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Of dancing couples and knitting history

Mar 11, 2013

The history of knitting is so full of interesting tidbits, and the Dancing Couples cardigan is one of the cutest. Knitting scholar Susan Strawn was contacted by Rechs Ann Pedersen, and American living in Denmark. She asked Susan if she would like to add a baby cardigan to her knitting collection. Rechs Ann sent Susan scans of the sweater, which had red dancing couples encircling the lower border. Susan said, "No one could have found the reply button faster than I to respond with an enthusiastic yes!"

The cardigan with the Dancing Couples pattern knitted by Agnethe Sundby probably in late 1946. Her daughter, Rechs Ann Pedersen, gave the cardigan to Susan Strawn for her collection of knitted articles. (Photograph by Joe Coca)
Susan Strawn's version of the Dancing Couples sweater (Photograph by Joe Coca)

Here's a little history of this pattern, from the March/April 2013 issue of PieceWork magazine:

Dancing Couples: A Nordic Design

Of all the Nordic nations (Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Iceland, Finland, and the Faroe Islands), Norway and the Faroe Islands are the most closely associated with the Dancing Couple pattern. Among the knitting designs documented by textile artist Annichen Sibbern Bøhn in her travels through Norway after the 1905 dissolution with Sweden and published in her Norwegian Knitting Designs are three with dancers: Mitten from Selbu depicts only the girl figure while Stocking from Selbu has dancing couples encircling the upper calf, and Cap (Lue) from Selbu boasts two rows of dancing couples.

Figures have appeared on Norwegian knitted garments for about 200 years according to Norwegian knitting scholar Annemor Sundbø. In Norwegian Mittens and Gloves, she explains that "motifs are an inheritance from a time when not everyone could read so the language of pictures was an important means of communication." The importation of books of embroidery patterns and knitted goods into Norway from Denmark influenced the evolution of those designs.


Sweater with a border and second row across the chest of dancing couples. The sweater, donated by Irene B. Thomas, was knitted circa 1940-1950 by the donor's great aunt, Roxie Whaley McGladrey (born in Waukon, Iowa, in 1866 and died in 1953). Roxie's mother Mary Olson Whaley immigrated to Allamakee County in the 1850s. It is believed that she immigrated with Ole Bull's group and lived in his New Norway Colony for a time. Collection of Vesterheim Norweigan-American Museum, Decorah, Iowa. (1997.005.001). Photograph © Vesterheim Norweigan-American Museum.

Between the World Wars (1914–1918 and 1939–1945), Norwegian home industries exported more than 100,000 pairs of Nordic-design mittens and gloves annually along with thousands of caps, sweaters, and stockings—some with Dancing Couple patterns. As evidence of their popularity, the back of the Sport Mittens from Norway: The Northern Star Design in the January 1933 issue of Needlecraft: The Home Arts Magazine has not only two star motifs but a dancing couple below them. Sundbø's Norwegian Mittens and Gloves includes charts containing hand-holding couples in both Happy Couple and Reassurance Mittens. Writing in Invisible Threads in Knitting, Sundbø also describes dancers found among the discarded knitted garments from her "rag pile" for recycling into mattresses, comforters, and such.

Knitters today can and dancing couples in numerous pattern books. Vibeke Lind describes ways to incorporate dancing couples into handknitting in Knitting in the Nordic Tradition. Alice Starmore depicts the dancing boy and girl posed with flexed muscles in Alice Starmore's Charts for Color Knitting. Sheila McGregor includes the "little dancers . . . knitted in Faeroe" in The Complete Book of Traditional Scandinavian Knitting, commenting that they "epitomize the old Faroese ring dance . . . accompanied by saga-like songs."

—Susan Strawn, PieceWork magazine

Isn't that the cutest little sweater? The dancing couples are so festive; if you enjoy knitting patterns for children, this one's for you! Subscribe to PieceWork today to get the pattern for the Dancing Couples baby sweater and many more historical patterns.


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MarionM@5 wrote
on Apr 2, 2013 12:54 PM

Is there a mitten pattern with the Dancing Couple?  Hope so ... M Martin

SusanS@177 wrote
on Mar 18, 2013 12:17 PM

Just last week while in Seattle, I donated my replica version of the dancing couples sweater to the Nordic Heritage Museum for their upcoming auction.So if you live in Seattle, check out the auction!

jmnelson: I would love to see any references you have to the dancing couples pattern/sweater. You can reach me at

MB@YarnUiPhoneApp: Have we met? You can reach me at

hoodoomama wrote
on Mar 16, 2013 3:28 PM

It is highly annoying to see a nice pattern used to advertise this magazine when in fact when you subscribe, you get the NEXT issue, not the issue in which the highlighted pattern can be found!

on Mar 11, 2013 11:42 PM

How can we get this cute pattern without  subscribing to the magazine?

on Mar 11, 2013 7:52 PM

I would knit the dancing couples sweater for my granddaughter who will be born in May.

on Mar 11, 2013 6:39 PM

Hey, Dana! I've passed your comment along to our customer service folks, who will help you out.


jmnelson wrote
on Mar 11, 2013 5:22 PM

I have used the dancing couples several times over the years, from a pattern book of my mothers.  This was a button down-the-front cardigan that she knit me over 70 years ago, in red with black figures.  During the war years it was very important to have sewing and knitting skills.  I still have the needles upon which I learned to knit, and the finger I tried to sew into a dolls dress.


on Mar 11, 2013 10:50 AM

Hello Kathleen!

What a lovely cardigan! I'm sure my grand daughter, fond of ballet dancing and modern dancing as well would greatly appreciate it should it become available in her size - she is almost 6- I will check into the various references you so kindly referred to.

Thank you so much for all your great chronicles which I collect and from which I often draw inspiration.

Martine (from Fance)

danamanno wrote
on Mar 11, 2013 10:24 AM

Hello Kathleen,

I saw several items I wanted to order from your site today. However, I am very reluctant since I made an order #1299760 for the Knitscene Spring 2013 to be mailed to me and to date I have received nothing. My payment went through in the amount of $14.80. Where is my publication?

Dana Manno

on Mar 11, 2013 9:30 AM

For someone like myself, dancing couples motif on a sweater would be great to wear out on the dance floor (before I get too warm and sweaty). Seriously, swing dancers isn't this beyond adorable? It's definitely a motif that deserves a revival of sorts, if only to show that you don't take life too seriously. Life got you down? There's always dancing in the evening, somewhere in the world, to lift you up.

Anyhow, wanted to say hi to Susan Strawn, who I believe is working at Dominican University in River Forest, IL, not far from where I live. Fashion is her passion!