From top: Spire sweater, Trollkar aka Heming Welde Thorbjørnsen, pattern Øyfjell.
“Trollkar” is a wizard – and he can knit with paper, branches, wires, steel – even melted cheese. Heming Welde Thorbjørnsen aka Trollkar from Karmøy in Western Norway makes thread into art.
In the older days, it was common for men to knit their own clothing. The entire value chain from sheep to product was a job for him. As the centuries have passed, knitting has become a dominant – and extremely popular – hobby for women.
Heming Welde Thorbjønsen, however, is an exception: As one of few men, he wants to subsist on knitting under the brand name Trollkar, meaning magician or wizard.
ThorNews asks him what has made him so interested in knitting.
– I really do not know! Knitting and other handicrafts have been with me my whole life.
He adds that the women closest to him have been very good role models.
– My mother has knitted and sewn clothes for me as long as I can remember, and I have always been very proud of the clothes she made. Therefore, I wanted to learn how to make such nice things as she did! I was the only one in my class who could both read and knit when I started elementary school.
Thorbjørnsen knitted his first self-composed sweater at age 14. A friend gave him a pattern for guidance and some yarn, and they bet whether he would complete within a certain time. His friend lost, and Heming won both a sweater and new confidence.
– After that, I knew this was something I could master. I started making my own patterns, and some freehanded. At the time, I was not thinking about designing for others than myself.
Trial and Error
As self-proclaimed bookworm, he has obtained knowledge and inspiration from books on needlework and learned various techniques. In addition, he has learned a lot from his mother and two grandmothers. In elementary school, it could happen that the enlightened kid came into conflict with the teachers.
– I do not know when I started sewing, but I remember that I was very frustrated when we were taking the sewing machine certificate in the fourth grade. I was the only one who already could use a sewing machine, and was criticized for not having basted before I sew.
Today, the 35 years old designer is a student, but always carries his hobby. Based on trial and error, he is self-taught in developing patterns, and his brain is constantly composing new ones.
– The method for designing knitwear has been a “road made while walking”. Honestly, I have cursed several garments until I found the right method.
An Unorthodox Viking
Heming looks as if he comes straight from a historic Viking environment with his long hair, gauging earlobes and big nose ring. The historical and mythical appeal to him, which also appears in his patterns.
– I often study old garments and particularly folk costumes – clothes that were homemade or made of an itinerant tailor before industrialization and urban fashion came to Norway. I like to use both elements from old knitting traditions and textile techniques such as embroidery, weaving and lace. It is a long process developing a new design. It begins with a spark of inspiration from the elements above, or entirely something else, and then I start to write down ideas. Sometimes they appear to me, sometimes I use days and weeks to draw, discard and then draw again. I have also just started knitting, and then made the pattern.
Heming has folk art education from Telemark University College, and has now taking a master’s degree in traditional arts. Whether it was here he learned to defy the laws of nature is unknown.
– Everything that it is possible to make a thread from I knit. Including steel, paper, melted cheese (need quick fingers) and everything else.
Pure New Wool
However, not everyone is interested in knitting with challenging materials, and Heming has a clear favorite.
– For people who want to knit traditional sweaters I have only one recommendation: Pure new wool. Not superwash, not alpaca, not yarn mixed with synthetic fibers, cotton or silk, just good old-fashioned wool. The Norwegian wool is very good, and Scottish and Estonian wool for sweaters. The simple is often the best, and in keeping with the motto “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, I see no reason to stop using the wool that has been used since the 1500s. Good quality wool does not itch, lasts forever and is self-cleaning. I have a twenty-year-old sweater my mom made that I use a lot and have never washed it!
So, we have been talking a lot about materials and patterns, but what techniques do you prefer to use?
– Oh, that is a difficult question. I knit by both hand and machine, but clothes I am going to sell is machine knitted. I use a lot of very thin wool – barely thicker than sewing thread. For hand knitting, I use whatever yarn. For jackets, I prefer pure new wool and often quite thin. When it comes to needles, I use Norwegian size 2-3.5 mm (US 0-14, UK from 14 to 9.5). Currently, I have four parallel projects going, and the thinnest needles are 1.25 mm and the thickest 4.5.
You mentioned that you sell garments: Do you make a living from knitting?
– No, not yet. I am still a student, and design work is a kind of combination between hobby and supplementary income. However, I regard this period as a market survey, and if I am right, I am eventually going to live from this.
Thirty Years Not Enough
Trollkar is a rooster in the henhouse. Knitting is regarded a woman’s hobby although more men are making a strong appearance – for example Arne & Carlos. What do you think about that there are so few men in the knitting business?
– Knitting is definitely a woman’s thing. It has not always been like that, and there are not many generations since Norwegian men knitted their own clothes. Ivar Aasen (Editor’s note: The creator of one of Norway’s two official languages, Nynorsk) is known to have knitted his own socks and sewed his own shoes. For fishermen who spent long periods at sea, it was a shame not to be able to repair their own clothes when something was worn or damaged.
Nevertheless, Heming has nothing against being a sort of “attraction”.
– Today, nearly every man who knits are portrayed in media. It is exciting for readers because it is exotic. I do not mind being a “tourist attraction”, but it happens that women, especially those older than me, well-intentioned, attempt to teach me new techniques. Sometimes I learn useful things, but usually they are trying to prove to themselves that a (relatively) young man cannot be as good as they are. “I have been knitting for over fifty years, so I know I am doing it right”, they say, whereupon I reply that I do not have more than thirty years of experience, so I do not know everything until in about twenty years.
In the beginning, knitting for others was not the motivation, but when people started to notice his work, Heming realized he needed a brand name: Trollkar was born.
How did you come up with the name and what do you want to express?
– “Heming” was already taken! (Editor’s note: Only 62 men are named Heming in Norway) It was important for me to have a name that I can use as an Internet address, but since there is a sports club named Heming who owns the domain I had to find something else. Having twisted my brain a few weeks, “Trollkar” came to me. It could mean many things, and I think each individual should be allowed to interpret the name. Let us keep it a secret how I interpret the name.
Some last, wise words to other knitters – or anyone who wants to dedicate themselves to a hobby?
– I would encourage all people of all ages to have a creative hobby – regardless of gender. Whether it is knitting, boatbuilding, dry walling or gardening – that is not important. It is great for the soul to create something and to see how nice it gets!
Text by: Anette Broteng Christiansen, ThorNews
All photos by: Heming Welde Thorbjørnsen