By Melba Granlund
This adventure in weaving began a couple of years ago when the Weavers Guild of Minnesota’s Scandinavian Weavers study group chose to focus on Swedish art weaves. I and many others in the group had never personally studied or done this type of weaving, although some of the patterns resembled Norwegian patterns we knew. At or about the same time, I had been “gifted” several pieces from southern Sweden woven in this fashion from the late 19th or early 20th century, so we had examples to study up close and personal. However, we needed to find out more about what these Swedish “art weaves” were all about, and I looked forward to the challenge.
I was aware of the Swedish weaving school Vävstuga in western Massachusetts, operated by Becky Ashenden, as I had taken the “Beginners” class there a few years earlier. While looking at Vävstuga’s website and pondering whether to return there for further instruction on “Swedish classics,” I remembered that while studying at Vävstuga I had purchased a book on the subject, written in Swedish by Gunvor Johansson. I now saw that the book was available in English. Wanting to know more about Gunvor, I continued to dig deeper on the internet and discovered that she was teaching Swedish art weaves through the Skåne Hemslöjd in southern Sweden and had done so during the month of June for at least the last couple of years. It seemed to me that if I wanted to learn from the best, then being taught by the person who taught Becky many years earlier at Sätergläntan made the most sense. Being the frugal person I am, the cost of instruction was the next thing to consider. I found that traveling to Sweden for a class was almost the same as going to western Massachusetts. In fact, it was almost cheaper.
That was it. I needed to go to Sweden. So, I sent an email to Hemslöjden i Skåne to inquire about classes in 2016. As it turned out, while the class was being offered again during the same week in June, it was eventually canceled for lack of interest. While I was disappointed, I was happy that I hadn’t already booked my flight and hotel room. Having thought that further instruction would not be possible – at least in Sweden – I then received news about Vesterheim’s 2017 Textile Study Tour. The itinerary showed that the tour was at or about the same time as the class in Sweden and that we would be traveling nearby while in Denmark. So, I contacted the Hemslöjd once again. This time I dug a little deeper and inquired how a person might “guarantee” not having the weaving class canceled for lack of participants. I was told that they would be happy to host a “private” class for us “English speakers” if we had enough students. One thing led to another (email upon email) and, finally, there were eight of us who wanted to take the class. Liz Hunter in our group made our hotel reservations and also tracked down flight info. Edi Thorstensson handled train reservations. I took care of class registrations. The Hemslöjd was thrilled. We were thrilled. It was actually going to happen. Hooray! Our class even became a post on the Hemslöjd’s Facebook page as they prepared the looms for us.
Landskrona turned out to be a storybook town. 17th and 18th century buildings and cobblestone streets everywhere – each block had a different type of stone and pattern. Our hotel was only a couple blocks from the North Sea and only a few blocks from the Hemslöjd, which had been relocated to the former Landskrona train station which, in itself, was an architectural beauty.
Arriving at our classroom the first morning, we were greeted by Åsa Stenoft who had been the person I communicated with in scheduling our class. She could not have been a more gracious host and supplied us each day with freshly baked coffee cakes and treats (freshly brewed coffee was always at hand). Her knowledge of weaving was also very helpful during class time and she helped translate for Gunvor, which turned out to be almost never.
A little bit of background on our teacher, Gunvor Johansson, and the Skåne Hemslöjd. The Swedish hemslöjd, or handicraft, movement was first developed in 1899 by Lilli Zickerman who sought to encourage self-supporting artists working in their homes while at the same time preserving Swedish folk art traditions. Lilli traveled around Sweden to map and document the textiles and their makers.
Since the mid 1980s, Gunvor has continued to study and expand the documentation of the Skånsk textiles based on the Stiftelsen Skånsk Hemslöjd (Skåne Handicrafts Foundation) archives collection in Landskrona, with textiles dating from the 17th century forward. This work culminated in the publication of her book, Väv Skånska Allmogevävnader, translated into English by Birgitta Esselius Peterson as Heirlooms of Skåne: Weaving Techniques. In her studies, Gunvor researched the colors of the original yarns, drew up the patterns and developed suitable yarns currently available for replication of these beautiful pieces. She has taught the weaving techniques rosengång, halvkrabba, dukagång, munkabelt, krabbasnår, rölakan, viggrölakan, and trensaflossa to students in classes at Sätergläntan and continues to teach through the Hemslöjd organization in Skåne. With Kristina Lindkvist, Gunvor co-owns the company Kyrkotextil i Syd, creating liturgical textiles for use in churches. In 2005, in connection with Hemslöjden Malmöhus’s 100th anniversary, she received the Swedish Hemslöjdsföreningarnas Riksförbund’s Royal Silver Medal for her work on the documentation of Skåne’s art weaves, her work for the handicraft movement since the mid-1980s, as well as for her outstanding contributions to ecclesiastical textile art. Hemslöjdsföreningarnas Riksförbund is the national umbrella organization. Therefore, its Silver Medal is a very high distinction.
From the Hemslöjden Skåne website:
We use natural materials, reuse and keep the knowledge of how to manufacture long-lasting items. The slöjd helps us solve problems with our own power. It gives a sense of context, belonging and roots; inter alia by building on the long tradition of doing things by hand. In addition, it fills people’s everyday lives with well-being, beauty and creativity.
Beauties actually change the world. And we do it with only our hands.
Hemslöjden – Our hands shape the future
For a sustainable world created by our hands
What a great philosophy!