Knit like a Latvian

Our trip to Riga.

The beautiful old town of Riga.

For years now,  since I picked up knitting again, I have wanted to visit the Baltic countries. Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian knitting patterns and traditions all make me dream. This summer I was lucky enough to convince my young fellow travellers to go to Riga. Little they knew about my plans to ramble around in the streets of the old town and look at the numerous hand-knits everywhere. 

Riga shenanigans. Latvian mittens above all.

I did contain myself. I did not fill up my luggage with Latvian mittens, although I would have taken them all if I could, nor did I succumb in the delicious store of Hobbywool. Only one (1) skein of yarn went home with me, but on the other hand, it’s enough to make a sweater or a huge shawl. I found a great book with pattern for Latvian mittens called Latvieša Cimdi  (Latvian mittens) so I can make me some pairs myself. It’s in Latvian,  but all the mittens are charted and the pictures are very clear, and there is no cuff and no thumb gusset on Latvian mittens so I will figure it out. The Latvian braid and the fringes, on the contrary, is a technique I only vaguely remember, but I already used YouTube to learn it and I have a Norwegian book about mittens where the how-to for fringes is described.

Norwegian handcuffs above and Latvian mittens below. The same motifs in both and (Latvian) fringes on the Norwegian handcuffs. Pictures from Håndplagg til bunader og folkedrakter by Heidi Fossnes and Latvieša Cimdi by Maruta Grasmane. 

Digression: Talking about that, I love to see the similarities and the differences between the Latvian folks traditions and the Norwegian ones. The summer after I went to Switzerland as an au pair, I worked as a tourist guide in Fagernes folkemuseum in Norway, a museum showing local traditions from the pre-industrial era in that region, and this was the very beginning of my interest in these kind of local / national heritage. The Norwegian institute for traditional garments  (Folkedraktrådet ) is situated in the same premises, and I met so many passionate people during my short stay that I got smitten. Now I find knitting being a very close part of this, and in Norway, stranded knit garments, wether it is mittens or socks, has been a central part of the traditional habits. Out of necessity, of course, hash winters oblige. But  the knitters always seemed to embellish their garments, as this was one of the few ways of showing their wealth in poor and hash rural society. In shortage of money, the women used their imagination and took what they had locally and copied the garments they could see on the marketplace,  garments coming from southern part of Europe, as Germany and Austria.  And the Baltic countries also, I recon. At least,  when I see the Latvian motifs on the mittens, they make me think that migration is a great benefit for all, and I believe that we wouldn’t have the same richness in patterns thanks to that. 

But Latvia was not only haberdashery and traditions. And no one can go on without food. Local pastries, bortsch soup and sourcream, potato pancakes, berries and locally brewed beer. And the very traditional hamburger and French fries because kids are kids… 

One should never neglect food.

And last but not least, travelling is about being together. These two fills my heart. They are sometimes great pals and sometimes each others worst ennemies. And sometimes they stick together against me. And that’s OK as long as I have decided it is. Haha.

Great travel companions.

Of course, Riga is a place I need to go back to. There are so many places I didn’t visit, and so much more I want to discover. But until then, I can dream of Latvian mittens , and even make a pair or three. If I can make up my mind which one I want to make first. 

Mittens mittens mittens

Happy knitting! 

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3 responses to “Knit like a Latvian

  1. Thanks to you I really want to visit there too, and I will try my hand at knitting some mittens . Lovely photos and super to see your travel team!!

    • I really recommend it, Keiry! I met several visitors who did an all Baltic countries tour, and I think this is a very good idea too! @itmariknits on instagram proposed a mittens KAL hosted in September, so feel free to join us! Xoxo

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