A Wonderful Scanian Art Weaves Adventure

By Edi Thorstensson

Our teacher, Gunvor Johansson

This issue includes contributions made by weavers—all of us Americans– enrolled last June 2017 in a Scanian Art Weaves class, taught at the Swedish Handicrafts Center for Skåne in Landskrona, a beautiful city on the western coast of southern Sweden.  Here we experienced the unforgettable opportunity to study classic Swedish weaving techniques under the tutelage of master weaver, Gunvor Johansson. 

Skåne (often referred to as Scania in English-speaking countries) is Sweden’s southernmost province and, historically, one of its most prosperous and populous.  Rich in textile tradition, Skåne has been influenced by its proximity to Denmark, of which it was a province until 1658.  Still, it’s culture is distinctly Swedish.  Landskrona is a quiet, thriving city with a citadel dating from 1549 and a lovely community garden colony, where one in twenty-seven city inhabitants has an allotment.  (For more information, see the Landskrona Wikipedia entry.)

Landskrona’s Old Train Station, home of Skånsk Hemslöjd.

Seven of us—Mary Erickson, Melba Granlund, Liz Hunter, Sharon Marquardt, Jan Mostrom, Mary Skoy, and Edi Thorstensson — came to Scandinavia with the  Vesterheim Norwegian American Museum’s 2017 Textile Study Tour through Denmark and Norway. It ended on June 24, and we prepared to leave Bergen for Copenhagen, the closest air connection to Southern Sweden.  A flight cancellation had us rebooked for a late arrival that gave us little time to catch the train from Copenhagen to Landskrona, but all went well, and we arrived at our destination in the dark— even though it was the weekend of Midsommar, the summer solstice celebration! The eighth member of our group, Janis Aune, met us in Landskrona. Here, we settled into the comfortable Hotel Öresund, situated within walking distance of Skånes Hemslöjd, located in Landskrona’s old railroad station, where our class took place.

Classroom, with Liz Hunter at the table, Melba Granlund and Edi Thorstensson at the looms

On Stiftelsen Skånsk Hemslöjd’s archives and the appreciation for historical textiles

In addition to rewarding class time at our looms, we were treated to a very special insiders’ tour of the SSH archives and a visit to Bosjökloster, where we saw a beautiful exhibit of our instructor’s work in a lovely historical setting (see Mary Ericsson’s article, “Gunvor Johansson’s Exhibit at Bosjökloster.” 

Field inventory, showing provenance, yarns, and pattern

A short walk from Hemslöjd to a quiet street, we entered a secured building that houses the Skåne Handicrafts Foundation’s textile archives.  Climbing a narrow stairway to a locked door, we followed Åsa and Gunvor into a room lined with storage cabinets and drawers where precious textiles encompassing many genres are stored.  Here are the historical links to a vibrant textile heritage, examples reflecting the skills of women who wove for their households and, in some cases, for others.  Much of the collection has been documented for provenance, but it includes items that have not been documented and field records, as well.  All are cared for with respect and pride, all are inventoried.  All are important and valued parts of Skåne’s and Sweden’s cultural history, its textile legacy. 

Åsa and Gunvor in the archives. Gunvor is wearing gloves used when handling textiles, paper, photographs, and other materials. The gloves help protect archival materials from skin oils and other substances that might cause damage.

Following are examples of items in the archives. 

Closing Words and Images 

Each weaver came away with special memories, only some of which are told here.  Liz Hunter writes, 

“this time in Landskrona was a joyful turning point for me!  i knew i wasn’t going to do the classical patterns. i did gain a greater understanding [for] them. instead, i concentrated on flossa and rya.   these will give me the ability to combine painting with weaving….and to turn from production weaving to more artistic expression.  gunvor and asa were so kind to me:  i’m sure having one student going in a different direction, and trying to speak to them in broken norwegian from 40 years ago, was not easy.  at the end of the session, they each gave me a vintage rya pile measuring tool, which i treasure.  i also treasure their passion and love of swedish weaving!”

