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Spinning in Scandinavia with Silja Devine: Handspun traditions by the Sami people

by SiljaD on June 8, 2014

NF.08319-002A tool that has fascinated me for a long time after I heard about it in a Norwegian spinning forum on Facebook is a ”Spinnekrok”. This is not a tool specific to Scandinavia, but has probably been used worldwide at some point. This tool is probably older than the drop spindle and is a very ”simple” tool.

It consists of a peeled piece of wood with a sturdy self-grown hook. By turning the spinning hook around with one hand while feeding wool in with the other, you can get a rough, uneven and lofty single.


This YouTube video by Norsk Folkemuseum shows a woman from Manndalen in northern Norway spinning on a spinning hook in 1973.

These lofty, uneven yarns were often used for the weft in “Grene” weaving by the Sea Sami in northern Norway.

Before I continue I have to tell you what Sami is, the Sami people are the indigenous people inhabiting the Artic area of Sápmi, which today encompasses parts of northern Norway, Sweden, Finland, the Kola Peninsula of Russia, and the border area between south and middle Sweden and Norway. The traditional crafts that the Sami does are called Duodji.



“Grene” weaving was often done on an upright loom, I don’t know what it is called in English but in Norwegian it is called “Oppstadvev” and a “Grene” is basically a rectangular woven piece of thick and sturdy cloth.

This weaving technique is the oldest known to man. Often during archaeological excavations the stones that served as heaviness for the warp, is the only remnant of the loom. Because they do not rot out, they make it possible to follow the weave throughout history.


The Sami has woven “Grener” since 600 AD. This loom survived among Sea Sami for centuries because it took up little space and was well suited for houses with small rooms and huts. It was also easy to carry and set up. This video shows glimpses of the process with this loom.

The “Grener” was water resistant and usable in all weather conditions because all the yarns were spun in the grease, both the warp and the lofty weft. Mountain Sami bought or traded with “Grener”. They used them as blankets in tents and in the sledges, and the old Blankets were used as canvas for Lavvus and “doors” for the Lavvus, especially in the wintertime.

NFSA.2729Traditionally the base color for ”Grener” was white. You can find older ”Grener” with gray base color, but they are less frequent. The reason may be that the all the spinners carded wool by hand. You had to mix black and white wool to get gray wool, and it could be very difficult to get the exact same gray color for a whole ”Grene” if they were not perfectly mixed and evenly carded. It took about 5 kg of wool to weave a large ”Grene”. Black base color first came in use in the 1950s. Today you can get ”Grener” with white, black and gray base color.

The colors of the stripes in the ”Grener” have traditionally been black and gray, or even in different colors. It is difficult to determine when they began using colored yarn for this but in the 1800s it was common to use colored yarn for the pattern stripes. Mountain Sami wanted to have branches with nice colors, often with snowy white bottom and black or red in the stripes.


On older ”Grener” the upper edge was often completely monochrome black or colored yarn. It can also have a pattern or just stripes in black / white or color. Often the pattern of the upper border was repeated at the bottom of the ”Grene”. Today black and white are the most common colors used in the pattern.

NFSA.2734 Most ”Grener” that were woven before the war, had a stripe in a contrasting color at the top, and often also at the bottom of the branch . This could vary in width and color. Red and black were the most used. After that stripe came the base color and then came the first pattern. In today ‘s “Grener” the contrast color in the top and bottom are not used very much.

On older ”Grener” there are often large pattern variations. ”Grene” patterns consisted originally of stripes, and a single or double checkerboard pattern. Eventually it became common to have several rows checkerboard patterns. It was gradually getting fewer stripes, and often only one. The pattern could be varied according to taste, but a checkerboard pattern should always be included. “Grener” has now usually only two different checkerboard patterns that recur.
For more videos on how this loom was set-up and woven on, Greneweaving 1, Greneweaving 2 and Greneweaving 3.


All pictures used in this article are from Digitalt museum and are released with a creative common license.

This article was written with the help of the information found on Manndalen Husflidslags homepage

Thank you Silja!  This was something I knew nothing about so I’m really grateful to you for writing this for Spin Artiste  I am always in awe of how rich and vast our spinning history is.

Thanks also to everyone for their kind words on last week’s 100th interview post.  We have a winner of the custom yarn I’m going to spin…and that is dear Kaite M!!!!  Kaite asked for, “The colours which have captured my imagination are black, black, black with highlights of brilliant pink, orange, purple and lime green.”  I will love making this yarn for Kaite!!

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