85. Knitting in Scandinavia between 1500 and 1600
FEB. 7, 2024
Ryan takes Pete to Scandinavia, home of the Vikings, to discover knitting in the 16th century! Discover the hotly-contested origins of the art. Wonder at the warmth and workability of wool. And learn about the marvellous mitten that changed knitting history!
To locate Scandinavia, grab a map, find Europe, head to the most Northern part, up past Germany – and there you're gonna find three kingdoms:
o The first is connected to mainland Europe, and its the smallest of the three – this is Denmark, the spiritual home of bacon
o Head north from there, over the icy waters of the Skagerrak, you’ll find Norway, with its coastline filled with flowing fjords
o Then head east, and you’re in the home of muppet chefs and sexy blondes - the largest of the Scandinavian countries, its.. Sweden
Now, you’d be forgiven if you thought Finland and Iceland and maybe the Faroe Islands and Greenland and maybe even the OH-land island (Åland Islands) were also part of Scandinavia, but you, like me before I started researching this, would be wrong. What you’re actually thinking of is ‘the Nordic Countries’.
Scandinavia is officially a sub-region of Europe, therefore it only contains Denmark, Norway, and Sweden.
The name ‘Scandinavia’ comes from early Germanic people who looked at that region and called it Skah-tin Av-jo, meaning ‘Dangerous Island’ – which apparently referred to the waters around the peninsula being dangerous, rather than any people that lived there.
Today though, the word ‘Scandinavia’ signals less of a warning, and conjures instead images of snow; skiing; reindeer; warm sweaters, saunas, stories by Astrid Lindgren, and flat-pack furniture.
Travel to Scandinavia and you’ll find rugged coastline, dense green forests, glowing northern lights, and funky modern cities that blend a rich historical heritage with cutting-edge design and technology.
Combining the total areas of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden together gives us an approximate size of around 880,000 square kilometers – or 340,000 sq miles - which is just over 1.5 times larger than a France, which is a big area, and with only 21.5 million people living across all three countries - that’s a sub-region of Europe with lots and lots of rural country.
Language-wise, each nation in Scandinavia speaks their own official language… so Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish - with English being the second language.
The religion is Christianity, each country has its own national animal: Denmark - the Swan, Norway - the Lion, and Sweden - the Elk (Moose).
Now, again, because there is no one national anthem for Scandinavia, I’ve had to pick a song that I think best sums up the spirit of the region.
It’s originally from Norwegian, but it’s lively and it is said to capture the essence of nature and the outdoors, so I think it covers the wider region nicely. Called, “Gammel Jegermarsj" or ‘Old Hunter's March’, it’s a military march, and it sounds great.
Denmark has a tradition that takes place every 31st January. Named after a Danish naval officer, the tradition of the Olfert Fischer Coin Toss involves tossing a coin on January 31st.
If it lands on heads, the year will be favourable; and if it’s tails, it will be unfavourable. It's a quirky superstition, and I think that given we are recording on the 31st January, we should do that right now. Off you go Pete! You’re gonna be like Punxatawny Pete from Groundhog Day!
(Pete flips a heads – everybody is going to have a good year. Hooray).
There is a town in Norway where it is illegal to die. The town is called Longyearbyen in Svalbard and it has a law which forbids you from dying there.
The reason being that you can’t be buried because the extreme cold and permafrost prevents bodies from decomposing and as such, burials are forbidden.
So, if you're about to die, they'll ship you to the mainland where you can rot in the ground.
Every week in 2011, Sweden’s official social media account was handled by a different member of the public. Launched in December 2011 by the Swedish Institute and VisitSweden, the project known as "Curators of Sweden" involved handing over the country's official Twitter account, @sweden, to a different Swedish citizen every week.
Seen as an experiment in national branding and social media, the idea was to present a diverse and multi-faceted image of Sweden to the world. And so, for that year, ordinary Swedes from various backgrounds took control of the account to showcase the country through their own eyes.
The project lasted for 7 years, during which time 365 citizens took their turn moderating the feed. Teachers, farmers, writers, artists, and even a priest, took their turn – each allowed to post whatever they wanted.
Mostly they tweeted about their daily lives, opinions, and aspects of Swedish culture, society, and politics.
But there were instances where controversial tweets were posted, such as edgy jokes, and negative comments about immigration.
Notably, the very first curator, a guy called Jack Werner, earned himself the nickname "the masturbating Swede" after he posted several tweets about his favourite leisure activity.