Each weaver brought home with her a story and a sample of her own making.  Here are three samples that have found or are finding their way to completion:

Mary Skoy plans to make her sample into a pillow with ribbon embellishments.

Janis Aune’s sample, fashioned into a purse to wear with her folk costume.

Edi Thorstensson’s sample, showing knotted finishing in progress, for a wall hanging that will eventually include bobbin lace and inkle loom-woven band embellishments.

Special praise for Gunvor Johansson’s excellent book, Heirlooms of Skåne : Weaving TechniquesShelburne, MA : Vävstuga Press, 2016.  This is an excellent resource for both textile historians and weavers.  It features chapters on various techniques mentioned above, as well as three-harness weaving.  It is beautifully illustrated and includes pattern drafts.  Highly recommended.

We students share a feeling of deep gratitude for all that Gunvor Johansson and Åsa Stentoft gave us during our time with them.  They welcomed us and treated us with great optimism, patience and kindness.  They taught us skills that we will incorporate in our weaving–some of which will find its way into loved ones’ lives–and pass along to others. This is community.  This is who we, as weavers, are.

I wish to thank everyone who contributed words, photographs, and moral support to make this set of Skane adventure articles happen.  I apologize for not crediting photographers individually for the images they shared in our Skane articles.  Can you live with our being a collective of pretty good anonymous photographers? 

Read more about how this textile adventure came about and what it entailed in the other articles in this issue.

Weaving the Art Weaves of Skåne 
Inspiration, Outreach, and Connection   
Gunvor Johansson’s Exhibit at Bosjökloster 
Fika and the Joy of Lingonberry Cake

Edi Thorstensson is a retired librarian and archivist who has appreciated the history and creation of Scandinavian textiles since her first visit to Europe in 1961.    She is a member of the Minnesota Weavers Guild Scandinavian Weavers Study Group and the Pioneer Spinners and Fiber Artists guild.  She lives in St. Peter, Minnesota, with her husband Roland and Icelandic sheep dog Ára.

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Weaving the Art Weaves of Skåne

By Jan Mostrom

Eight excited American weavers traveled to Landskrona for a class in Skåne Art Weaves taught by Gunvor Johansson.  We could not have had a more lovely or qualified instructor.  Gunvor has been honored by Sweden as a master weaver and has written the definitive book, Heirlooms of Skåne : Weaving Techniques.  Åsa Stentoft from Skåne Hemslöjd was our gracious hostess and helped us with any questions we may have had, acted as translator if needed, and treated us to her baking skills for fika.  

Instruction included rölakan, krabbasnår, halvkrabba and dukagång, woven on the same warp to create a sampler of techniques.  All of these weaves are woven upside down.  Rölakan is geometric tapestry that is woven with a double interlock.  The other three techniques are woven with inlay butterflies against a weft face ground but each creates a unique pattern.  Dukagång creates columns of color.  Halvkrabba  design is made up of squares resembling a checkerboard.  Krabbasnår makes designs with the inlay moving in diagonal steps.

A sample in the class to illustrate techniques

A sample in the class to illustrate techniques

Gunvor encouraged us to graph out our pattern choice on graph paper so we would understand the way the patterns were built and moved.  We had an abundance of inspiration from antique weavings and reproductions, books, and Gunvor’s weaving to draw from.  We also had a booklet of graphed designs that was part of our class handouts.  

All looms had a linen warp, but the warps and setts were not all the same.  Gunvor wanted us to be able to see and compare the look of the different setts.  8/2 linen was set at 35/10cm and at 40/10.  16/3 linen was sett at 40/10 and 45/10.  20/3 linen was sett at 45/10 and 50/10.  At all setts, we used a single wool yarn, either Klippans Fårö or Rauma prydvev tapestry single ply to weave the weft face ground.  The inlay butterlies were made up of three strands of the single ply or one two-ply strand of prydvev or Klippans Brage combined with one strand of the single ply yarn.  Colors could be combined in a butterfly; for instance two or three shades of red could be used in one butterfly.   At the 35/10 sett, a two ply thread or two singles could be woven as the weft and 4 single stands of singles could be used for inlay, depending on the look you liked.  Three picks of weft were woven between pattern inlays.  One of the weavers chose to weave inlay monksbelt motifs and trensa flossa, which is a short flossa that does not cover the whole ground, for her sampler instead of the other techniques.

