The perfect end to a wonderful tour in Norway was a visit to the island studio of two talented textile artists. Inger Johanne Rasmussen and Kari Steihaug share space on Hovedøya, which is a three-minute ferry ride from Oslo City Hall. We had the opportunity to meet both women, see some work up close, and enjoy a slide show with examples of other beautiful, creative, and inspiring works.
Inger Johanne Rasmussen spent many years as an instructor of weaving and created art on the loom (see Horisont, Horizontal, a doubleweave in wool and silk, ca. 1995). Since 2000 she has used recycled wool fabric to create large, colorful artworks that are reminiscent of quilts. She uses what she calls intarsia technique to butt raw edges and hand stitch pieces together. Until recently, she was using a large stash of army surplus foot wraps as her raw material. The Norwegian military used squares of wool that soldiers wrapped around their feet rather than socks. She dyes the wool, cuts the necessary shapes, adds a stabilizer, then stitches everything together into stunning wall hangings.
She is often inspired by textiles used throughout history and by people from all layers of society, such as a red gingham tablecloth. Many of her works combine beauty with a twinge of unease, as Solveig Lønnmo puts it in her introduction to Stitching Between Dragons and Trees of Paradise. That tablecloth brings to mind memories of pleasant breakfasts in grandmother’s sunny kitchen. But the tablecloth also witnessed quarrels, tears, and betrayals.
There is much to enjoy in Inger Johanne’s work. The color effects are stunning and there is usually a small surprise. There might be a small bee or a chair or a house in what looks at first like an all-floral design. She might change the scale of motifs, switch from positive to negative, or creep beyond borders for stunning effects.
Kari Steihaug has done a variety of works featuring knitting. Knitting brings nature and warmth into office spaces of metal and glass. She also uses recycled materials for many artworks. She did a series where she partially unraveled knit items and reknit the yarn into tapestries. The garments for Little Madonna were found in melting snow piles in the spring. Kari says that she likes the wavy traces of stitches. She sees them as a personal handwriting embedded in the yarn that isn’t easily washed away. For 4 Klasse / 4th Class, she collected 21 sweaters to represent those in a 1967 class photo in which all of the children were wearing handknit garments.
The Unfinished Ones is an exhibition to capture the stories embedded in small beginnings and unfinished garments. The stories reveal pleasures, expectations, and disappointments. For example, Item 9872: “When I was 5 years old and learned how to knit, I wanted to make a scarf in all the seasons’ colours. But because I have since had so many exciting knitting projects, my first will remain a dream.” Sibel Rotås Eser, 9 1/2 years old, Oslo.”
Item 9877 (Socks): “A Christmas gift for a boyfriend. He got one for them for Christmas with a promise of getting a second one by New Year’s. Winter passed and spring came and our love ended. The socks have been lying in my knitting basket since 1987. Thank you for allowing me to get rid of my bad conscious!” The “pair” (one and three-quarters socks) were donated anonymously during an exhibition in 2005. There’s poetry in imperfection, Kari says.
For more on Inger Johanne Rasmussen and Kari Steihaug, see:
Å sy mellom drager og paradistrær / Stitching Between Dragons and Trees of Paradise: Tapestries by Inger Johanne Rasmussen and Myths by Terje Nordby. Oslo: Inger Johanne Rasmussen, c. 2014.
Note: Photos are by the artists or by Laurann Gilbertson, unless noted, and used with permission.