"For Latvians mittens are rooted so deeply in customs, traditions and mythology that they have become an attestation of our identity."
Ziedonis, a Latvian poet
The Cleveland Latvian community gathered for an exhibition of Latvian mittens. Thanks to Anda Cook for her guidance and Inara Liepa for the photos.
Latvia is located in northern Europe so as early as the fourteenth and fifteenth century, gloves and hats were being knitted. It is thought that knitting defused through Europe from the north. Wool was used as material because it is so warm.
From a now abandoned website we learn that there are four counties in Latvia: Kurzene, Vidzeme, Zemgale and Latgale. The patterns from each of these counties have blended over time, but a way to categorize where mittens may be from is by the colors and shades of yarn that they use.
Latgale is known for its linens, so the mittens knitted there tend to be lighter, linen colors. Similarly, Vidzeme has lighter colored mittens. Zemgale's mittens tend to be earthy colors and Kurzene has joyful bright colors. The traditional colors of mittens is important to the people of Latvia because the mittens are a way to express national pride.
Latvian mittens are known for their elaborate patterns. Mittens are knitted in very small gauge; meaning the needle used to knit them is very thin. This allows for the construction of very intricate patterns.
Knitted mittens have always played an important role in traditional Latvian culture: girls are taught to knit at a young age and it is traditional for brides to give mittens as a gift to guests on their wedding day.
One of the most popular rituals is done for weddings. The "hope chest" is a chest that an unmarried girl fills before marriage. Lavish chests, belonging to wealthy families can contain hundreds of pairs of hand-knit mittens. Even more remarkable, each pair of mittens contains a different pattern. Because each mitten set has a distinct pattern, they each have their own special meaning. The mittens in the chests are given as gifts to mothers, fathers, brothers, and in-laws in a process called dedicating or devoting. The mittens are dedicated to the cows, horses and other animals that will be at the newly-weds house. The "hope chest" is a symbol of a long and prosperous marriage, and a continued tradition in Latvian culture.
Enjoy these photos from Inara Liepa
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