From the 2006 NATO summit in Latvia:
What will 9,000 hands have in common during the NATO Summit in Riga this November? 4,500 pairs of traditional hand-made Latvian mittens!
Thatâ€™s what the NATO Summit Latvia Task Force is preparing for Summit guests. The mittens are being specially knitted by hundreds of women and men around the country ranging in age from 30 to 86.
Each pair features a unique design, utilizing a wide variety of traditional colors, patterns and symbols. For Latvians, mittens are much more than a way to warm your hands. Every ethnographic Latvian mitten tells a story, marks an anniversary and represents a specific region in Latvia. Some mitten designs are specially intended for weddings or other special events. There is even a rich tradition of folkloric etiquette associated with the wearing, storing and displaying of mittens.
While most Latvians will not be able to attend the NATO summit, you could say that hundreds will have a hand in making the NATO guests feel at home. Many of the knitters are producing an average of three pairs for the Summit, although many, excited by the prospect of sharing their traditional skill with the world, are eager to produce more. For most Latvians, this project is a special source of national pride, because it combines tradition, culture and history with something of lasting practical value that will be enjoyed around the world.
You can read more about the project here and even download photos of each and every one! (Warning, it’s a big file!)
Interesting stats: 268 knitters were involved, three of them men, using approximately 383 kilograms of wool. According to the organizers: “It will be necessary to shear 38 sheep in order to gather the amount of wool necessary for all the mittens.”
For more on Latvian mittens, check out Latvian Mittens: Traditional Designs & Techniques by Lizbeth Upitis.
One of my childhood friends was Latvian (there’s a large community of them here in Cleveland and also nearby in Michigan, where they all went to Latvian camp each summer). I remember them wearing “Seven Day” rings, and other Latvian jewelry with fascinating symbology — makes me want to haul out the charting software and play around.