In a time when so many of us spend our day in front of computers, some of us are bound to feel the need to create something, to touch, to produce something organic, raw and beautiful. Somehow, hand knitted scarves and mittens seem protective, comforting and warm against the challenges of the modern world. Most people have a strong need to be seen as individuals and knitting allows you to do just that. Even garments made in coordination with strict knitting instructions will always be unique because they have been crafted by an individual. (Jóhanna av Steinum, Faroese knitwear designer)
When woollen products were the main traded goods in the Faroe Islands, most homes were hives of industry. Usually the men carded and spun the wool, while the women knitted. In the middle of the eighteenth century the islands were exporting more than 100,000 pairs of knitted socks a year. A century later they were exporting the same number of jumpers.
Although knitting is now more of a hobby than a trade, it is still a central activity in many Faroese homes. The phenomenon of the "bindaklubb" or knitting club is a feature of the social lives of women of all ages. These regular get-togethers in friends' houses are occasions where knitting tips are shared, along with chat and cake recipes.
The traditional pattern motifs, which give Faroese knitwear its distinctive look, were collected in the 1920s and published in 1932. This book is still used today. Some of these repeating patterns are based on depictions of things, such as stars, dancing figures, or Thor's hammer; others are more abstract.
Faroese knitting now covers the complete range from homemade socks to high fashion, with some of the clothes by Guðrun & Guðrun gracing the catwalks of New York and Tokyo. The blend of traditional and contemporary styles can be witnessed at the summer rock festivals in the Faroe Islands where bands look out from the stage to see a sea of Faroese jumpers worn by the mostly young festival-goers.