Patterns were woven upside down, that is, with the back side facing the weaver.

In addition to the art weaves, Gunvor taught us finishing techniques, including a warp finish, tassels of ribbon and fabric strips, two ways to make fringe or kavelfrans, fabric balls–both plain and covered with stitching–to attach to pillow corners, and explained how to make our sample into a pillow or bag.  

The student weaving varied in color and techniques chosen: in columns top to bottom going from left to right, Liz Hunter;  Janis Aune, Sharon Marquardt and Melba Granlund; Mary Skoy and Mary Erickson; Jan Mostrom and Edi Thorstenson.

Jan Mostrom, a weaver and instructor from Minnesota, will be teaching a class on Swedish art weaves at the Weavers Guild of Minnesota in the spring of 2018.  Details are herealthough it is already filled. Jan has a great passion and love for researching and teaching weaving, and is a frequent contributor of articles on weaving techniques to the Norwegian Textile Letter

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Gunvor Johansson’s Exhibit at Bosjökloster

By Mary Erickson

Gunvor Johansson

As with most weaving classes, I tend to focus on weaving and finishing the project.  So I was somewhat reluctant to be “pulled away” from the loom to go on an excursion.  As it turned out, an invitation such as this gave me a rare opportunity for an understanding of place and history of weaving that I could not have experienced on my own.  

Gunvor invited us to view an exhibit of her work called “HISTORICAL THREADS :  Scanian Art Weavery & Church Textiles” at the Bosjökloster Castle and Gardens.  She and her husband both drove cars to transport us and, as we traveled through the countryside, we passed farmsteads and field after field of crops, which gave us a sense of the landscape.

Bosjökloster originally was a Benedictine abbey, founded in 1080, and remained so until the Reformation.  Today the site is privately owned and open to the public.  Gunvor’s weavings were displayed in two rooms of the Bosjökloster  Castle.  The extensive exhibit included traditional weave structures we had been studying and liturgical weaving. 

The liturgical textiles on display were examples of Gunvor’s work, designed and created through a business she co-owns, Kyrkotextil i Syd (Church Textiles in the South).  Below are examples of Gunvor’s beautiful liturgical textiles. 

Janis Aune inspects a beautiful robe.

More information and images can be found at:

Mary Erickson lives on the Mesabi Iron Range and is interested in the cultural connections found in weaving traditions.   She recently retired as an exhibit researcher at the Minnesota Discovery Center in Chisholm, MN and is currently a fiber artist focusing on the influence of landscape and place in our lives.  Mary holds a  Bachelor of Science Degree in Art Education from Bemidji State University and a Master of Art Degree from the University of Wisconsin, Superior.

A Baby Basket and Bands for Inspiration

By Jan Mostrom

cradle-wholeLisa Bauch mentioned that her interest in researching nordic bands for her paper, “Threads of Devotion: Possible Medieval Origins of Nordic Christening Bands,” was in part inspired by a beautiful christening basket and coverlet displayed at the American Swedish Institute. This style of basket and coverlet, which I first saw on display in Sweden on a Vesterheim Norwegian American Museum Textile Tour, is from the Dalarna area. This christening coverlet is typically red and woven in 3 harness krokbragd. Three sides of the coverlet are bound by a woven band with tassels at the ends of the bands that include colorful cloth strips. The head of the coverlet is bound with a wide red wool strip. The birchwood basket that holds the baby is decorated with squares and circles of heavy wool that are sewn into the bark. It would be common to place a wooden stick in the basket at the baby’s head with the baby’s and it’s sibling’s initials and dates of birth. I was fortunate to purchase the coverlet in the ASI exhibit from Suzanne Kramer of County Gallery Antiques.


marycoverletLisa was not the only one to be inspired by this type of coverlet. Mary Skoy, a member of the Scandinavian Weavers Study Group of the Weavers Guild of Minnesota, wove a similar one, complete with handwoven bands on the edge, after viewing them in Sweden on the Vesterheim tour.


