Sweaters: the Lusekofte of Norway

Sweaters: the Lusekofte of Norway

03/02/2015 Grace Jeffers

How well do you know your sweaters?

A winning combination of icy northern climates and large populations of sheep has produced the perfect winter artifact: warm wool sweaters. Each country boasting those elements has produced their own distinctive design solution. A wool sweater can be so much more than just a fashion statement or a warm winter layer; it can tell the story of its making, and be a symbol of identity, history, and tradition.

In the next few features we will examine the patterns and materials of several different traditional sweaters and see how tradition informs trends in design. Today, we’ll focus on the Lusekofte of Norway.

A Norwegian lusekofte cardigan, with close-up detail of the "lice pattern."

Traditional Lusekofte sweater.

The Lusekofte of Norway dates back to the 1800s; it is sometimes more formally called a setesdalsgenser, or sweater from the Setesdal region. The name translates as “lice jacket” after its black and white diagonal check pattern, and is always colored black, grey and white due to the use of un-dyed sheep wool. More recently though, color has been incorporated through ribbon woven into the neck and front opening. It is a casual sweater, worn traditionally by men.  Although the lice-check pattern is usually present, other symbolic patterns such as mountains, flowers, and snowflakes may be incorporated as well.

Author Annemor Sundbø is an expert on the history and cultural significance of Norwegian sweaters; two of her books have been translated into English: Setesdal Sweaters: The History of the Norwegian Lice Pattern and Invisible Threads in Knitting. Sundbø uses old photographs, newspapers and folk legend to tell the stories behind these traditional sweater patterns. She gives careful instructions for the decorative embroidery and making of the sweater the Setesdal way.

This traditional Norwegian pattern has made its way into modern design trends. Recognize the lusekofte pattern in any of these products?

Knoll's Besos drapery fabric, although designed with Indian embroidery in mind, has distinct reflections of a traditional Lusekofte sweater.

Arborite's new laminate pattern, Twill. Do you recognize the stitching detail?

This hand-crocheted rug by Hooked Design takes its design inspiration from Norwegian patterns.

Experimental hybrid storage furniture by Kata Monus, 2012. The lice check pattern emerges on the wood portions of this piece.

Now that you know your Norwegian sweater patterns, enjoy noticing them in modern day objects and designs!