A while back I found a cassette in a box of old papers; the smeared title reads, “a letter from across the ocean!” It is the only remaining audio letter I sent to my boyfriend while attending a six-month weaving course at Valdres Husflidsskole in Fagernes, Norway in 1977. I time-traveled to my 23-year old self who talked about the room I rented, politics in the news, food, and school. Everybody made home-made beer and I didn’t like the strange, sweet taste. People were such immaculate house-keepers, and washed their floors every day.Jimmy Carter’s inauguration was big news, but mostly because he had a vice-president with Norwegian roots. The Norwegian media couldn’t get enough of Walter Mondale stories.
I remember the first weeks of adapting to the school schedule and culture. It was January in Norway, completely dark when school began at 9 a.m., and dark again when the school day ended at 3:30. Each morning there was “kaffe pause,” a true break that everyone took seriously. All the students would take out their knitting, so within days I bought yarn and began knitting lessons from my landlady.
Students came from all over Norway and spoke a bewildering array of dialects. The weekend before school started I met a fellow student, who rented a room upstairs from mine. After trying to communicate with her for a few hours I sobbed alone in my room, sure that I would never understand anyone, or make myself understood. After a few exhausting Norwegian-only weeks I could converse without thinking only about translation, and class lectures were clear. Looking back, it’s more amazing that I understood all the weaving theory in my notebooks, and took tests on it.
The head of all of the Husflid schools visited the school during the first week, and she encouraged us to develop good work habits. Soon the long nights would come and we would be tempted to go out driving in cars late at night, she warned us, but we should be sure to get enough sleep. She spoke of the roles of the handcraft schools in Norway and how they were growing, which concerned her. I went to the University of Minnesota with 48,000 students, so I didn’t share her worry about becoming anonymous if there were as many as 200 students in one school.
I commented on the tape:
Everything is really very free. In one way it’s like we are all youngsters and these are our surrogate mothers who should be looking over us, telling us to wash our floors every day and get to bed on time. But in another way it’s very free and no on questions if you just get up and leave in the middle of something, no one gets upset. They call roll in the morning but you don’t get marked down if you are absent; it’s more just to get to know one another’s names.
I talked about the piece I was weaving: a rutevev, or square-weave, that still hangs in my mother’s house.
You asked about my career as a weaver. Good Lord. It’s frustrating, very frustrating. I’m working now on a thing called åklæsmett, it’s a technique. It’s a huge hanging for a wall; it has eight-pointed stars on it, all wool and a sort of basic-looking design. It’s very deceiving because in each row you do everything by hand and you twist over each color when they meet. I spent from six o’clock until 11:30 last night completing an area of about eight inches, and that’s after I knew what I was doing. The beginning part when I didn’t know what I was doing looks awful. It took me hours and hours and hours just to compete four inches. Things are looking up and I expect to get it done by Monday by working really hard. We have another holiday for some reason I didn’t really understand when they were telling us why we have this holiday. It means I can just weave all day.
You can listen, too, although I didn’t get the clip exactly right.
I was fast! If I truly completed eight inches of square-weave done in five and a half hours, that was quick.