Despite this, the project was considered a success and even inspired Ireland to do the same, which they started in 2012 and is still going strong today, 12 years later.
The History of Scandinavia
Around 12,000 BCE, the sheets of ice from the last ice age retreat leaving pristine new land for Germanic hunter-gatherer tribes to discover.
They move north, build some megalithic monuments and carve some images on rock walls for folks to marvel at for millennia to come.
Time passes during which they develop their own culture and societies and around 1800 BCE they hop on the bronze train, making tools and weapons which they love so much they insisted on being buried with.
A thousand years later, and their culture has unified to the point that we start to see them being referred to as the ‘Norse’.
The Norsemen start trading with neighbouring tribes, and adopt new methods of farming and craftsmanship to their repertoire – most notably, adding iron weapons to their list of ‘things to be buried with’.
Another thousand years passes, and in the early medieval period, emerging from the Norse come the ‘Vikings’ - a group of people whose passion for taking other people’s stuff, quickly establishes them a bad-boy reputation across much of Europe, the North Atlantic, and the Mediterranean.
During this period we see the emergence of the three distinct kingdoms of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, and almost immediately fighting kicks off between them as they look to protect and solidify their borders.
By the end of the age of the Vikings, around 1066 CE, Jesus Christ comes a-callin’, and the old beliefs of mighty hammers and giant serpents gets pushed out in favour of burning bushes and turning water into wine.
Christianity is so popular that it reshapes the entire region, both culturally and politically, and under the auspices of their new Christian God, an uneasy union is formed, where the three kingdoms are brought together under one ruler – Eric of Pomerania, who was coronated in the city of Kalmar in 1397, but deposed just five years later. Side note: After losing his crown, Eric went on to become a pirate, insisting on everyone calling him ‘the Pirate King’.
Despite the loss of a monarch, and lots of instances of bloody resistance and rebellion, the Union of the Kingdoms actually lasts for a couple hundred years, until 1520 in fact, when the Swedes decide to break the agreement by electing their own king.
Denmark and Norway, keen to keep the union going between themselves continue to give it a go for another 300 years – during which time, they adopt a new Lutheran theology which they pick up during the Protestant Reformation which was the trendy new thing going viral across Europe.
Sweden, now going it alone, takes a different tack, deciding to expand its territory and forcefully establish itself as a great power of Europe.
Which surprisingly, is quite successful, and they lord it over their neighbours for about hundred years, in fact.
That is until Russia and several other Northern states have enough of their nonsense, band together, and successfully hand Sweden a can of whup-ass that causes them to retreat and give up their new found power and prestige.
In the early 1800s, Norway tells Denmark that things have gotten stale between them and they think they should go on a break.
Heartbroken, reluctantly, Denmark agrees to the split - only to find that Norway has immediately partnered up with Sweden in a brand new union that then lasts for the next hundred years – until, 1905, when, perhaps inevitably, they break up too - leaving everybody ‘available and looking’.
And that brings us to the 20th century, during which time the Nazis occupy Denmark and Norway, while Sweden turns a blind eye, declares neutrality, and busies itself instead opening a small-scale mail-order business in the village of ELM-hoolt (Älmhult), called ‘IKEA’.
Post-war, things settle down, there’s growth and prosperity for all and to top off the general happiness, in 1972, the world rejoiced the formation of Swedish pop group ‘Abba’.
Denmark joins the European Union in 1973, followed by Sweden in 1995.
And that brings us to today, where Scandinavia frequently tops the charts as the place on Earth with the highest quality of life.
Each nation in Scandinavia has a strong commitment to democracy, with some of the most progressive social policies in the world. They have extensive public services, gender equality, children's rights, and a strong emphasis on a healthy work-life balance.
All of which results in demonstrably the highest standards of living in the world.
Knit one, Purl one.. Cast on.. Bind off.. Frogging.. Gauge.. and Stockinette stitch.. we’re talking ‘knitting’!
Originally from an old English word meaning ‘to knot’, knitting is the method by which yarn or thread is manipulated into rows of interconnected loops that forms a fabric. A fabric which most people associate with knitted clothes.
No doubt you’ll all have owned something knitted at some point in your life, be it a winter scarf, some woollen socks, or that jumper that Meemaw gifted you for Christmas.
But surprisingly, knitted clothing is only one small part of a much larger global ‘knitting industry’ worth over $500bn. It’s an industry that produces all sorts of knitted fabrics for things like, airbags, medical materials, insulation blankets, geotextiles, fishing nets, bullet-proof vests, oil spill containment equipment, as well as a variety of air and liquid filtration systems.
