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Knitting & Marriage

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After my last post, here is something a little more light-hearted. However, I must offer a WARNING…

This post may cause some knitters to blush. Be brave, dear knitter, and remember that knitting is a versatile craft with a long and impressive history. Also, believe me when I tell you that this is far easier on the eyes than googling “knit pouch” in an attempt to find inspiration for your latest pattern

Traditional Norwegian knitting may bring to mind beautiful stranded colourwork jumpers with flower clocks and reindeers, but my scholarly friend Joachim has unearthed another Norwegian knitting tradition, which you won’t find in any Interweave Knitting Traditions issues (even the digital editions)… This excellent gentleman spent a whole Sunday of his life researching Norwegian willy-warmers or forhyse & I think you will agree that deserves not a little thanks! If you are so inclined to test the commitment of your beloved, you will find several patterns on Ravelry. Without futher ado, here’s what Joachim was able to garner about this fascinating knitting tradition:

I’ve been doing some googling regarding the willy-warmer we talked about, or suspensorium, which I now know is the technical term. What better way to spend a Sunday afternoon. It turned out to be a lot harder to find info on it than I thought, especially because I wasn’t sure what the original Norwegian term for it would be. After a while I found an online article in a (very local) newspaper about an old woman in the Eidskog district who sells willy-warmers, and who claims that they are an old Norwegian tradition. A lot of the commentators contested her claim, but some of them mentioned having heard of such warmers being used as far back as the 1700s, going under the name “forhyse.” So I searched “forhyse” and came up with these knitted specimens from the Norwegian ethnographic folk museum, from the Hordaland and Osterøy districts.

It doesn’t say when they were made. Apparently “vænakot” or “venakot” is an alternative Norwegian name for them. “Ven/væn” means “pretty,” and “kot” and “hyse” both mean “little house.”

I also found references on Google Books. This one, about wedding traditions on the Faeroe Islands, refers to them as “kallvøttur” or “purrivøttur.”. It says that “kall” means “man,” and “purra” means testicles. “Vøttur” is the equivalent of the Norwegian “vott,” mitten. It was supposed to be knitted from the softest headwool. The book also claims that in Norway, the forhyse would sometimes be made out of squirrel fur, with the furry part inwards. Men would wear it when they went out in their leather trousers during the winter. It also mentions an ethnographic interview from Nordhordaland in Norway with a woman who was born in 1884. The reference is in this journal, published by the Norwegian folk museum in 1960. In the snippet that Google Books allows me to read, the woman reports having seen the “forhyse.” She says, “The forhyse looked like a mitten without the thumb. It was tied around the waist with a spun woolen thread. The forhyse itself was made out of white homespun.” It confirms what I was told about the tradition growing up: That it was common for a girl to give a forhyse to the man she was involved with as a test of commitment. If he accepted it, she knew he was serious about their relationship; if he laughed it off, he wasn’t in it for the long haul. In the anecdote on page 71, the girl’s mother had told her it was time to give her boyfriend a forhyse to test his commitment.

This stuff is all very fascinating. The book about Faroese wedding traditions goes on to discuss a viking tradition referred to as “sheath proposal,” where a woman would pass around an empty knife sheath, and would marry the man who returned it with a knife that fit the sheath. Talk about being obvious. Maybe the forhyse tradition is the next logical step of the viking tradition?

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24th March, 2011  // Traditional Knitting // tags: , , .

5 Comments

  1. Julie says:

    wow that is so interesting!! I think these willy warmers seem to make a lot more sense in the pre-underwear ages, since I bet they were the equivalent of giving a little support, and keeping a chilly breeze from getting in your trousers! ha, hilarious.

    • laylock says:

      Haha! I think they still make more sense than pants, but not having the requisite parts, it’s a bit difficult to tell for sure. ;)

  2. torirot says:

    Interesting! I have worked at a Norwegian ethnographic museum, but I never heard about this before.

  3. Very useful, thank you. I am translating some Norwegian into English for a museum in Oslo and came across “forhyse” or “venakot” – words I had never heard before. Now I know! :-)


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