This post describes the history of the Norwegian Lice Jacket, its knitting technique, traditional colors, and patterns as well as embellishments. Furthermore, it includes how to style the garment. Learn also in which climate zones the piece is worth the investment, and how to get an original when Norway is not on your travel list.
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Note: Terms indicated with * are explained in the High Latitude Style Glossary.
The Norwegian Lusekofte Goes Back to the 8th Century
A traditional and probably the most famous Norwegian sweater is the so-called Norwegian lusekofte (“lice jacket”) sweater. This sweater type goes back to the Setesdal, a region along the Otra river valley in southern Norway. Therefore, it is also referred to as “setesdalgenser” which means Setesdal sweater in English.
In the 8th to 11th, i.e. prior to the Vikings, this region consisted of petty kingdoms leading to the development of local traditions for identification. While complex terrain and many borders (with customs) meant difficult travel, trade and isolation, they also preserved traditional culture. Therefore, there exist many different pattern to knit this type of sweater.
In Norway the Sweater Jacket Is a Business Attire
Traditionally, these sweaters were men’s working clothes. Still today, wearing this sweater with a shirt and tie counts as business attire in Norway. Today they are worn by everyone alike. Paintings and photographs suggest that variations of this sweater existed already in the 19th century. Norwegian textile designer Annemor Sundbø collected many old photographs and newspaper articles of Lusekofte designs for her book (see references),
Description of the Traditional Knitting Technique and Embellishments
Norwegian sweaters and jackets were hand-knitted on round needles or five double pointed needles applying a similar knitting technique as for the original Fair Isle sweaters to create the pattern. Today, a variety of colors, and often more than two colors are used. According to old paintings and photos, originally the Norwegian sweater had white wool on the bottom, and the pattern was knitted with two yarns, usually black/gray and white.
The alternative use and catching of yarns create the pattern including insulation* for the wearer. Consequently, the jacket provides thermal comfort for a longer time than a single yarn knitted jacket. Norwegian jackets also have unique decorative embroidery around the neck, along the closure, and cuffs. Traditionally, the embroidery differed among regions.
Today, often silver buttons replace the silver-colored hooks and loops as closure. Historically, Norwegian clothes relied on brooches for closure. More on Norwegian attire.
The Norwegian Lice Jacket Is Great for Rainy/Snowy Cool/Cold Winter Climates
Norway has three different climate regions. At high altitudes and in Spitzbergen, snow and ice dominate. In Norway, precipitation varies between 19.7 and 118.1 inches (500 and 3000 mmm) per year with most of the rain along the coast, and snow inland in winter. The southern part has warm temperate humid climate. Four or more months have monthly mean temperatures above 50F (10°C). The mid- and northern part experience less than four months with means above 50F.
Therefore, the lice jacket is great for dressing in the Pacific Northwest, Southeast Alaska, British Columbia, and other regions with similar weather conditions.
In cold climate regions, they are office appropriate with wool slacks or wool skirts, boots and tights in business casual style work places. In these regions, a lice jacket styled with dark blue or colored jeans is also a great alternative for Casual Friday outfits.
How to Get a Norwegian Lice Jackets or Sweaters Outside of Norway?
Many large cities have outdoor related stores with traditional clothing lines like Dale of Norway.
On Etsy, you can find sellers that knit custom-made versions. There you can also look for vintage original Norwegian Lice Jackets at affordable pieces. Search, for instance, for Dale of Norway or browse vendors in the slideshow below.
Tip: Knitters can buy an affordable book on the pattern for DIY.
More on the fashion history of sweaters: The tales of the cable knit sweaters.
Kottek, M., Grieser, N., Beck, C., Rudolf, B., and Rubel, F., 2006. World Map of the Köppen-Geiger climate classification updated. Meteorologische Zeitschrift, Vol. 15, No. 3, 259-263.
Mölders, N., 2019. Outdoor Universal Thermal Comfort Index Climatology for Alaska, Atmosphere and Climate Sciences, DOI: 10.4236/acs.2019.94036
Roald, W., Sibbern Bohn, A., 2020. Norwegian Knitting Designs – 90 Years Later: A New Look at the Classic Collection of Scandinavian Motifs and Patterns. Trafalgar Square Books. pp. 227.
Sundbø, A., 2001. Setesdal Sweaters the History of the Norwegian Lice Pattern. Torridal Tweed, pp. 159.
Photos: N. Mölders
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