Unn Søiland could knit before she could read. Following language studies in England and France, she became an airline stewardess. She then moved to Paris and worked as a model. In 1952 she became a model for the fashion house Hardy Amies in London. Being a model entailed a lot of waiting, and she knitted whenever possible. The things she made became popular among her model friends, and she started to get orders for sweaters. This was the start for her firm Lillunn Sport A/S in 1953.
Having gained access to exclusive sportsshops and fashion journals in London and Paris, she decided to make a go ofmaking hand knitted items based on Norwegian traditions. She quit her job as amodel and returned to Norway. Up until then she herself had knitted all she sold – now she hired knitters from all over Norway. In 1958 a newspaper called her the first Norwegian “career woman”.She employed more than 1000 knitters. Her philosophy was to arouse interest internationally by daring to be national. “Norwegian Sweaters” became fashionable and sought after because of Søiland's production and massive exports.
In 1953 Unn Søiland started cooperating with Sandnes Uldvarfabrik. She made 25 pattern recipes for the factory. She was paid 100 kroner for each pattern, in addition to a monthly consultant’s fee. This income enabled her to buy yarn whole- sale, and the finished items were sold by Lillunn Sport A/S.
The most popular patterns were Eskimo,Slalom, Marius, Nordkapp, Finnmark and Snøkrystall. Many of her designs were inspired bytraditional knitting patterns and folk dress, but had at the same timeinnovative cut and color combinations. The sweaters became popular, and they were also shown in international fashion journals.
It was unusual in the 1950s for designers to have their names on the patterns they created. In the 1990s the Norwegian Supreme Court ruled that knitting and other textile patterns are to have the same legal protection as other designs.
The Marius pattern designed by Unn Søiland in 1953,has since been the most popular sweater pattern in Norway. It has been sold inover 5 million copies. Søiland was, like many others, inspired by the book Norske Strikkemønstre (1929).When she developed the Marius pattern, her inspiration was the borders to “Lusekofte fra Setesdalen” in the book. She redesigned the elements, built them into a newcombination, removed the “lice” in the pattern and presented the Marius patternin red, white and blue.
The slalom skier and fighter pilot Marius Eriksen had an acting partin the movie “Troll i ord” (1954) where the leading cast all wore Søiland sweaters.The attractive ski coach Marius was dressed in the Marius sweater, and withthis lm the name Marius became aestablished brand name.
“Troll i ord” created knitting hysteria in Norway. Everybody knitted the Marius sweater and there was a great demand for yarn and patterns. Unn Søiland had sold the hand knitting pattern to Sandnes Uldvarefabrikk.The factory therefore has sole rights to sell the pattern. After Unn Søiland Dale’sdeath in 2002 her daughter, Vigdis Yran Dale, inherited the copyright for the use of the Marius pattern on products for sale and manages this through the rm Lillunn A/S Design of Norway.