Exhibit: Historical Scandinavian Textiles (Part One)

By Robbie LaFleur

At every meeting of the long-standing Scandinavian Weavers Study Group of the Weavers Guild of Minnesota, members and guests bring weavings for show and tell. Usually we discuss our own creations, but often members bring pieces they have purchased or otherwise acquired.  These pieces are admired and studied, and in may cases, inspire new adaptations by group members.

Members of the group have seen many fabulous textiles over the years, and now we are sharing the opportunity to see them in person with visitors to the Weavers Guild of Minnesota, and digitally to the readers of the Norwegian Textile Letter.

These treasures from the collections of the study group members are a motley bunch, considering technique, materials, and method of acquisition.  What they share is good design and owners who appreciate and treasure them.

The pieces featured in this article, arranged by owner, are on display at the Weavers Guild of Minnesota until the end of December.

Where do the textiles come from?

Several pieces in the show are Swedish weavings gifted to Melba Granlund by her friend from church who knew that Melba would understand them and value them.

Some of our members are veteran scanners of online sales and recognize treasures. Sylvia Mohn bought mid-century Finnish transparencies. Jane Connett knew quite well that a tapestry reproduction of a row of Wise and Foolish Virgins was not an Albanian kelim, as was advertised on Ebay!

While buying Scandinavian dining room chairs, Phyllis Waggoner spotted rag rugs that had been used in shipping containers from Sweden, and bought them for a song.

Judy Larson shared a tapestry from a Swedish weaver who inspired her weaving journey. And finally, Karin Maahs shares family pieces she has known and loved her whole life.

Prepare to be inspired!

Phyllis Waggoner Recognized Rag Rug Treasures

Long Rag rug: plain weave. Warp: cotton seine twine sett at 9 epi.  Weft: rags, 2 cm wide of various fibers. Warp ends covered with fabric binding. 12’ 6” long, 21” wide.


This was a serendipitous purchases from the International Design Center, importers of mid-century Modern Scandinavian furniture, about 1998. Well-worn rag rugs were used to wrap the furniture that was shipped from Scandinavia to the US. Phyllis paid about $10 each for four Swedish rag rugs.

img_0214-1The rugs were in a big pile at the corner of the showroom where I was shopping for dining room chairs to go with our teak table. Not surprisingly, the mound caught my attention and I asked the salesman about the rugs and he explained how they came to his showroom.

Smaller Rag rug: twill threading, treadled as Overshot and plain weave. Warp: cotton sett at 8 epi. Weft: 2 cm for plain weave, pattern weft 3 cm. Warp finish, overhand knots.



This rug was purchased from a spinning wheel importer who explained that the rugs were used to wrap the spinning wheels during shipment from Sweden. Phyllis paid about $15.

Melba Granlund’s Gifts and Flea Market Find

Dukagång Pillow Cover.  Warp: linen. Weft: linen background and wool pattern inlay.  23″ x 22″ wide. Similar dukagång motifs are depicted in Gunvor Johansson’s book, Skanska Allmogevävnader, now available in English as Heirlooms of Skåne: Weaving Techniques.



Swedish Art Weave Wool Runner, combining dukagång, and krabbesnår. Warp: linen. Weft: wool. 22″ x 75″ long.



Swedish Art Weave Runner, combining rölakan and dukagång techniques. Warp: linen. Weft: wool.  23.5″ wide x 48.5″ long.



Runner in M.M.F. (Marta Maas Fetterstrom) Technique. Warp: linen.  Weft: linen tow yarn for structural background, wool for the inlay pattern. 23.5″ wide x 78″ long (including fringe). The technique is described in the Manual of Swedish Handweaving by Ulla Cyrus-Zetterstrom, pp. 132-4.


