Monday, 1 December 2014

Travels around the Baltic: Mora to Falun, Sweden

When I first visited Sweden, the wealth of handmade textiles in museums came as a very pleasant surprise. There are examples of woven bands everywhere; in museums large and small as well as displays in shops.  There is a reason for this abundance of textiles.

At the end of the 19th century, there was a realisation that society was changing and that old crafts and traditions were dying out.  Artur Hazelius had set up the Nordiska Museum in Stockholom in 1873 and in 1882, George Karlin founded the Kulturen, the Museum of Cultural History, in Lund in southern Sweden. The museums started to collect examples of peasant craft but it was felt important the skills should not be lost. 

The Nordiska Museum, Stockholm

In 1899,  Lilli Zickerman founded the Home Craft Committee She was a formidable writer and speaker and she brought together an executive board chaired by Prince Eugen.   Zickerman understood the importance of keeping records. From 1914 to the 1930s she compiled many inventories of the traditional textiles of Sweden. She took over 24,000 photographs, hand colouring many of them. She had intended publishing a series of books, but only one was published in her lifetime. These records are now in the Nordiska museum in Stockholm. 

One book about the Nordiska collection was published in 1925. Swedish Textiles is an overview of the weaver's craft with descriptions and black and white pictures, of items in the museum. I found a second hand copy some years ago.  It is written by Emelie von Walterstorff, a member of the Home Craft Committee. It has a forward by Luther Hooper.

In Sweden, each district population was encouraged to set up a handicraft association, so many set about making inventories of the textiles in their area.  One astonishing discovery was made by Paul Jonze in 1910.  He was appointed to make a list of items of rural culture for the Association of Jämtland’s Handicrafts. Next to Överhogdal church, the sexton had found an interesting textile that was lining a box used for storing firewood to heat the church.  When examined properly, this textile was identified as a woven tapestry dating between 800 and 1100 AD (the Viking Period). It had been woven on an upright warp-weighted loom. It is now on display at the Jamtli Museum in Östersund.

Schools were encouraged to teach crafts as a fundamental part of the curriculum so that these traditional skills would be passed on. In Stockholm, the Svensk Hemslöjd store selling Swedish handicrafts from different parts of the country was opened and is still there today. Permanent stores were established around the country to provide a focus for buyers and sellers, the shop in Leksand being the first. Buyers from the large towns could visit these regional stores to order the textiles they wanted.  This provided a source of income for rural women.  These stores were to be centres for exhibitions and craft courses as well as selling venues. Records were kept of local patterns and materials which form the basis of many museum collections today. With all this interest in craft, it is not surprising that Sweden has preserved such a profusion of textiles.

In Leksand, the shop/centre that Lilli Zickerman and the architect Gustaf Ankarcrona established in 1904 is still there. Upstairs there is a small museum of costumes and bands.  They had a stall at the Weave Fair in Umea where the assistants dressed in the local costume.

The Leksand shop stall at the Weave Fair in Umea. 

Most of the local records are now in the nearby Leksand museum which was founded in 1899.  When I visited the museum in 2011 to study the band collection, many of the woven bands I examined still had the original labels detailing when they were collected. 

The county town in Dalarna is Falun and the Dalarnas Museum in the centre of town is another textile heaven. It was here that I spent happy hours examining samples of woven bands. The museum was founded in 1883 and the present building is on an attractive site next to the river.  

Dalarnas Museum, Falun

The costumes and textiles are beautifully displayed.  Although light levels have to be kept low in order to preserve old textiles displayed in glass cases, there is a wall of modern reproductions for the visitor to touch and handle. All these reproductions are represented in the permanent display of historical costumes. I was surprised by the heavy weight of material for the skirts and could appreciate the lovely rosepath patterns in the cloth. The patterns of woven bands can be examined closely. This hands-on display and the accompanying documentary film is an innovative and very welcoming introduction to the textile gallery.  Maria Björkroth from the museum explained that the display is used on guided tours to bring the viewing of costumes to life.  Through the experience of touching and examining, visitors see items in the showcases that they had not noticed and have a greater understanding of how they were made. 

This was my second visit to this wonderful collection.  After my first visit in 2011, I published a book of band patterns from Gagnef-  Woven Bands from Sweden.  This time I examined the rest of the collection of bands from this village.  I love the way the weavers used many colours.  There were a few examples of early bands which were in red and white.  After chemical dyes became available, dyed wool was imported and was very popular.  The bands became multicoloured.  For me it was particularly interesting that the coloured wool came from the UK.

The revival of Folk costume in the early 20th century ensured that the museum has some stunning examples. The Dala-Floda costume is one of the most colourful. The appliqued bags for each costume are so attractive and the museum has many examples. 

Some bands are easy to analyse and weave, but the more complex wider bands can take many hours to chart. 

Many bands are now woven commercially, particularly the waist bands which have to support a sturdy skirt.  I wove an example of one waistband in fine cotton and wool..  The photograph shows my band on the left and a commercially woven band on the right.  (The patterns are not the same).

If you look closely at the bands, you can see that the pattern thread in the centre is green.  This thread is known as the heart of the band.  It is a useful guide when weaving.

I hope that you enjoy the descriptions of my visit to Scandinavia.  In January, I will describe the Sámi weaving that I saw. 

Happy weaving and Seasons Greetings to everyone.

Susan J Foulkes  December 2014

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