Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Bohus Love

Blue Shimmer Cuff_4
I'll never forget Saturday, October 30, 2010. That's when my Bohus love began.

Before that day, I'd only seen Bohus Stickning designs in books or online. But now I know that--as with any work of art--to really appreciate their beauty, you have to see them in person. How else to appreciate those amazing colors, melting into one another as if viewed through mist? Or those those tiny purl stitches on a stockinette ground, flickering like bits of light in a painting by Vermeer? Or the light-as-air fabric, knit from fine angora-blend yarn at a gauge of 8-9 stitches to the inch?

The talented designers and knitters who worked for Bohus Stickning produced some of the most exquisite colorwork garments ever made. Founded by Emma Jacobsson in 1939 as a way to provide employment and income for women in the economically depressed Bohuslän region of southern Sweden, the Bohus Stickning continued until 1969, exporting high-end, hand-knit garments around the world. In its busiest year (1957), Bohus Stickning employed more than 700 knitters.

You can learn a lot about Bohus by reading Wendy Keele's Poems of Color. Published by Interweave Press in 1995, the book offers several patterns as well as historical information. But really, the best way to experience the jaw-dropping beauty of Bohus colorwork is to see the actual garments.

I had the chance to do just that last weekend at Stitches East, in a class taught by Susanna Hansson. We had to wear white cotton gloves when handling the garments Susanna brought, which was a little frustrating because they all shouted "Pet me!" But even wearing gloves, it was exciting to study every aspect of these truly perfect creations: perfectly even tension in the colorwork, perfectly finished collars and hems, perfectly invisible seams.

In addition to sharing garments from her own collection and giving a terrific PowerPoint lecture on the history of Bohus Stickning, Susanna gave each of us a kit to make a pair of wrist cuffs. The cuff pattern uses a 1947 design by Anna-Lisa Mannheimer Lunn called The Blue Shimmer, the most popular of all the Bohus designs.

The Blue Shimmer

We wound our mini skeins of yarn into balls and made little swatches to determine just how tiny our needles needed to be (knitters in the class ended up using sizes ranging from 1.5mm to 2.75mm/US000 to US2--which just shows how individual knitting tension is). We each decided what kind of edge we wanted (seed stitch, garter stitch, ribbing, or rolled stockinette). We cast on and then--zing went the strings of my heart.

Here's how my first cuff looked when it was about two-thirds done:

Blue Shimmer Cuff_1
Pattern: Bohus Stickning Blue Shimmer Cuffs, designed by Solveig Gustafsson and translated by Susanna Hansson
Yarn: SOLsilke Bohus angora-merino
Needles: US00 and US0/1.75mm and 2.00mm

Bohus colorwork differs from Fair Isle in some interesting ways. For one thing, the patterns don't line up as the design progresses. To my eye, this "misalignment" gives them a fascinating liveliness. It's as if the colors are constantly in motion and your eye can't quite pin them down. Adding to the liveliness are the little flecks of color and texture created by purl stitches worked in some but not all rows.

And then there's the complexity and subtlety of the colors: Bohus designers employed an extensive palette of colors and didn't limit themselves to only two colors per row or round. They didn't make it easy for the knitters! In The Blue Shimmer cuffs, for example, some rounds have three colors. I held one in my left hand and alternately picked up and dropped the other two colors with my right hand.

Here's a closeup so you can better see the purl stitches and get a feel for the luxurious softness of the angora:

Blue Shimmer, closeup

And here's how the cuff is currently shaping up:

First Blue Shimmer Cuff, nearly finished

I'm on the second (upper) edge and almost finished. For this edge I'm using a smaller needle and think the 1x1 rib looks considerably better than it did on the bottom edge. (Maybe I shouldn't say "almost finished," considering all the ends to be woven in ...)

At the moment, my favorite Bohus design is The Wild Apple, designed by Kerstin Olsson:

The Wild Apple

Thanks to Susanna's excellent class, I can't stop daydreaming about making a Wild Apple next year. I know it will be slow going, especially for a knitter like me who's always got 7 or 8 projects on the needles; it may take most of the year. Bohus knitters generally finished a sweater in about three months, but some very fast knitters could produce one in a couple of weeks. Imagine!

If these few pictures whet your appetite for Bohus, then I urge you to check out the Bohusläns Museum site, as well as Solveig Gustafsson's SOLsilke site. Solveig is a master dyer in Sweden who dyes yarns for quite a few Bohus designs and offers them in kits. (The kits are also available at the museum's site.)

In our class, Susanna showed us two Blue Shimmer hats, one knit with yarns dyed by Solveig Gustafsson and one knit with yarns from Kimmet Croft, an American company located in Wisconsin. I do wish I could show you a photo of them, but ... although when I rushed out the door at 6:45 am I had remembered all my knitting supplies, the directions to the Hartford Convention Center, and my wallet (very important for the Stitches Market), I somehow managed to leave my camera behind. Both hats were lovely but they were markedly different: the American colors were brighter and more saturated, and the yarn had less of a halo, while the Swedish yarn had much more of an angora halo and the colors were more subdued. (An aside about Kimmet Croft: some people in our class thought they were no longer in business, but Susanna assured us that they are, though not online. Contact info here.)

More links for the truly Bohus obsessed:

  • This Rainey Sisters blog post shows a Wild Apple knit with yarn from Kimmet Croft alongside Stephanie Pearl-McPhee's Guld (another Bohus design), which Stephanie knit from one of Solveig Gustafsson's kits.
  • This post by Stephanie has a great photo of the floats on the wrong side of her Guld-in-progress.
  • Check out this Rainey Sisters post to see an absolutely stunning Blue Shimmer.

Ahh, Bohus ... where have you been all my life? I can't wait to finish my Blue Shimmer cuffs. Even more, I look forward to wearing them in my chilly office this winter!


Robin said...

Beautifully written post about such an exquisite art form. Your enthusiasm is contagious. I love working with itty bitty needles and now have a desire to learn more about this! Thank you!

KnitNana said...

How lovely! (but is angora always a component? I'm allergic...)

Christine said...

Bonnie, I've been drooling over your cuffs since you started putting pics up on Ravelry. Gorgeous! I'll have to keep an eye out for another one of these classes and take one. I fell in love with Bohus when my husband and I went to Goteborg, Sweden this year and saw some examples at a design museum. Very droolworthy, indeed!

twinsetellen said...

Oh, hurry and come over to the Bohus group on Ravelry where you can share the Bohus love in so many ways!

Isn't it amazing how it just takes one close encounter of the Bohus kind to fall so deep?

Your cuffs are looking so fabulous.

stringplay said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
stringplay said...

Nothing beats taking a class! Thanks for posting so many great photos. That close-up one is amazing. So soft and lovely. I've read the book several times, just not sure I'm ready to use THREE colors AND purl!

Shelda said...

Fun post! I've been smitten with Bohus stuff for ages, and it's fun to see more. I keep thinking that someday I'll order one of those kits from Sweden.

KPiep said...

I've been fascinated with Bohus for years now, but sadly have yet to see any in person. I've been putting off buying a kit...but one of these days I'm going to splurge!c

Batty said...

Wow, these really do look amazing. Love the up-close shot of the stitches, I had no idea purling was involved. Tiny works of art indeed.