Melba explained the source of her beautiful pieces:

These four pieces were gifted to me from a close friend.  She and her husband, a former pastor, had received them (along with other weavings) from a parishioner while serving a congregation in Worcester, Massachusetts.    The pieces were apparently woven by someone in the woman’s family in southern Sweden.   Because the woman had no family to which they should be given, she gifted them to the pastor and his wife.   Knowing of my love for Swedish weaving and that my mother came from Skane, Sweden, close to where these weavings were created, my friend thought I should now assume the role of caretaker of these lovely pieces. Consultation with Laurann Gilbertsen, Chief Curator at the Vesterheim Museum in Decorah, Iowa, revealed that all the pieces dated back to the late 19th or early 20th century.

Black/red/blue woolen table runner.  Warp: linen.  Weft: wool. 23.5″ wide x 89″ long.


helsinki-detailOn the final day of the 2013 Vesterheim Textile Tour, we had a free morning in Helsinki, Finland.  Having heard of a flea market only a few short blocks from our hotel, some of us decided what better way to spend our last few hours before leaving for the airport.  Besides, I still had $50 Euros burning a hole in my pocket.  At the first booth, I struck gold at the bottom of a cardboard box, in the form of two wonderful textiles — one woolen paisley shawl and the other a long, black woolen table runner.  Another shopper told me that the piece looked like weaving from the Karelia region of Finland, which our group had just visited a few days earlier.

Upon returning home, I showed this piece to Laurann Gilbertsen, Chief Curator at the Vesterheim Mususem in Decorah, Iowa.  She confirmed that the piece was woven in the Swedish krabbasnår technique. Apparently, the clue was in the finely spun yarn and the colors used.  Although Swedish krabbasnår is the same as the Norwegian Vestfoldmett technique, much heavier, thicker yarn is used in the Norwegian pieces.  Upon further research, I located examples of similar motifs in Doris Wiklund’s book, Old Swedish Weavings from North to South (pp.232-5).  In the book, the pieces are identified as being purchased in Dalarna from an itinerant peddlar woman.

The Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum has similar pieces in its collection. The American Swedish Institute also has many pieces in this technique, probably because they were popular tourist items sold in Sweden.

See Part Two for more Scandinavian textile treasures.



Exhibit: Historical Scandinavian Textiles (Part Two)

Karin Maahs has treasures she has known her whole life, and a recent find.

Tapestry cartoon. Hans Georg Berg. Watercolor, 1929. 22″ x 23″ wide.


Best photo available due to glass

Hans Berg, born in 1895 in Kristiania (now Oslo), Norway,  studied painting under Christian Krohg at the National Art Academy in Oslo. After marrying Inga, he studied in several academies in Paris, Germany, Italy, France, and throughout Europe. He practised in several media: oil painting, fresco, watercolor, drawing, jewelry making, metalwork, and ceramics.  At one point Hans worked as a silversmith for David Andersen, a famous jeweler in Norway. In 1950, following WWII, Hans, Inga, and their youngest daughter Ellen emigrated to America and settled in the Minneapolis area. Hans became one of the premier rosemaling artists in Minnesota, and taught painting and rosemaling at Augsburg College.

Tapestry. Inga Berg. warp: linen.  weft: handspun and dyed wool. Woven in the early 1930s. 22″ x 23″ wide (excluding fringe)


Inga Berg, born in 1897 in Lier, Norway, married artist Hans Berg in 1921.  They studied art on a months-long honeymoon throughout Europe. In 1929 Inga studied weaving theory at Sister Bengston’s weaving school in Oslo, Norway. She was prolific in spinning, dyeing, knitting, weaving and sewing.  Often Hans would create a pattern for his adoring wife to weave.

Karin has many memories of the artistic activities of her grandparents.

Hans Berg painted his wife Inga at the loom (not in the exhibit).

Hans Berg painted his wife Inga at the loom (not in the exhibit).

