[My Chamber of Textile Thoughts. No: XIII | By Viveka Hansen]

Female weavers who produced double interlocked tapestries or “rölakan” as a professional occupation were extremely rare during the 18th and 19th centuries, which also was confirmed during my documentation between 1984-91 including more than 1.600 examples of these tapestries. Only one woman could be placed in this category with certainty, while other weavers – who built up dowries for their daughters or wove to decorate their home for festivities – have been found during both my observations and by earlier collectors, researches and documentations. However the artists/weavers of the largest part of these beautiful textiles are today anonymous. The illustrations and texts below are briefly describing the knowledge, traditions and circumstances surrounding the female weavers of Skåne in southernmost Sweden.

This is a unique double interlocked tapestry woven by the professional weaver Bengta Oredsdotter in Lyngby 1828, dedicated to the crown prince Joseph Frans Oscar (1799-1859). It is unknown if Sweden’s king-to-be received this decorative textile. (Owner: private, photo: The IK Foundation & Company, London).

This is a unique double interlocked tapestry woven by the professional weaver Bengta Oredsdotter in Lyngby 1828, dedicated to the crown prince Joseph Frans Oscar (1799-1859). It is unknown if Sweden’s king-to-be received this decorative textile. Private owner. (Photo: The IK Foundation, London).

However most of Bengta Oredsdotter’s production is believed to have consisted of large bedcovers designed with octagons in rows, but the Gärds/Villands districts typical stylistic small trees placed in these octagons were by her replaced – as well as by some other weavers in the area – with a myriad of various birds, people, deers, flowers etc. Uncertainties are on the other hand not unusual when trying to trace a particular piece of textile’s history. This can be exemplified with the bedcover below dated 1858 which originates from the last decade when the particular “Bengta style design” has been identified, but the catalogue description from Kulturen in Lund notes instead that the textile was woven by Anna Håkansdotter born 1839 with “Anna HD” in marking. This statement must from my experience given some reservations, foremost because of the complexity of the patterns, the fineness in quality and the perfect finish of the bedcover when woven by a woman only 19 years old. Probably her more trained mother Ingar Andersdotter marked “IAD” on the bedcover, was the weaver of this exquisite design.

Even if many double interlocked tapestries were marked with both year and initials, it is even so quite rare to know the name of the weaver. The same apply to this worn cushion, in spite of the year “1817” and the woven intitials “HD” placed on the opposite side. Part of travel cushion from the districts Gärds or Villands, Skåne. Private owner. (Photo: The IK Foundation & Company, London).

Even if many double interlocked tapestries were marked with both year and initials, it is even so quite rare to know the name of the weaver. The same apply to this worn cushion, in spite of the year “1817” and the woven initials “HD” placed on the opposite side. Part of travel cushion from the districts Gärds or Villands, Skåne. Private owner. (Photo: The IK Foundation, London).

Part of bedcover dated 1858 in double interlocked tapestry, Västra Vram parish, Gärds district, Skåne. Owner: Kulturen in Lund, Sweden. (Photo: The IK Foundation & Company, London).

Part of bedcover dated 1858 in double interlocked tapestry, Västra Vram parish, Gärds district, Skåne. Owner: Kulturen in Lund, Sweden. (Photo: The IK Foundation, London).

This travel cushion’s history was explained to me in person by the former keeper Gustaf Åberg of Österlen museum in the late 1980s. The cushion had been inherited through his family from his grandmother’s grandmother dating back to the late 18th century. After the aural history of his family, the double interlocked tapestry textile was woven by Toren Andersdotter who was lame and therefore already as a child restricted to the indoors. The weaving became a natural occupation for her from early years, which later on made her a skilled weaver. Luggude district, Skåne, Sweden. Owner: Stiftelsen Jöns Jons gården, Sweden. (Photo: IK Foundation & Company, London).

This travel cushion’s history was explained to me in person by the former keeper Gustaf Åberg of Österlen museum in the late 1980s. The cushion had been inherited through his family from his grandmother’s grandmother dating back to the late 18th century. After the aural history of his family, the double interlocked tapestry textile was woven by Toren Andersdotter who was lame and therefore already as a child restricted to the indoors. The weaving became a natural occupation for her from early years, which later on made her a skilled weaver. Luggude district, Skåne, Sweden. Owner: Stiftelsen Jöns Jons gården, Sweden. (Photo: IK Foundation, London).

