from the “get go”. The feeling of satisfaction it gives when creating and learning something new, the coziness of nestling in for a long dark winter with several knitting projects to keep my mind occupied and my fingers busy. Most importantly and top of the list though is knitting has brought new friends and a sense of belonging while living in this far away land. Just as in my home town of Lancaster, Pa, women gathered around the quilting table, here in Faroe Islands, knitting clubs are a normal past time and an important part of community. It’s a place of gathering with friends and new acquaintances to find out the latest news, share a cup of coffee, food and always, always cake. You have your neighborhood knitting clubs, your church group knitting clubs, close-friend knitting clubs, ect.. One of the knitting clubs I’ve been a part of for nearly 20 years even took a trip to London together! We did everything but knit on that trip! I’m of the opinion that no matter what country or culture you’re from, finding ways to gather and create together is an amazing opportunity for finding community, friendships and bonds that can last a lifetime. It’s a way to learn and share and grow together. It’s definitely one of things I’m thankful for in this tucked away, beautiful Scandinavian place called the Faroe Islands.