When I was in university, I discovered that one of the professors in the English department had a course on Icelandic Sagas. I thought that sounded amazing, but when I started looking in to taking the course, it turned out that it was only offered every other year or so. I kept checking to see when the course would be offered, and I think it took three years until it was finally available. Of course I signed up. Not that it had anything whatsoever to do with what I was actually studying (computer science and electrical engineering), but it sounded like so much fun.
In the class, we read a number of the famous Icelandic sagas, including Njál’s Saga, which (like many of the other sagas) dates back to the 13th century. The events in the saga take place during the late 10th century and early 11th century. Year 1,000 was an important year in Icelandic history, as it was the year that the country turned christian, after worshipping the old norse gods. (And as my professor used to say – not that you have to remember all the years in which something important happened – it can be tricky, but if you can’t remember the year 1,000, you might have a problem….)
Njál’s Saga is one of the great Icelandic sagas and is a story of love and betrayal, honour and revenge. It describes a blood feud between two families, and the feud carries on for decades. Eventually Njál is burned alive in his cottage, along with his wife Bergþóra and several other people. The saga is also known as the saga of Brennu-Njál, which means the story of the burned Njál. So when I decided to design a shawl based on Njál’s Saga, I wanted to depict the flames during the burning.
The shawl is knit from the top down, and shows small flames near the neck, spreading out to large flames along the bottom edge of the shawl. It is knit in the finest Icelandic wool – a fine lace weight yarn called Love Story, developed by the Icelandic Knitter. It is a natural white (sheep) colour, and I gave a little preview back in August (without mentioning the theme of the shawl, of course). The white makes me think of the white ashes formed by the fire.
The pattern is now available from the Icelandic Knitter.
All photography is © 2011 Hélène Magnússon, The Icelandic Knitter