As a child growing up in the 60s and 70s, living next door to my grandparents, I spent countless hours watching, listening, and learning about all kinds of art.  Many afternoons were spent quietly watching grandma weaving by a big picture window in the warm winter sunlight. I was also mesmerized by watching grandpa paint. With grandma, I often sat on the floor waiting for instruction as to when to push the peddles for the spinning wheel or the very old Singer sewing machine.

Inga made many pillowcases, table runners, and wall coverings large and small to warm and decorate the house.  Every flat area in their home was covered with paintings or weavings. It was a true museum filled with inspiration to fill the artistic imagination.

I recall that this particular weaving portrays a Norwegian folk tale, possibly Hans Christian Andersen’s “Folksangens fugl.” Hans Berg designed and painted it in 1929 and Inga wove it shortly after that, using her own handspun and dyed wool.

Monksbelt Coverlet.  Warp: linen. Weft: linen background and wool pattern weft.


It is not certain that this coverlet is from Scandinavia, but if we were told it was from Sweden or Norway, it would seem quite plausible.  Karin found the textile on a recent trip to the East Coast.

monksbelt-detailI purchased it from Lifeline Thrift in Portsmouth, Virginia.  I was told it was acquired from a very old farmstead in Suffolk, Virginia, just up the river from Jamestown.  It appears to have handspun linen warp and handspun and dyed wool weft.  It is delightful to dream about who may have woven this, more than a century ago, and who may have used it.  This is a treasure from colonial times with a Scandinavian flair.

Judith Payne, who is familiar with historical textiles, estimated that the coverlet is 18th century, mid to late. It is woven in a Monks Belt structure called checkerboard. The dye is cochineal, madder or bloodroot.

The coverlet has been cleaned by placing a screen over it and gently vacuuming using an attachment tool.

Judy Larson received her treasure decades ago.

Tapestry of Rattvik, Sweden. By Kerstin Ackerman.  Warp: cotton. Weft: fabric strips. 15″ x 12″ wide.


Judy described how she came to own this tapestry.

My grandfather’s cousin’s wife was one of the first Swedish relatives I met in 1976.  She was  a weaver, who had the studio on the first floor and lived on the second floor of the family homestead in Vikarbyn, Sweden.  She showed me her Glimakra loom, with the photograph of the village on Lake Siljan all gridded out.  Then she explained that she would go line by line, adding in the colors as needed, and counting the spaces to determine the length.  As a college student, I was amazed and intrigued, but never thought I’d ever have a chance to explore the wonders of weaving.

Now, when I go to see Kerstin, which I still do every other year, she has stopped weaving and taken up photography, so we discuss my weavings.  She still has a special stash of her weavings that she gives as special presents, like the Rattvik rug that she gave my daughter for a wedding gift.  Kerstin’s looms are now part of a village weaving cooperative, but she still has a houseful of beautiful weavings on her floors and walls.  Her rugs still inspire me, and I treasure the weavings that I have from her.

Jane Connett knows Norwegian tapestry when she sees it.


Tapestry.  Warp: linen. Weft: wool. 20.5″ x 30″ wide.

Jane Connett acquired a beautiful Norwegian tapestry during a time she was feeling a bit laid up a few months ago.  “I spent a lot of time on Ebay,” she explained.  Although the tapestry was advertised as an “Albanian kelim,” fans of Norwegian tapestry know perfectly well that it is a replica of a portion of a Norwegian Wise and Foolish Virgins tapestry.  It was slightly faded on one side, but the colors were clear and strong on the other.  The technical quality of the weaving is outstanding.  Since the weaving followed Norwegian tradition, all the ends were sewn in so that either side is equally beautiful.

Sylvia Mohn was active on Ebay.

