But So much more than just cosy. A way of life for the Danes, who adopted a Norse word for well-being in the 18th Century and have hugged it ever since. Recently it has crossed to our shores and there is a lot about Hygge everywhere, magazines, Pinterest, new books, a whole movement towards the comfort and cuddle for autumn and winter. It's in the squidge of maltloaf, it's in butter on hot toast, cold hands in mittens and a hug under an umbrella in the rain. I love it!
I think for some people Hygge (one possible way of pronouncing it is Hue-gaa) comes naturally. For others it needs to be a conscious action. I am one of the natural Hyggers. I eschew white paint (except for ceilings as that helps the lighting in the room but that’s the only reason) preferring rich deep colours. This house is all rich greens (accidentally not actually planned that way) with warm creams and yellows and accents of deep red or soft pink. Despite the 1970’s vibe they can evoke, we have paper lantern style lampshades on pendant lights (I haven’t yet found another shade that disperses light softly), or soft, glass shaded wall lights, and lot of lamps, and of course candles. I even make candles in vintage glass ice cream bowls or jelly moulds, or in teacups and milk jugs (these are great to use during a power cut when you need to walk around the house, they have a very useful handle and don’t drip).
However not everything is obviously Hygge. It isn’t just about open fires and woolly socks. It’s a sense of wellbeing, of love, a smell that is hard to describe. As a child I remember hot bowls of semolina and bramble jelly when we came home from swimming lessons. The contrast of the steaming creamy semolina and cold, garnet red jelly, wet hair drying, mixing with the smell of chlorine. The sting of chapped shins from the slap of wet wellies on bare legs when we came in from playing and were briskly rubbed dry by mum or dad, holding on to their heads for balance, shivering with cold and being warmed up with soup or hot chocolate, & long trousers or pyjamas. Of camping holidays, the smell of wet grass, mildew of damp canvas, and gas from the stove. The quivers of excitement, delicious terror, tiredness as we lay listening to storms rage overhead, safe in our tent, or so we thought, not always knowing that mum and dad were hanging on to the tent’s poles to stop us blowing away! Oh the joys of camping on the west coast of Scotland in August. Which I hated aged 16 but now have fond memories in retrospect. I still love being in a storm. Ten years or so ago B & I lived in a caravan for a year whilst we decided whether to build a house or not (not in the end) which I loved, especially during the winter, and he hated, especially during the winter! Such a cosy bedroom with piles of duvets, blankets and cats (we had five at the time). Especially during power cuts!
I love power cuts! We are so reliant for power in all aspects of our lives that the opportunity to be switched off for a while is great and I get a great ‘Dunkirk spirit’ sense about it. The best excuse for doing nothing (something I struggle with doing) I can’t do any washing or ironing; after a while there’s no computer; no phone until we plug the analogue one in; once I have finished bustling about setting up the camping cooker, locating torches and candles, getting the fire lit & making sure B is OK & my folks are alright, I can sit and read, unashamedly unable to anything but nothing. It makes me want to smile, to giggle and laugh out loud, there is a delicious bubble inside that I can now name as Hygge. It’s almost one of excitement, it’s about hunkering down, watching weather, fireside dozing, sitting it out. Power cuts, (as long as everyone is safe and not worried) are simply hygge. On one occasion a few years ago B & I went to visit friends during a power cut, because they had an open fire and at the time we didn’t. Four adults and five dogs had The. Best. Day. Ever. Still remembered by all of us with affection and laughter. We played charades for hours, read magazines, dozed, simply talked, around the fire. C & I made a pot luck supper of beef olives casserole, simply some onions, a tin of tomatoes, a tin of baked beans, and a few pinches of I don’t know what, magic perhaps; cooked in an enamel ashet on the side of the fire. I haven’t ever been able to replicate it, and I haven’t ever had better beef olives! Simply, totally, hyggelig. (Yes it’s both a verb and an adjective!)
Hygge is the effect that I'm aiming to achieve with how I set up the Barn for classes. There isn’t much light, the two windows are quite small, the barn being designed to house cows and not craft workshops! And although there are, by necessity, fluorescent strip lights they are softened by use of lamps, uplighters, and sometimes candles and fairy lights. There is bunting, piles of fabrics, baskets of yarns, mismatched chairs draped in blankets gathered around the fire. Although it’s an electric stove it looks like a wood burning stove, and an eclectic range of artwork and samples of sewing projects. I bake cakes or biscuits for each class, encourage chat, the sharing of experiences. I have an urge, a desire to make people feel comfortable, and comforted, and hope that students go away having had a good day.
I think I’m managing it, as I have been asked to do some sewing projects on a one to one with one of my junior Needlesmiths who has Asperger’s. She’s having difficulties with social interaction at the moment, so that she wants to leave the house to come up to the Barn and spend an hour with me doing something creative is huge, HUGE! She’s a lovely girl and I hope that she’ll benefit from our sessions. I feel that it’s an enormous validation that what I am striving to achieve does work.
In the new year once the excitement of Christmas has passed and the cold grey days of January and February are upon us, I am planning to hold some cosy afternoons at the Barn, ‘Sew Hygge’, some small projects or simply the opportunity to meet and sit and chat in front of the fire with friends, hot chocolate, and cake whilst sewing or knitting or just sitting.
Now I need to go out in to the wind and weather which is being fairly wild and typically west of Scotland wet autumn, to walk Rosie the dog before getting ready to go out to teach my Sew Upcycled evening class at the Community Centre in Lochgilphead.
Recently I've read a couple of books about Hygge:
‘The Little book of Hygge, the Danish way to live well’ by Meik Wiking CEO of the Danish Happiness Research Institute, Copenhagen. Yes there is such a place! This is a super little book. Little only in terms of height & width as it is quite thick. Lovely matt pages, beautiful photographs. Easy to dip in and out of for a quick dose of Hygge. Ideas to increase Hygge throughout the year. Delicious sounding recipes that make you want to start cooking immediately, suggestions for picnics that have you visualising strapping food filled wicker baskets and tin mugs to bikes whatever the weather.
The Art of Hygge by Jonny Jackson & Elias Larson. A little light on substance but lots of lovely pictures and some nice recipes for really autumn-y food & drinks. An easy to read for coffee time, it gives you a nice glow, and inspiration to get up and ‘do stuff’ to the house to create more Hygge!
Also 'The Cozy Life' by Pia Edberg and 'Hygge The Complete Guide to Embracing the Danish Concept of Cosy and Simple Living' by Oliver Hansen and I’m really looking forward to reading ‘A year of living Danishly’ by Helen Russell a Londoner living in rural Jutland for a year – lucky thing!