“My mission is to let people know about Swedish knitting, “ says Wendy J. Johnson, knitting designer and instructor. Her patterns and classes at Ingebretsen’s have drawn attention to Lovikka, Sweden, population 61 and home to the world’s largest mitten (12 feet tall). Here, in 1892, Erika Aittamaa first created he signature mittens. Erika may have put Lovikka on the map, but Wendy is helping make sure it stays there.
One of the most popular knitting patterns we sell at Ingebretsen’s is Wendy’s Lovikka mitten pattern. Needlework staff person Pat Hansen says, “I have to keep calling Wendy and asking her to bring more patterns to the store!” The distinctive white mittens, with the cross-stitch pattern at the wrist, are cozy and Wendy’s directions are well-written and clear. She has added patterns for a Lovikka-styled headband, hat, and fingerless mittens to the collection.
The patterns Wendy has made for the store reflect Swedish knitting traditions, like her Magical Tomte Tassel Hat, and Nordic landscapes, with the Viking Trails Cabled Cowl, Wristers, and Headband, and the Eckträd (Oak Tree) Cowl.
Wendy says, “In the early 2000s, I took a trip to Sweden with my father. There, I saw from where both sets of grandparents had emigrated. Some family came from Borås, home to the Textile Museum of Sweden and a city with a long history of textile production. My father’s family came from the area where flax is grown and processed. I think my love of textiles is a DNA memory.” Textiles are also a part of childhood memories. “Every night, my grandmother would sit at the farmhouse table, in the quiet, and knit socks and mittens for her family,” Wendy recalls.
This same grandmother taught Wendy the basics of knitting. She then continued to build skills with 4-H, classes, and exploring knitting on her own. Her grandmother never used patterns as she knit, and Wendy benefitted from watching her shape garments as she progressed. “The first thing I knit, I designed,” says Wendy. “I also sew, and that helped me understand shaping, too.”
Wendy attended Gustavus Adolphus, receiving a BA in Fine Arts. There, and at classes at MCAD, she studied design. She brought her skills together as a graphic artist, writer, and knitter in several books she wrote on Swedish knitting traditions and by creating individual knitting patterns, which we carry at Ingebretsen’s. She named her design studio for its location, Saga Hill, along Lake Minnetonka.
Saga Hill has a rich Swedish heritage of its own. It was a summer retreat founded in the 1880s by a group of Swedish and Swedish-American academics, theologians, musicians, philosophers, and artists, most from Trinity Lutheran Church in Minneapolis.
The residents were united in their desire to support education and the community. One of the key figures in establishing the Minneapolis library system was a resident. It’s possible that a textile artist was there, too. Certainly, the wives and maids ( this was an era when a professor would have a maid or cook as part of the household, even at the summer home) most certainly sat on the porches in the evening breezes and knit for bit. Wendy believes in the power of place to nurture creativity and finds inspiration in her surroundings. Maybe a bit of the earlier knitters’ Swedish influence is finding its way into Wendy’s design, too.
Wendy will be teaching several classes in 2020. Please check our classes page later his month for details.