Recently I was lucky enough to be invited on a pilot of the Knitography Retreat near Trondheim in Norway. I want to share a bit about the trip – I'll be publishing this in multiple parts as there are lots of photos. Do also subscribe to the Marina Skua channel on YouTube as I'll be posting some video of the trip there.
The retreat was organised by Patricia (@p4chen on Instagram) of Knitography Farm, in partnership with MidtNorsk Kultur og Strikkefestival (a local knitting festival taking place in August) and Bårdshaug Herregård (the hotel where we stayed). Patricia has a small flock of Grey Troender sheep and is passionate about sharing Norwegian breeds and local textile culture.
Arriving in Norway
After an early morning flight from London Heathrow via Oslo, I was delighted to arrive in Trondheim to snow-covered ground and fresh blue skies. Proper winter, at last! I met the rest of the group in a lovely cafe – a collection of lovely knitters from the UK, USA, Switzerland and Sweden. Some of them I knew before; some I was meeting for the first time – and we're now all firm friends.
I had time for an excellent lunch, a bit of sock knitting, and a very brief walk round a few blocks of Trondheim. We then all bundled into a minibus for the journey to Orkanger, the small town where we'd be staying.
On arrival at the hotel we were immediately made to feel welcome – and very important! We were shown to our making space – a private area of the hotel set aside for our group's use throughout the retreat. There the local mayor and the organisers of MidtNorsk Strikkefestival greeted us with the same sense of pride and desire to share their local culture that we experienced from everyone we met.
We then all had Kveldsmat – a casual late-evening meal – before heading to bed and sleeping soundly!
Getting settled in
Waking to a beautiful morning, we got our first daytime view of our location. This photo is taken from the large window between the hotel lobby and our room. The green-turreted building is the beautiful manor house connected to the hotel.
After a delicious smorgasbord breakfast we all convened in our freshly vamped-up making space. Sewing machines, spinning wheels, a yarn-winding station, hundreds of knitting needles, fabric, local fibres, tea, coffee! A maker's delight.
While some people got on with their knitting, others learned to sew and embroider, and I took the opportunity to reacquaint myself with spindle spinning. It had been a few years since my last try – when I bought my first whole fleece in 2016 I looked at my little spindle lying on top of it, almost immediately bought a second-hand spinning wheel and have never looked back.
I wanted to try out the rovings that had been provided for us: carded wool from Grey Troender and Rygja sheep from farms in Patricia’s local co-operative.
I recorded a video whilst spinning on a snowy riverbank near the hotel; it’s on Patreon where you can watch if you’d like to subscribe and see the process.
I ended up spinning a little skein of yarn throughout the retreat on a beautiful spindle borrowed from Marce, and chain-plied it. I honestly can’t recommend chain-plying on a spindle. I know both my chain-plying and spindle spinning are rusty but the combination was a bit of an ordeal. I only got through it thanks to Paige, the owner of Frame and Fibre – a yarn and framing shop in New Jersey – who manages to make everything more fun.
A walk to a lighthouse
In the afternoon we took a snowy stroll out to the fjord.
I love the birch trees in the snow; they reminded me of the poem Birches by Robert Frost, which begins:
When I see birches bend to left and right
Across the lines of straighter darker trees,
I like to think some boy's been swinging them.
But swinging doesn't bend them down to stay
As ice-storms do. Often you must have seen them
Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning
After a rain. They click upon themselves
As the breeze rises, and turn many-colored
As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.
I will never bore of sunlight on snow on branches.
I get easily distracted by pretty trees and the wind on the water.
I almost always fall behind on pretty walks, stopping to take photos and snippets of video, then running a little to catch up, before being entranced by something else. But from the back of the group you get to enjoy looking at everyone else's knitwear the best.
The white snow of the delicate green lichen growing on creamy, crackled birch bark is mesmeric. The prettiest of colour schemes, with loads of textural interest. If you're into that sort of thing and are also on Instagram, #lichenfancier is one for you.
There were plenty of alder trees growing, with delicate cones that provide an excellent dye. I’ve heard they have been used traditionally to create ink in the region. It's lovely to see familiar trees in such a different landscape to the one I'm used to.
Marce was super cosy in her Fleece Flight, and is an excellent walking companion.
I love all the varied textures caused by the light covering of snow. The ice on the water, broken up and refrozen; the slabs of white on the roofs; the dusting like icing sugar on the trees and rocks on the hillside.
I want to see Marta in a Wes Anderson film; her sense of colour and style are always a joy.
Joyce had some fantastic marling going on, both in shawl and leggings (which you'll see in a bit). And I spy some of her signature dusty pink in that shawl. It's lovely to become familiar with other knitters' choices of colour and aesthetic in their craft.
Unsurprisingly, there were no boats out on the water in the chilly weather – they were all tucked up to rest.
The narrow spit of land we walked along is man-made – it protects the little harbour on the right from the rest of the fjord on the other side. The smaller, sheltered harbour had frozen, where the fjord proper had not. The lighthouse we're walking to is just behind the tree in the above photo.
There was definitely a bit of a legging-knitting theme going on – Joyce's stunner of a pair acted as inspiration while at least three of us were working on our own pairs. And I'm sure more people from the trip will go on to make some too! Mine aren't finished yet – they're in the naughty corner after the cable on my circular needles broke for the second time.
Our first glimpse of the tiny lighthouse – it stands at the narrow entrance to the harbour.
The lighthouse was small and there was space for just a few of us in there at a time. It was cosy, with benches and a little table.
Looking straight up in the lighthouse you see a ship's wheel attached to the wooden ceiling.
Views from inside the lighthouse.
My lovely roommate Jimi, whom I'd met just the week before when she came to say hello at Unravel. She's a wonderful designer who does amazing things with texture, as well as having seemingly boundless enthusiasm for everything.
Charlotte and Patricia – we were able to establish that we were, in fact, standing by a fjord. Despite some initial uncertainty in some quarters.
Paige and Jimi. Paige is a framer, not a farmer, but it's fun to pretend she has a farm.
Sofia is a super skilled photographer and designer; queen of colourwork and an utterly lovely person.
Walking home in the early evening – the snowy path through the trees feels like Narnia.
We were lucky enough to spot a beautiful heron by the water. I believe this to be a striated heron (Butorides striata), which isn't one I've come across before.
An evening of elegance
After having some time to warm up and change, we headed over the road to the Norway Building to learn about its history.
The Norway Building was built for the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, and is very proudly the only building to have crossed the Atlantic twice. The design is based on the traditional Norwegian stave church, and features amazing woodcraft. It spent over a century in the USA before being returned to Orkanger and reassembled in 2016.
Often we found our paths lit by candles in the snow, placed to welcome guests and show where the edges of the paths are.
The doorframe was completely covered in these beautiful, intricate carvings.
The interior of the building is as beautiful and woody as the outside – and the difference between it and a stave church is that it has windows to let light in. We were treated to a toast and a talk about the background of the building, the family that created it, and their place in local history.
Braving the icy roads again, in completely inappropriate footwear (I fell over, despite having lived in Russia in winter and knowing how to walk in those conditions!) – we walked over to the manor house within the hotel grounds. The moon and Venus were both out and shining bright.
In the manor house we had the most enjoyable formal dinner of modern twists on traditional Norwegian dishes (and the most delicious parsnip soup I've ever tasted). We were shown around the house after dinner. Each room was in a different style, as Christian Thams, the owner from the 1890s, was an architect and loved to experiment and show off local craftsmanship.