Knitting as a manufacturing process allows products to be created that are flexible, breathable, warm and insulating, durable, versatile and quick to produce.
The origins of knitting though is lost to time, but is believed to have started somewhere in the Middle East around the 11th century.
In fact, the earliest known example is from Egypt at this time, and it’s a pair of finely knitted socks that were designed to be worn with sandals.
With the expansion of the Islamic Empire in the centuries that follow, knitting hits Europe around the 13th century, with the earliest example being a pair of silk pillow cases that were knitted with symbols to protect the owners during their sleep.
Now, if like me, it surprises you that knitting apparently appeared so late, and wasn’t something that us humans have been doing since early man… after all it’s just wool and a couple of sticks.. Well, it’s a hotly contested subject among historians too.
The problem is that any evidence of ancient knitted fabric would be, on the whole, hard to find, because organic material decays quickly.
But - that hasn’t stopped some fragments popping up every now and then, which obviously does raise some questions.
For example, one fragment was found in the Netherlands which appears to date back to the 2nd century, suggesting that the technique could have been known and practiced during the time of the Romans, over a thousand years earlier than previously thought.
There are even some arguments that it might even be older than that, going back to the 7th century BCE, with some historical researchers pointing to the character of Penelope in Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey, who is described as ‘unravelling her work each night’ - which they say is a direct reference to her doing knitting.
But anyway, point is, by the late Middle Ages, the production of knitted goods are underway in cities across Europe, and men and women are learning the skill, guilds are being formed, and a whole industry emerges.
In 1589, British inventor, William Lee, creates a simple knitting machine, which didn’t make a tremendous impact, but a couple of hundred years later, in the 18th and 19th centuries, it helped inspire industrial engineers to build larger more complex mechanical versions that could mass produce knitted goods at large scale – and from then, things changed forever.
In fact, the change was so fast, that a group of English workers, nicknamed The Luddites, protested against the use of the machines, arguing that they were taking their jobs. After some of the Luddites sabotaged and demolished a few of them, the government cracked down on this by passing a law which made the destruction of industrial machinery a capital crime - punishable by death!
And so, with hand-knitters out of business at the industrial level, hand-knitted goods moved into the home as a cheap way of making clothing and blankets.
Which came in handy during the two world wars, when a lot of knitted materials were required to keep everyone warm. Side note – did you know that spies used to send encoded messages knitted into the fabric? They’d use different stitches, patterns, or miss a loop here or there, all of which held a meaning and could be decoded later.
After the war, knitted clothing became less necessary and less popular and so it became split between mass-manufacturers and the world of arts and crafts, where hobbyists make one-off items, and enjoy sharing patterns with each other.
Today though, due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a growing interest in knitting, especially as a form of wellness or therapy, with the meditative process being recognised by medical professionals as a productive way to reduce stress and improve motor skills.
Anyway, that’s some background to ‘knitting’, what we really want to know is about Knitting in Scandinavia during the 16th century, right? So let’s crack on.
The Origins of knitting in Scandinavia
Scandinavia has a long history with harsh winters. 40% of Norway and 15% of Sweden are north of the Arctic Circle, where temperatures can reach as low as -30C (-22F) and winters can last up to six months.
And so, as long as people have lived in Scandinavia, they’ve needed warm clothes.
As you might imagine, this has influenced Scandinavian fashion, with Norway, Sweden, and Denmark all producing clothing that reflects their response to dealing with the cold.
Norwegian sweaters, now world renowned for their distinctive patterns and superior warmth, trace back to the late 19th century, where they were knitted by fishermen's wives to protect them against the harsh, cold climate at sea.
Similarly, the small village of Lovikka in the northern part of Sweden started knitting mittens, that today are recognised around the world for their warmth and unique patterns.
The Danish even have a concept called "hygge”, which loosely translates as something like ‘cosiness’, and refers to the need for warmth and comfort during long, dark winters.
And of course, more recently, Scandinavian brands like Helly Hansen and Fjällräven have become world-famous for their winter wear which blends traditional Scando clothing with modern technology.
The point being, that the Scandinavian ability to adapt to and embrace their cold environment has always been important.
And we see that historically, with the earliest peoples making clothing from reindeer hide and fur, 1. because it was warm and water-resistant, but 2. Well, because it came packed with loads of tasty meat into the bargain.
But as time moved on, communities got bigger and large scale hunting of reindeer to clothe everyone wasn’t practical.
