Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Travels around the Baltic: Sámi weaving

The Sámi people

The Sámi people are the indigenous people of northern Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. When I first became interested in band weaving, I decided to travel to Sweden to see the type of bands that were in museums.  I had only seen black and white diagrams of band patterns and a few colour photographs.

In 2009, travelling up to Sweden through Europe, we stopped in Schleswig and it was there that I saw my first collection of bands.  They were Sámi bands - and I knew nothing about the Sámi people  I was thrilled to see such lovely examples of band weaving and I wanted to find out more about the Sámi people, their crafts and culture.

Of course, in Sweden most museums have collections of woven materials and many small towns have small museums as well. I have researched the beautiful woven Sámi bands from Sweden.  Looking closely at the patterns is illuminating.  The colours have a particular significance; a rare example of there being a meaning in the woven bands.  Too often meaning is assigned to patterns and symbols and this meaning is assumed or ascribed but has no basis in fact.


In Stockholm, the Nordiska museum has a Sámi gallery which was very interesting and introduced me to the place of Sámi people and culture in the history of Sweden.  Going back last summer, I was slightly disappointed to see that the gallery has hardly changed in the last six years.

In 2011, we travelled as far as Kiruna and Jokkmokk to attend the Sámi market in August in Jokkmokk. However, the real highlight was the Ájtte, Swedish Mountain and Sámi Museum which has a stunning collection of clothes and lots of examples of woven bands. Every year the most important Sámi market is held in Jokkmokk in the first week in February.  I would love to attend this event. 

Last summer, we went to the Weave Fair in Umea.  Umea was the European Capital of Culture in 2014 and the programme for the year included many events for and about the Sámi people.

 Sámi heddles and bands

At the Weave fair, Astrid Enoksson, who lives in Tarnaby, had a display of display of Sámi costume and weaving. Her rigid heddles are made out of reindeer antler.

This beautiful coat and band was on the display.

See the blog entry for October for more about the Weave Fair in Umea.

This band has nine pattern threads and is a very quick design to weave.

At the Weave Fair, Stoorstalka had an attractive stall at the entrance of the Market Hall. They had a  very dramatic backdrop for their stall. 

The Stoorstalka stand at the Weave Fair

Sámi rock art

In Umea in the Västerbottens Museum there was a display of  ancient Sámi rock art.  A fascinating glimpse into another world.

 a replica Sámi pot

I bought this lovely copy of an Iron age Sámi pot.  It is 3.5 inches tall and stands on my desk as a reminder of a wonderful holiday.


On our travels around the Baltic, I found two other museums with a Sámi collection. Unfortunately the museum in Estonia had none of its collection on display when I visited.  In Finland however, there were many examples of Sámi weaving and craft. We spent two weeks in this lovely country.

I visited the craft museum in Jyväskylä in central Finland which I will mention next month in my blog about Finland. We traveled further north and stayed in Oulu.  Here, I stumbled across a lovely museum, the Northern Ostrobothnia Museum which had a collection of Sámi artifacts.  These had been collected by the museum director who spent his summers with the Sámi people in the north of Finland.  He counted them as his friends and the collection was displayed with much thought.

There were a number of bands displayed.  These lovely Sámi shoe bands have one of my favourite
patterns ( see Handwoven  2013, March /April Vol 164, no 2 for the weave pattern).

One of the shoe bands on display had three motifs.  I analysed the pattern and wove it.  It has eleven pattern threads and the graph is given on my blog.  The speckled edges are made by using a yellow weft thread so that it shows up against the red border threads. It is a very attractive shoe band. I have posted the pattern draft onto the blog for you to try.

This shoe band has eleven pattern threads.

If you want to know more about Sámi weaving, I am running an online workshop for the Braid Society on their Yahoo discussion group, Braids and Bands in March 2015. The workshop shows how to weave a particular type of band using a newly designed heddle from Stoorstalka - the Sigga heddle.  This heddle is used to make bands that have 'jumping' pattern threads. Details about the workshop and how you can join in are given on my blog.

I think that it is rather exciting that a new weaving tool has been developed.  It shows that the craft of band weaving is still meaningful and creative.

An excellent booklet The Sámi - People of the Sun and Wind, published by the
Ájtte Swedish Mountain and Sámi Museum is available in the Nordiska Museum 

Happy weaving

Susan J Foulkes
January 2015

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