Kastehlmi (Dewdrop). Warp and weft: linen. Woven label: Kasityoliike Sylvi Salonen, Handmade in Finland.   Design: Ritta Suomi. 41.5″ x 21.5″ wide (with frame).



circles-detail_edited-1I bought this perhaps 10 or 15 years ago on eBay.  At the time I was looking for woven wall hangings using peach/rust/brick colors. This weaving was a similar in construction to a transparent weaving I’d gotten earlier, with the weaving lashed onto a frame.  What I liked about the design were the curved lines, the lightness and openness, and the asymmetry.  I thought this might be from the 1970’s with the orange and brown colors, reflecting the midcentury popularity of imported Scandinavian textiles and graphics.

Puluset.  (Doves).  Warp and weft: linen. Woven label:  Sylvi Salonen*.  Design:  Tuula Jarvinen. 21.5′ x 21.5″ (with frame). 


birds-detailI bought this weaving at a local thrift store, perhaps 15 years ago. I liked the way the birds were abstracted into a graphic design, with their rounded lines juxtaposed against a linear background, even though the colors seemed a bit dull.

*Anita Jain, a Finnish-American textile artist, added information about the pieces, including the English words for the titles of the transparencies.  Sylvi Salonen is the name of a handcraft store in Turku. It was started by Sylvi Salonen in 1927, was later run by her daughter, Riitta Suomi, and is now operated by Riitta’s daughter, Sanna Suomi.

See more treasures in Part One of this article.

A Common Thread: Weaving Traditions of Norway and Sweden

Editor’s Note:  This article by Katherine Larson was originally published in Vesterheim, a publication of Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, volume 3, number 2, 2005, and is reprinted with permission.  Read the full article in pdf version HERE.   (Note: This is a large file with photos, and may load slowly.) In addition, Vesterheim Curator Laurann Gilbertson provided photographs and information below from the labels used in the exhibit.

Monk’s Belt  (Norwegian: Tavlebragd, Swedish: Munkebälte)
The small and large squares characteristic of both Norwegian and Swedish monk’s belt coverlets were often arranged to form either cross patterns (hanging) or square grids (trunk, left). Occasionally horizontal stripes of colored wool weft were used to separate the bands of monk’s belt patterns (trunk, right). The weavers in Skåne, Sweden, frequently wove their coverlets on a dark ground (hanging), a departure from the neutral linen or cotton ground that was more common elsewhere in Sweden and in Norway.

Common Thread 030

(Hanging: Table cover from Skåne, Sweden, Nordic Heritage Museum; Trunk left: Coverlet from Sogn, Norway, Vesterheim; Trunk right: coverlet from Nordfjord, Noway, Nordic Heritage Museum)

Tapestry (Norwegian: Billedvev)
Norwegian tapestry coverlets commonly depicted Biblical themes, such as the Adoration of the Magi. Tapestries were woven on their side to reduce the number of vertical dovetail joins required. A tapestry of this size and complexity was probably woven by a specialist that worked on a loom as broad as the finished weaving was high. (Adoration of the Magi, Norway, Vesterheim Museum)

1984.123.001asm(Swedish: Flamskväv)
The weavers in northeast Skåne were noted for coverlets that contained eight-petaled roses and the figures of men, women, birds, and horse. These coverlets, woven in the geometric tapestry technique, were executed in such fine detail that they included buttons on the men’s jackets and tiny candles. In contrast to Norwegian tapestry coverlets, which were woven while turned sideways on wide looms, these coverlet were made in two narrow sections on the smaller looms typical of home weaving. The two pieces were then sewn together to create a coverlet. The inscription at the top reads, “In the name of God the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost.” Initials and date, 1857, also personalize the coverlet. (Left, below: Geometric tapestry coverlet, Skåne, Sweden, private collection)

Common Thread 034

Three Holy King billedvev match with a Swedish weaving. Right: Geometric tapestry coverlet, Skåne, Sweden, private collection

Tapestry (Norwegian: Billedvev, Swedish: Flamskväv)
The Red Lion, a popular motif in Swedish tapestry cushion covers, was probably a simplification of earlier tapestries depicting Samson and the Lion. Norwegian and Swedish tapestry weavers often drew on Biblical these for their subject matter. The Wedding in Canaan is believed to be the inspiration for the banquet scene in this cushion cover.