So, around 6,000 years ago, we see the introduction of ruminants to the region, animals like deer, goats, and sheep – all of which were ideally suited to dealing with the climate and the terrain.
They could produce milk, meat and cheese – but also be farmed for their hides and their wool.
Wool in particular, became the star of the show, providing excellent insulation, while remaining light, breathable and water-resistant.
And so very quickly sheep become one of the most common animals in the area – with estimates suggesting literally millions of them across the entire region by the end of the 16th century. And it’s no different today, where there is an estimated 3 million sheep across Norway, Sweden and Denmark.
So, looking back at the 16th century, we see a lot of people with a lot of sheep, with wool forming a significant part of the region’s economy. Different provinces are raising various breeds of sheep, each with their own variation of texture and quality, some finer than others, but all high-quality.
Every year, when the snow on the mountain started to melt, and new grass started to grow, the farmers would lead their sheep out into the mountains and forests.
There the sheep roamed freely in the wild, for most of the year, until autumn rolled around and they were led back home to be sheared or slaughtered. The wool was then cleaned to remove dirt and grease, and then spun using a drop spindle to make threads of yarn.
Now, I say, a drop spindle, which was a simple, portable wooden tool for making yarn, but it’s worth noting that during our time period in the 16th century, there were some wealthier farms, that had invested in a crazy new-fangled technology called ‘a spinning wheel’ - like the one that sleeping beauty pricks herself on in the movie - and that allowed them to more quickly and efficiently make yarn. Sidenote, it might surprise you to learn that spinning (drop or wheel) was primarily considered women's work. It was a skill passed down from mother to daughter and was so integral to women's lives that the ability to spin was often a prerequisite for marriage.
Now what did they do with all this spun wool?
Once it was ready, the primary use was for weaving. Most homes had a simple loom that that helped them weave a woollen fabric that was used for a variety of things - in fact, almost all of their things – tunics, trousers, cloaks, dresses – all woven material produced on a loom.
The clothing was often loose and not very flexible, stockings for example were simply woven fabric that folded down over the toes. It was heavy and bulky and worst of all for the Scandinavians, the tightness of the weave didn’t help trap air for insulation.
On the other hand, it was hard wearing, lasted a long time, and was just simply how clothes were made then, and had been since the neolithic era.
So it would have been with some interest to the people then, that a new fabric was slowly being introduced, a material that looked like their woven cloth, but was more flexible, lighter, and better insulating.. knitted fabric.
The discover that changed everything – a twined mitten!
It is unclear which Scandinavian country first started a tradition for knitting.
We know that the oldest knitted grave fragment from Norway was found in an excavation in Bergen dated to somewhere around 1525, and a knitted hat was found in a well near Trondheim in northern Norway that dates to sometime around 1575.
We also know that these were likely imported, possibly from England, a regular trading partner with Norway, and a place where knitting had become incredibly popular during the 16th century. Elizabeth I had even established knitting schools across the country to act as a program to help educate the poor.
But equally, they could have been imported from France too, where knitting guilds had long been established, and were renowned exporters of knitted goods – especially silks, with French silk stockings, camisoles and mittens finding their way into the homes of the rich and wealthy throughout Europe.
Either way, records do show that knitted items had begun to be used in Norway during our time period.
One Norwegian shipping inventory documented in 1567 includes on its list: ‘one pair of old and worn knit stockings’ which had been brought in from the Faroe Islands.
And a later inventory, dated to 1594, includes: ‘four pair of stockings, one leather, one cloth, and two knitted”.
The first record of an organized attempt to teach knitting in Norway is dated to the year 1600, and mirroring what was happening in England, was seen as a means of providing a source of income for beggars and orphans.
In 1630 there are records which show a small industry of knitting exporters in the coastal counties of Rogaland and Trondelag in Western Norway.
And we even know the name of the first recorded Norwegian knitter – a woman named Lisbet Pedersdatter, who, records tell us, in 1634, was a vagabond that knitted stockings to earn money for food and clothing but who was accused of witchcraft for offering to ‘heal those with illness and suffering using natural remedies and black arts’.
Sixty-year-old Lisbet was held as an inmate in a women's prison for a total of six months, where she was tortured to confess but continued to claim her innocence, before finally being found guilty of ‘having solicited help from the devil’ and was sentenced to death by being burned at the stake.
So, those were the early days for knitting in Norway, but had it made its way to the rest of Scandinavia?