The early research of old textiles from the area of “Malmöhus län” by the local handicraft organisation shows us many details of female weavers and their families. At the time of their research during the early 20th century, there were still a substantial local knowledge about the people connected to the textiles as well as the ownership over a longer period of years. For example, the depicted bedcover below in double interlocked tapestry is explained as follows; ‘The bedcover is marked TLS – BTD. It is said to have been woven by Anna Nilsdotter in Skegrie, Tommarp parish, Skytts district, in the year 1818, shortly before she was married. It had first been inherited to the daughter Anna Hansdotter och then to the daughter’s daughter Hilda Hansson in Fuglie parish, Skytts district. The latter, who is unmarried, has recently left it to a relative, and the bedcover is nowadays owned by Ellen Sonesson in Söderhamn, Hälsingland’.

Bedcover dated 1818 in double interlocked tapestry, Skegrie, Tommarp parish, Skytts district, Skåne. (From Gammal Allmogeslöjd från Malmöhus län, 1924, translated quote Fig. 11).

Bedcover dated 1818 in double interlocked tapestry, Skegrie,
Tommarp parish, Skytts district, Skåne. (From Gammal Allmogeslöjd från Malmöhus län, 1916, translated quote Fig. 11).

Even if many Swedish museums started their collection work of older textiles just as early as above mentioned handicraft organisation – some of them already during the late 19th century – the aims or circumstances appear not to have been exactly the same. The textiles in museum collections can often be traced to an exact district and not seldom also the precise parish, but it seems to have been quite unusual to note any facts about the weavers names or families. Presumably these facts where not present or known at the time of the collection/donation/purchase of the items. On the other hand some museums included detailed descriptions of the buyer/donor/collector of the textiles and what date it took place.

Here exemplified with a catalogue card of a bedcover owned by Malmö museums. Information about the female weaver is not present, but it is evident that the double interlocked tapestry was woven in Färs district, Vombs parish ‘of wool in several colours on warp of linen yarn, marked 1777 EMD’. Owner: Malmö museums, part of text in translated quote (Photo: The IK Foundation & Company, London).

Here exemplified with a catalogue card of a bedcover owned by Malmö museums. Information about the female weaver is not present, but it is evident that the double interlocked tapestry was woven in Färs district, Vombs parish ‘of wool in several colours on warp of linen yarn, marked 1777 EMD’. Owner: Malmö museums, part of text in translated quote. (Photo: The IK Foundation, London).

Some individuals linked to various early museums in Sweden were of greatest importance for the understanding of collecting/documenting domestic crafted textiles, some of them can here be mentioned briefly; Arthur Hazelius the founder of the Nordic Museum and Skansen in Stockholm, G: J:on Karlin founder of Kulturen in Lund, Vivi Sylwan at Röhsska museum in Göteborg and Emelie von Waltertorff engaged at both Kulturen and the Nordic museum with documentation of textiles. But when it concerned early documentation of double interlocked tapestries – together with many other decorative techniques – Lilli Zickerman was the most important researcher. Her lifelong commitment to the Swedish handicraft traditions started already in the 1890s and lasted up to 1937 with the publication Sveriges folkliga textilkonst – Rölakan (Swedish Folk Textile Art – Double interlocked tapestries), but she is probably best known for her documentation work between 1910-31 which resulted in 24 000 plates and photographs, today kept at the Nordic museum in Stockholm.

At the time for my documentation, copies from the county of Kristianstad was placed at the local handicraft organisation where I had the opportunity to study a total of 317 plates depicting double interlocked tapestries from said county. Here exemplified with a partly coloured photograph of a cushion from Ingelstads district in south eastern Skåne. Owner [1991] The Handicraft Organisation in Kristianstad, pl. 378. (Photo: The IK Foundation & Company, London).

At the time for my documentation, copies from the county of Kristianstad was placed at the local handicraft organisation where I had the opportunity to study a total of 317 plates depicting double interlocked tapestries from said county. Here exemplified with a partly coloured photograph of a cushion from Ingelstads district in south eastern Skåne. Owner [1991] The Handicraft Organisation in Kristianstad, pl. 378. (Photo: The IK Foundation, London).

To be continued… 

[SOURCE: Hansen, Viveka, Textila Kuber och Blixtar – Rölakanets Konst och Kulturhistoria, pp. 139-147 & 173-187, 1992.]

PLEASE REFERENCE AS FOLLOWS:

  • Hansen, Viveka, ‘The Female Weavers’, TEXTILIS (December 19, 2013); http://textilis.net/ (Accessed: Day/Month/Year)