Knitting with the Norns

Swedish-Canadian designer Anna Dalvi enjoys knitalongs (KALs). This summer, Hélène Magnússon has been following her latest KAL, the Norn KAL, a series of three lace shawls on the theme of the three Norns of Norse mythology : Urðr, Verðandi and Skuld.

Back to Issue 01 – Autumn 2010


What is your background and when did you start knitting?

I grew up on the west coast of Sweden, but have been living in North America for the past 20 years.  I don’t actually remember being taught to knit, but both my grandmother and my mother used to knit, and one (or most likely both) of them must have taught me.

When I was a teenager, my favorite technique was Fair Isle, particularly with the Norse motifs and the Nordic stars.  I didn’t knit much in my 20s but picked it up again when my daughter asked me to teach her.  She knit a fabulous rainbow scarf, and I haven’t stopped knitting since.

What made you want to design hand knits and where do you seek inspiration?

I always liked to experiment with my knitting and figure out new little patterns, motifs or techniques.  It’s both fun and stimulating.

Inspiration comes from everywhere in nature, and having grown up on the coast, I’m particularly enamored by water. I’ve also always loved folk tales, fairy tales and mythology.  When I was younger, I used to bury myself in the fairy tale section of the library, and I loved to discover similarities between stories in different cultures.  Mythology was a logical extension of the fairy tales, as there are some fabulous stories.  In university I discovered the Icelandic Sagas, which are full of adventure and inspiration.

Why do you choose to release so many patterns as knitalongs (KALs)?

The first KAL I hosted (Mystic Waters) was after I had participated in Mystery Stole 3 (Swan Lake) by Pink Lemon Twist.  I had a good time, so I thought I’d host a small one of my own.  I was hoping maybe 20 knitters or so would join me, and was floored when over a thousand people signed up!

I really enjoy the immediate interaction with all the knitters in the group, and I LOVE seeing all the pictures of the shawls in progress and of course the finished pieces.  It’s such a wonderful way to meet and get to know knitters from all over the world, that I can’t imagine abandoning the KAL format.

How can we enter your KALs?

You can sign up for the KALs on my website:

Each KAL runs for an entire season of lace. The three patterns from the Norns KAL for example were published over the summer months in June, July and August, one pattern at a time each month. The autumn KAL, visiting three different world heritage sites, will be released over the autumn months, in September, October and November.

Upon signing up for the KAL you will receive an email invitation to join a yahoo group. Each month you will receive a brand new pattern for a lace shawl designed based on the current theme.

The patterns are distributed as a downloadable .pdf file, in the yahoo group.

The patterns are available in English, French and German. Help is available in all those languages, but also in Swedish.

Your patterns are in 3 languages.  That’s rather unusual.  What would you say are the pros and cons of going multilingual?

I started offering them in English, but it soon became apparent that there was a group of German knitters who could benefit from having the pattern available in German.  Bea Weindl offered to translate for me, and it’s been wonderful.  It helps of course that I do understand German, because sometimes people post questions in German in the KAL groups, and I can answer without waiting for a translation.  Later, Agnes Argan helped me translate my pattern to French, and that has brought in a group of French knitters.

I would be a little worried about having my patterns translated to a language I don’t understand at all, since I wouldn’t be able to help the knitters so much then, but both French and German are fine.  I have also on occasion answered questions in the groups in Swedish, Norwegian and Danish, and I just love the multicultural group that’s been part of my many KALs.

Can you tell me more about the Norns in the Norn KAL?

Urðr, Verðandi and Skuld are three sisters who live in a remote area of Aasgard, under the first root of Yggdrasil. They live in a dark cave, and in front of the cave is Urðr’s well.  The root of Yggdrasil snakes around the well. Each day the sisters collect water from the well and mix it with the magic clay and the coarse sand surrounding the well. They create a paste with which they cover the root to prevent rot and to preserve the life force of the tree. Yggdrasil is the world tree – central to the nine worlds of Norse mythology.

Every morning after caring for the tree, the sisters start to spin. But the thread they spin is no ordinary thread; it is not only the thread of life for all human and divine life, but also the thread determining the fate of the universe. It is the Norns that measure time and control the past, the present and the future.

Their names stem from their work. Urðr represents the past, Verðandi the present and Skuld that which will happen. Together they represent destiny.

The home of the Norns, at the well in the shade of Yggdrasil’s root is a holy place. There are three reasons it is a holy place; this is where Yggdrasil is cared for so that no rot could spread in the universe. It’s where Urðr, Verðandi and Skuld spin the thread of life and death. And it’s where the Norse gods go every day to discuss and lay plans to postpone the destruction of the world – Ragnarrök.

Can you tell me how these stories translated into lace patterns?

I designed one shawl for each of the Norns.

Urðr’s shawl is a circular shawl representing the well from which the Norns draw the water for Yggdrasil.  It is also the well of wisdom.  The center of the well (and shawl) is deep and dark, and around the edges are lapping waves.

On Verðandi’s shawl you can see the leaves of Yggdrasil spreading out.  This is because Verðandi is the Norn representing the present, and Yggdrasil has to be tended to in the present to prevent rot from spreading in the universe.

While tending to Yggdrasil is an important part of the Norn’s responsibilities, so is spinning the threads of life.  And since all of our lives are intertwined, Skuld’s shawl shows our interwoven lifelines.

What’s next for you?

Starting in mid September, I will be publishing another series of shawls with a Viking/Norse theme.  This time we will be visiting three World Heritage sites: Jelling Rune Stones in Denmark – erected by King Haralf and his Father Gorm to mark the occasion of converting the Danes to Christianity around the year 1000. L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland – Leif Eriksson’s legendary Vinland settlement*, made famous in the Vinland Sagas. And the rock carvings in Tanumshede, Sweden, which date back to the Bronze Age but show long ships used for exploration.

*Note from Hélène: Leif actually settled down in Iceland before he continued on his expedition to Vinland and returned home to Iceland afterwards.

Here is what we thought were the pros and the cons of the Norns KAL:

Can we just say that the shawls are delightful? Yes of course, how can we not! The three shawls were each as delightful as they were different. We enjoyed the simplicity of Skuld, the unusual shape of Verðandi and the circular Urðr is stunning.

The yarns Anna used were also just as appealing as the designs and well suited for each story. We particularly like how she obviously tries promoting indie dyers whenever she can and she was very helpful guiding participants in choosing their yarns.

The instructions are well written, easy to understand and the charts are very clear.

Anna reacted very quickly to any questions or comments, in any of the three languages. Because the shawls were released during the summer holidays, Anna sometimes had limited access to the Internet but she let us know in advance and nevertheless managed to keep us updated regularly. She even released one pattern in advance and immediately made the necessary corrections and uploaded them when a mistake was found in one of the charts.

One of the things we really love about Anna’s designs is the fascinating story behind them, but we would like to have it included with the instructions PDF so that everything is in one place. For now, you can only read the design stories online. Also, we would really enjoy reading more on each story (that’s why we asked in the interview) because we think it makes the designs more special.

Anna releases her patterns in many languages but the information about that on her website is only accessible in English.  It’s not until you’ve actually gone through the whole process and signed up for the yahoo group that information becomes available in other languages.

A last remark

Anna seems really quick to take current events into her designs like she did the other day when Eyjafjallajökull erupted in Iceland.