Well, in 1982, a knitting needle holder was found in Denmark that was dated to sometime around 1570, and a woven jacket bodice was also found in Copenhagen with knitted sleeves sewn on that also dates to the end of the 16th century.
But in 1974, a research team in Dalarna, Sweden were investigating an excavation site in an old copper-mining town called Falun, when they found something that would, in the words of Birgitta Dandanell and Ulla Danielsson, authors of the book, Twined Knitting, ‘Prove to be so interesting that it alone would set in motion extensive research throughout the region and the rest of the country’.
And it starts with researchers picking their way through a large pile of waste material. As they dug down they were surprised find a single mitten buried in soil, a fingerless glove knitted from fine wool yarn.
Initially believed to be from the 19th-century, further investigation based on an analysis of the soil layers dated it to the 1680s, but in 2017 it was analysed again, this time with carbon-14 dating, which revealed that its origins went even further back, to sometime in the middle of the mid-16th century – right in our time period.
But that’s not the extraordinary thing…
Whilst at first glance the mitten seemed like an ordinary knitted garment, when they looked more closely at it, they found this was no ordinary knitted glove.
Typically, a normal knitted fabric is created using a single strand of yarn, with loops that combine to create an even texture that we’re familiar with today.
But when they turned the glove inside out, they found that the fabric looked very different to that on the front, with horizontal ridges of twisted yarn running from left to right.
This confused the researchers because no-one had seen this type of knitting before, but after consulting with some of the elder ladies in Dalarna, they discovered that this medieval mitten had been produced using a nearly forgotten art form known as tvåändsstickning which means, two-end knitting, or ‘Twined Knitting’.
It describes a method of knitting using two separate yarns - each one twisted between the other to create an effect which replicates the appearance of normal knitting on one side of the fabric but a ridged effect on the other side too.
The old ladies revealed that this kind of twined knitting, or knitting from both ends of the same ball of wool, had once been common practice in Dalarna, but had faded away over their lifetime in favour of the more faster technique of ‘knit and purl’ - which needed just one-thread.
They revealed that twined knitting was so common-place in Dalarna, that it had originally only been known as 'stickning' or knitting, but as one-end knitting grew in popularity, the older technique became known as two-end knitting and eventually stopped altogether.
The researchers continued to interview the old ladies of Dalarna and found that twined knitting had once been preferred precisely because of the ridges on the inside.
This unique structure, created by smooth vertical stitches on one side and a horizontal texture on the other, created a fabric which behaved more like a woven fabric than a knitted one, so that it was strong, sturdy, and resistant to the elements, but also had the benefits of extra insulation.
Basically, twined knitting was perfect for using as the material for making work clothes – which explained why this mitten had been found at an old copper-mine - it had once been part of a pair of work gloves, helping to protect the hands of a miner who was expected to lift heavy tools and lumps of copper-ore in what would have been freezing temperatures
The ladies explained that they weren’t just functional either; twined knitting allowed the makers to include variations for helping to distinguish the village that the owner came from, and even acting as a way of attracting members of the opposite sex by subtly indicating their marital status.
They said that fabric was most often made using woollen thread, but sometimes blended with the fur of winter rabbits too for extra warmth and whiteness. They revealed that smaller needles had been used to make the material, and even demonstrated the technique for the researchers - knitting with two strands of yarn pulled from one ball of wool, which they twisted before every stitch.
And the twisting was very important and specific because done wrong and it could cause the yarn to become overly tight, done well and the fabric was not only firm and stable but also retained its shape for a much longer time than fabric created using just one thread.
Based on the information provided by the old ladies of Dalarna, the researchers concluded that twined knitting was well known to the peasant population of Sweden by the middle of the 1600s.
They didn’t establish if twined knitting originated in Dalarna though, or if the technique had been introduced from elsewhere, but they knew it spread quickly, and that it still survives today, with small pockets of areas across Sweden where old ladies teach the new generation the old craft of ‘twined knitting’, a woven link to a rich cultural past.
Now as an aside, I thought I would give this a try. I mean how difficult can it be? It’s just two needles and a ball of wool, right?
Well, the instructions from the knitting manual read, “With a 2-ply fingering-weight wool, create one, small, sample skein that is spun in the typical direction, i.e. singles spun right (Z) and plied left (S). Next, create a sample skein that reverses the twist but is otherwise as similar to the first skein as possible. Begin working a stockinette swatch in the round or flat using both ends of the first sample skein. When you’re ready, switch to the second skein.”
So, good luck with that.
