I don’t ‘make’ anywhere near as much as I should these days. When I was at school, I was in art club, and I remember loving every single second of those Wednesdays after school making stained ‘glass’ windows out of sweet wrappers, batik paintings, mosaics and clay animals. I was also in magazine club, where my friend and I did the puzzle page. This was before computers were an integral part of school life, so we used to sit there painstakingly drawing lines with our little rulers for our crosswords, and laughing hysterically at our unnecessarily cryptic clues. I think we also ventured into a problem page – we came up with all of the problems and solutions, which is pretty efficient.
But in 2017? Nope. My only ‘making’ is baking, and as much as I enjoy it, I know how to do that. Sure, I burn things all the time because I’m a forgetful oik, and I often go a bit off-piste with my recipes and throw them off balance, but generally I know what I’m doing. I have no idea when the last time I tried a new making skill was – I’m thinking of things like knitting, cross-stitch, pot throwing, metalwork, painting or… whittling.
Wait, what? Whittling? Yes, whittling!
In Denmark, whittling is a way of life
I was very excited to receive a copy of Frank Egholm’s new book, Snitte: The Danish Art of Whittling. This is an incredibly niche book, in the same vein as Lars Mytting’s Norwegian Wood, but if you’re someone who’s always seeking out their next crafty challenge, this is essential reading. ‘Snitte’ means ‘to carve’ or ‘to cut’ or (presumably) ‘to whittle’, and this is the perfect title for this no-nonsense book.
So, who is this book for? I see it as the perfect introductory book for someone who sees themselves as ‘too practical’ for hygge. As we know, hygge is so much more than just the fluffy socks and the coffee in front of the fire – it’s about finding pleasure organically in the little things in life. If you’re someone who can’t bear the thought of lounging around indoors all winter, maybe you hygge by doing. As with any craft, whittling is a way to make use of idle hands, learn a new skill and to have something to show for your time – and this Danish take on it is just an added bonus for Scandiphiles like me.
Unlike most other books about all things Nordic, there is absolutely no preamble whatsoever in this. Really, none. The first page dives straight into the technicalities (dry limewood and sharp knife at the ready), and from there onwards it only gets more practical. If you’re looking for sweet stories about how the author learnt the art of whittling from a twinkly eyed elderly relative in the heat of a Danish summer, you won’t find them here. What you will find is an incredibly methodical approach to the Danish art of whittling, with no distractions and plenty of colourful photos to help you stay on track. But at the same time, it’s not off-puttingly serious – there’s always going to be an element of whimsy in a book about whittling wooden birds isn’t there?
The second half is where the book really shines for me – it’s filled with ideas for what you can do once you have your finished, decorated bird. There are step-by-step guides for mounting your birds, or creating nests, or birdhouses, or a bird mobile (how cute would this look in a child’s bedroom?), or if you’re really looking for a challenge, you could even whittle yourself a drumming woodpecker.
So, what on earth does snitte have to do with hygge? For me, it’s more than just the Danish link. Some people just don’t do well sitting around relaxing (I’m not one of them), and for those people, this might be the perfect new skill to which some time and energy can be devoted. The beauty of snitte is that it doesn’t need to be done all in one go – you can pick it up, work on your bird for 15 minutes and then come back to it tomorrow. Equally, if you get into the zone (something with which all crafters are familiar, I’m sure), you could probably create one of those adorable bird mobiles in a day.
If you’re trying to convey the joys of hygge and you’re up against someone particularly stubborn, maybe this totally different take on it will be just what you need to persuade them why it’s so great. You don’t even need to say the H-word, but maybe it will just happen one day – and all thanks to snitte.
What’s your favourite craft? Let me know in the comments!
Snitte: The Danish Art of Whittling is available now on Amazon. I received a complementary review copy, but all thoughts are my own.