Mitten smitten

Latvia's got a bit of a "contemporary image crisis" happening at the moment.  Our international image is somewhat formless, and our "branding" specialists don't seem to know how to market our talents.  Are we scandinavian, stylish, cold, eco-friendly, or what? How much traditional Latvian culture should we bring into the mix? How do we preserve aspects of traditional Latvian culture in a world which is getting smaller by the minute, and more homogenous in terms of culture, language and style?

Well I don't know anything about marketing, I must say, but one thing I DO know about, is mittens.  I am smitten with mittens.  Latvian traditional mittens.  If you ask me, if there is one part of traditional Latvian folk costume that can easily and seamlessly be introduced into a contemporary wardrobe, it's colourful woollen patterned mittens ....just ask my husband (above).

Mittens hold a special place in Latvian culture - there's the obvious practical uses, considering this country is bloody cold for most of the year - but also mittens have been used for centuries as ceremonial gifts at weddings and other significant life events.  Knitted at home, with regionally specific colours and  designs, gloves have always been special and meaningful items of apparel.  I love the fact that the Latvian word for mitten literally refers to "dūres" - fists.  Because that's what you do, when it's really cold - you draw your hand up into a fist inside the mitten, and this keeps your hand toasty warm.  Impossible to do with finger gloves!  I also love the fact that they are unisex fashion accessories, and come in a rainbow of different colours and designs, and the best of all are 'double' mittens - the ones that have been artfully crafted to include a knitted lining on the inside. Mmmmm.  They look fabulous with any outfit.  There are hardly no two pairs the same.  Most of the designs bear powerful Latvian designs, among them  signs of the morning star or hope; the sun; Mara, the goddess of the earth, and more.

So with all that going for them, I don't understand why you don't see very many traditional mittens out on the streets these days.  In the mornings when I get on the tram, I play "spot the Latvian mittens" and sadly, out of a tram carriage full of around 30 people, you will only see one or two pairs. Why?  Do people perceive them as old-fashioned? Daggy?  Expensive to buy?  I suspect part of the reason is definitely price, and availability - it's much easier and affordable to buy some of those cheapie  supermarket specials - you know those nasty acrylic finger gloves.  Thinsulate and Chinese knitting machines seem to be winning the fight!

So Latvians, here's a suggestion from me on how to solve our national image crisis...  you guessed it.  The humble, yet spectacular, traditional mitten.  Let's start a mitten revolution!  All you young hipsters - learn to knit and make 'em yourself - or talk your granny into making you an exclusive pair!  Go on trips to the countryside and buy them at a stall at the local market! Wear 'em loud, and wear 'em proud!

Special thanks to my begrudging hand model Jem...  Ironically, he is the reason I have been pondering the perfectness of mittens lately.  Because around Christmas he needed a new pair of gloves, and he couldn't find a good pair of personality-less thinsulate numbers at our local shopping centre.  I tried to sway him into a pair of traditional gloves, but he held out on me.  Too itchy, he reckons.  Feel like little sacks on the end of my arms, he groans.  Well, I dunno, I reckon he looks pretty sweet in all of the pairs above... wouldn't you agree?
PS. These are three pairs I have hanging around the house - the top ones are my favourite, bought for me by a friend from an old granny in the deep dark countryside of Latgale.  There are heaps of more gorgeous ones out there :)  

2 Responses so far.

  1. Liene says:

    Galīgi piekrītu! Es savus velku līdz tiem rodas caurumi, tad sūtu vecmammai salāpīt lai vēl varētu pavilkāt.

  2. Fiona says:

    Well you know I hzve 2 pairs and love them to death. In fact I'm often too scared to wear them in case I lose them and instead display them at home. So I too am smitten. Go the Latvian traditional mitten!

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