The bare bones about knitting
In my final section.. I’m taking something of a left-field approach to Knitting in Scandinavia during the 1600s and that’s because, while the term “Knitting” most commonly refers to the practice of making fabric using needles and yarn, it is also used metaphorically to describe bone healing.
You might have heard of people referring to broken bones "knitting back together". Well, that’s because the process of knitting closely resembles how bones heal too.
Just like knitting with yarn involves interlocking threads to create a fabric, bone healing involves the interlocking of bone cells and tissues to mend a fracture.
The process occurs slowly, of course, but the results are similar – with the gradual strengthening of the structural integrity.
So, for the last story, I’d like to take you on a journey back to the verdant landscape of Västergötland, in Sweden, where in the year 1150, a group of monks from Alvastra in Östergötland founded a historic Abbey as a beacon of religious significance.
For over a hundred years the monks toiled away inside the abbey, praying, farming, doing monk stuff, until in 1234, tragedy struck, when a disastrous fire engulfed the building and tore it to the ground.
Undeterred, the monks embarked on a restoration mission, and a few decades later a brand new church stood proudly on the grounds.
Life flourished within the new abbey for another two hundred years until, in 1527, the then king, King Gustav Vasa, introduced the Reformation to Sweden and promptly confiscated the property.
Without the care of the monks, the building fell into decay and forty years later, in 1566, it was demolished again – this time by a Danish attack which resulted in the deaths of many men.
Sadly, the ruins of the abbey lay dormant for another hundred years until in the mid-17th century, the winds of change blew again, this time brought forth by the very wealthy Count named, Magnus Gabriel De la Gardie.
Magnus was struck by the abbey's potential, and in 1654, he initiated another restoration project, which lasted two decades.
During this time, the ruins of the old abbey were buried under a hill of soil concealing them from the world.
That is, until, in 1923, an archaeological expedition came to the grounds and started to excavate the hill of soil – and what they found will shock you.
Five years into the excavations, archaeologists made a startling discovery - a human humerus (the long bone between the shoulder and elbow), which analysis showed dated sometime between 1260 and 1527.
The humerus showed signs that it had once been fractured, possibly by an axe or a sword, but had then gone on to heal.
The remarkable thing about this bone was that it bore the marks of a surgical procedure – an operation to encase it entirely in copper plate!
The researchers had discovered a bone that at some point, while the owner of it was still alive, had received an injury that was so bad, that medieval surgeons had needed to open the wound fully, exposing the bone, and then meticulously wrap a copper plate around it, secured in place with three rivets.
It appears that this was not only put there to stabilize the fracture - but also because copper has natural antibacterial properties, helping to reduce infection in an era before modern antiseptics.
The use of copper in medical operations is not without precedent. The Egyptians, the Greeks, the Romans, and even the Aztecs all had knowledge of the medicinal properties of copper, frequently using it for general hygiene, treating wounds, and even purifying water.
One ancient Egyptian text, called The Smith Papyrus, specifically calls out copper as being super good at sterilising chest wounds.
And apparently, here, in Sweden, during the 16th Century, a medical monk was also aware of it. In fact, it might have been more common than we think, with 16th century court records indicating that King Erik XIV of Sweden, also suffered an injury that required the application of small iron and copper pieces being sewn inside his arm.
But small pieces in the arm is very different to the scale of operation that the wounded man at Varnham Abbey underwent to install such a large sheet of copper entirely around the bone, an operation which would have gone something like this…
First, the surgeon would have fully exposed the wound, enough to be able to assess the damage to the bone. Remember that anaesthesia at the time consisted of either opium or alcohol as the best bets at dulling the pain.
Then they would have had to set the broken bone by feel and sight.
Then they would have had to shape and fit the copper plate around the bone and secure it with rivets or wires.
Then they would have closed the wound using animal sinew or silk, and monitor the patient for many months as they tried their best to avoid infections.
So, it's hardly a surprise to say that surviving a procedure like this would have been extremely rare.But in this case, the patient miraculously survived, the copper plate serving to help the body knit the bone back together.
In fact, analysis of the bone's healing pattern, indicates that they actually survived for many years after the treatment, the skill of the medieval surgeon who helped him a reminder of the ingenuity and resourcefulness of our ancestors.
And so, there we are, at the end of an epic episode on knitting in Scandinavia during 1500-1600 – and as we emerge from the tales of history past, I’ll leave you with the wise words of Gudrud Johnston, a knitter of Scandinavian heritage, who wrote that, "Knitting connects us to generations past and future, through every stitch we create."