“… but a woman’s work is never done.” That was one of the first phrases my grandmother learned to say in English. I always wondered why that phrase (?!). Nor did I really understand what that meant until I started spending summers with my grandmother. She lived the second part of that phrase!
During summer visits, I did what might be considered by some as “man’s work” but for the women in our family was just what had to be done. My chores included (but were not limited to): felling and hauling trees (sometimes close to the house, sometimes on the hills behind the house), mowing the property (took 6 days push mowing 2 or 3 hours each day to cover the whole property), climbing trees (planted by my great-grandfather) to pick fruit, hiking into the hills (here they’d be mountains) to pick blueberries and cranberries, scraping and painting the house, repairing broken stairs, chopping felled trees into firewood, stacking firewood (sometimes against the house, sometimes in the woods between two standing trees), relocating and restacking firewood (bringing from the woods to the house) … you get the idea.
My grandmother wasn’t giving me work orders while feasting on vaffler (waffles). She was never still: She had a large flower and vegetable garden, she put up jams, preserves and fruit juices, she did all the laundry (in the basement and then dragging it outside to hang on ropes she would put up for just that purpose), cooking, baking and (later) watching over my daughter doing her own chores (pulling carrots, digging potatoes, etc.). On top of that was her fiber art work, and she was an expert at so many!
In the evenings is where I saw the “women’s work is never done” in action. First I put the tools away, brush the hay out of my hair, bathe, eat the wonderful meal my grandmother prepared, and (later) get my daughter to bed. Then, in the quiet of the house, my grandmother and I would sit in companionable near-silence while she tutored me in an array of Norwegian handarbeider (handwork).
One night she was dismayed to learn I had never knit a pair of Selbuvotter (Selbu mittens). (An expert knitter, my grandmother knit and sold a lot of them to tourists through the local husfliden.) So she walked into the kitchen, took the wall calendar down, ripped out a month and handed it to me. On the top half of the page was a picture of a Selbu mitten, and on the back was the chart. For the next week, that was my handarbeid assignment.
I knit them out of a thin 2-ply by Rauma (in charcoal and white), and my grandmother liked them so I gave them to her. I still have the pattern (trans: a picture and accompanying graph), and I have scanned it in to share: Selbuvotter.
Undoubtedly there are many, many Selbu mitten patterns. Certainly Terri Shea’s Selbuvotter: Biography of a Knitting Tradition helped bring these wonderful mittens into the knitting limelight!
Have you ever knit a pair?