Knitting – Mezgimas

Most of us have seen the delicate crochet work used in national costumes for collar, sleeve or crown edging, and the colourful knitted socks and mittens sold in markets and craft booths in Lithuania. 

Wrist warmers (riešinės) have come back into vogue and summery linen knits are also popular.

In Lithuanian the term mezgimas is often used for both knitting and crochet. The correct word for crochet is nėrimas, but other descriptives are often included: siuvinėjimas kilpelėmis (literally “loop embroidery”), or mezgimas vašeliu or kableliu (knitting with a hook), which distinguishes it from mezgimas virbalais (with knitting needles).

MEMBERS (Requires login): Learn how to knit beaded wrist warmers

History of Lithuanian Knitting

The first Lithuanians to value hand knitting as a form of folk art worthy of documentation were Antanas Tamošaitis and his wife Anastazija. In 1935, Antanas and Anastazija noted the variations in knitted gloves and mittens across the five cultural regions of Lithuania, and collected samples from each region to exhibit in Kaunas. They published many books about folk art, including Mezgimas (Knitting; 1935) and Namie austi drabužiai (Homemade Woven Clothing; 19370, by Anastazija, and Sodžiaus menas, kn. 5: Mezgimo-nėrimo raštai (Village Arts, no. 5: Charted Knitting and Crochet Patterns; 1933), by Antanas.

Mittens by Stasė Tallat-Kelpša. Photo by Aldona Rygelis

Lithuanian Traditions

Knitting is fascinating not only because it is beautiful and functional, but also because each stitch infuses a hand-knit project with the story of its maker and details about the time and place in which it was made.

Most gloves and mittens were elaborately patterned, although only two, or at most three, motifs would be used on a single object. Sometimes the fingers and thumbs were solid-colored.  The hand of a mitten or glove might be covered with many individual motifs arranged in horizontal, vertical, or diagonal bands, or might be decorated with an all-over, interlocking pattern. Individual motifs might also be surrounded by an interlocking lattice pattern.

Socks were sometimes worked with all-over patterning, but just as often had patterned cuffs above plain legs and feet. For summer wear, socks were knit in lace or stockinette stitch out of undyed linen yarn, or with undyed and dyed linen in stripe patterns.

Today, women in Lithuania knit from contemporary books and patterns, and they make sweaters, shawls, afghans, toys, and a huge variety of fashionable and kitschy projects, just like knitters everywhere else. Because traditional Lithuanian knitting produced accessories worn as part of the national costume, knitters around the country also pick up their needles to make reproductions of these items that are then worn by performers in singing groups and at holiday festivals and craft markets.

Knitting in the collection of the Anastazija and Antanas Tamošaitis Gallery Židinys (Hearth)

Knitting in the collection of Šiauliai “Aušros” Museum

Knitted Wrist Warmers by Birute Batraks

© 2024 The Lithuanian Folk Art Institute. All Rights Reserved. 

Past Talks
Here’s what you have missed. Get updates of upcoming events. Sign up for our email newsletter.

Traditional Crosses in Lithuania:
Lithuania is sometimes called the land of crosses. Crosses and unique pillar shrines with various sculptures have been an integral part of the Lithuanian landscape for several hundred years.  They represent not only religious symbolism but national identity especially in times of repression.  We will look at and discuss the amazing wooden carving and iron work of this important folk art and touch on the well known Kryziu Kalnas (Hill of Crosses) site in Lithuania.

Wool (Vilna):
Wool Crafts in Lithuania: Although linen features prominently in Lithuanian folktales and folk songs, we rarely hear about wool. However in the cold climate working with wool was an integral part of daily life forrural villagers in Lithuania. Small farms were self-sufficient; little or no money was needed to supplement the household’s home production. All the women and girls in a family spun, wove, knitted, and felted wool to create all of the households woolens.

Easter Palms (Verbos)
History and Significance of Verbos in Lithuanian Life: Palm Sunday is an important part of the Easter tradition. Learn about the history of decorated palms and get to know the customs and decorative techniques specific to Lithuania. (Please note, this is not a hands-on workshop.)

Black Ceramics (Juoda Keramica)
History and use of black ceramics in Lithuania: The tradition of black ceramics has been documented in Lithuania for centuries. Although eventually falling out of favour due to other pottery techniques, Lithuania is one of the few places that still make this beautiful pottery. Learn about the history, techniques and artistry of black ceramics.

Amber (Gintaras)
Gintaras – Our Golden Heritage: Gintaras, or Amber, has been important to Lithuanians and Baltic people for millennia. Important in terms of culture, art and symbolism. Learn about various aspects of Amber to bring you to a new and better understanding and appreciation of this beautiful “golden stone”.

Easter Eggs (Marguciai)
History and Significance of Easter Eggs in Lithuanian Life: The egg has long been seen as a symbol of fertility and life. Learn about the role of decorated eggs in ancient and modern times. Get to know the customs and decorative techniques specific to Lithuania.

What is an LTFAI talk?

We are excited to launch our online LTFAI Talks. We hope to have a series of talks on topics that are relevant to Lithuanian folk art. These are lectures, not workshops, that will provide interesting information for anyone interested in folk art.

They will be from a half hour to a full hour in length with time for discussion at the end.

Each LTFAI Talk is free but you have to register to get an invitation to the session.

Giles Bugailiskis Bio

Raised in the Lithuanian community in Hamilton, Ontario. He moved to Winnipeg, Manitoba, to attend university and was a long-time board member of the Lithuanian Canadian Community there and now serves as the resource person for inquiries about the Lithuanians in Manitoba. Giles has over 30 years of experience in municipal heritage conservation planning and public outreach, having retired as the City of Winnipeg’s Senior Planner for Heritage. He is also a current member of the LTFAI Board.

Ramune Jonaitis Bio

Ramune is a translator and editor, who worked with the Canadian Lithuanian Weekly Tėviškės žiburiai as managing editor for over 20 years.

She is also an artisan who makes mosaics and jewellery using Lithuanian motifs and amber. She is a long time member of LTFAI and has recently served on our board. She learned tapestry-weaving from Aldona Vaitonienė, a master weaver in Toronto, Canada.

Testimonials: My first ever tapestry. I am an artist so I did a little extra with the beads and wire cord to hang. It reminds me of a dress so I had fun with that thought. 😉

I think you did an excellent job with the workshop, especially for those of us with no experience weaving. I have already ordered yarn. The colors in this piece was whatever my friend gave me as I was not able to go out shopping. Newsletter Sign Up

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