Common Thread 026

Left: cushion cover from Skåne, Sweden, private collection; Right: cushion cover, Vesterheim

Thanks to Laurann Gilbertson, Curator of the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, for arranging permission to post the original article, and for providing extra information and photos from the exhibit labels.


A Fabulous Find: A Rya from Ryd

Here you see a very basic, functional version of the rya, woven in Sweden, a manifestation of the widespread pile-woven textiles for everyday use found throughout Scandinavia. It is of this everyday use and the place that this rya has in our family that I write.

One summer in the mid-1970s, my husband Roland, our children, and I were visiting my mother-in-law, Ellen, on her farm in Tröjamåla, near the town of Ryd in southern Småland, Sweden. One evening, we sat at the kitchen table, sipping coffee and discussing a multi-household auction that would be held in town, at Folkets Park.

DSCN2178Country auctions, in those days, were most interesting and educational for me. They revealed the inventories of a disappearing way of rural life, and I got to see up close and touch the tools, textiles, and every kind of everyday objects that reflected people’s lives. Those who came to auctions were mostly curious locals, in themselves interesting to me, who might bid cautiously on things they could use or things with which they identified.   But this auction was well advertised in the local press, a summertime auction sure to be attended by tourists and cabin folks, especially Danes and Germans. We decided to go, for the fun of it.

I suppose it is audacious to say that I spotted “my” rya immediately. In fact, it was piled on a table with other textiles of all sorts, but it caught my eye. When the bidding began, I didn’t trust myself to stay on top, keeping up with German, Danish, and the local dialect, but Roland helped. It seemed, at first, as though there was not much interest. Then, a Dane entered the bidding, and it went back and forth between us, until my bid won. Who knows? Did the Dane really understand what was at stake, that there was more than met the eye to this old thing that could be sold in a Copenhagen antique shop? No matter–now it was mine.

DSCN2176Next came finding out about the piece. Roland and I went to the Smålands Museum, in Vaxjö, where the curator explained the textile’s genre—slitrya–meant to be placed pile-side-down on the bed. Common, she said, ours nothing out of the ordinary.

But, this is not the end of the story.

In fact, my mother-in law Ellen’s place in this story IS this story. She tracked the slitrya’s history back to the household of a town merchant in Ryd, whose descendant remembered its being used in the upper floor bedroom, where the children slept close to a chimney for warmth. Which explains the wonderful smoky scent it had when we bought it. Imagine the skills that this simple, homely bedding embodies and the whispers of the children it kept warm.

DSCN2179Today this slitrya hangs on a wall in our living room. Woven in two pieces that have been sewn together, it measures approximately 47”x 72”. Its warp and weft are tow linen–likely handspun–with the exception of the top and bottom edges, which have dentate patterns, woven in blue and beige wool weft. There are a few blue wool picks in the body of one half, as well. The deep pile consists of various natural shades of handspun wool, combined with some linen yarns, knotted to form a goose-eye motif, best discerned from a distance. ¾” (2 cm.) weft separates the knots, which are visible on the presentation side. The person(s) who wove and assembled the coverlet chose to join the two sections in opposite directions, so that the piles face away from each other and the decorative head and foot edges do not match, although the overall motif is fairly aligned. Possibly, use and storage have faded the presentation side of the rya, but the pile side is true to its original, natural colors.

The spinner’s and weaver’s hands have long been stilled, the children are long gone, the earth and animals that provided precious fibers are long forgotten. And yet they are here, in this slitrya, a meaningful part of our lives.

Edi Thorstensson write of her weaving background: “Until June 2009, when I retired, I was a librarian and archivist at Gustavus Adolphus College and a free-lance translator.  I took my first weaving class at the Art Institute of Chicago before I entered college, but it wasn’t until years later, while visiting my husband’s native Sweden, that I learned to weave rag rugs from my mother-in-law, Ellen Svensson, patient teacher and friend, who shared with me her stories and many, many skills.”