[No: XVII | By Viveka Hansen]

Long-lasting traditions, the usefulness of the textiles and creations of large dowries were the three most important factors in the increasing production of “rölakan” or double interlocked tapestries – as with many other woven techniques and embroideries – in the southernmost Sweden during the period 1700 to 1850s. In this part of the series of these beautiful textiles, I will primarily describe the basic functions and their extended history in time and place through art works and museum’s interior displays.

It was not accidental that Jacob Kulle’s interior paintings from farmer’s home depicted detailed textilies to such an extent, he and his sister-in-law Thora Kulle were both deeply involved in the early attempts to save the traditions of the longlived textile handicraft during the later decades of the 19th century. This oil on canvas showing a Sunday morning from a farmer’s home in Torne district, Skåne c. 1870s. (Cederblom, G., Svenska folklivsbilder, fig 85, 1923).

It was not accidental that Jacob Kulle’s interior paintings from farmer’s home depicted detailed textiles to such an extent, he and his sister-in-law Thora Kulle were both deeply involved in the early attempts to save the traditions of the long-lived textile handicraft during the later decades of the 19th century. This oil on canvas showing a Sunday morning from a farmer’s home in Torne district, Skåne c. 1870s. (Cederblom, G., Svenska folklivsbilder, fig 85, 1923).

The interior decoration in the farmers’ dwelling-houses in Skåne consisted of a limited number of useful furniture, which were commonly placed along the walls of the main room. The strict confinement with furnishing along the walls and free space at the center, descended from an older epoch when the hearth was centered in the room.

Example of 13th century artwork on wood panel, with madonna sitting on a cushion. Unknown Italian-Byzantine painter. (Owner: National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., USA, source: Wikimedia Commons).

Example of 13th century artwork on wood panel, with madonna sitting on a cushion. Unknown Italian-Byzantine painter. (Owner: National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., USA, source: Wikimedia Commons).

To be comfortably seated before the tradition of upholstered furniture, portable cushions and pads, fulfilled this function. Providing practical places to sit on was of course not a new phenomenon during the 18th century, but when the seat cushion had its true origin is unknown. However the evidence for the use of seat cushions have a long history, which foremost can be studied in older illustrations and works of art where pads are visible together with a portrayed person. Most probably the seating tradition was introduced with the sack shaped cushion. This type can already be seen on mural depictions in the catacombs of Rome, and was later often present on art works of various forms during the period from the 9th- to early 16th centuries, principally within churches interior decorations and as illustrations in handwritten books. The four-sided cushion has a parallel tradition from c. 10th century, while on the other hand bench cushions first are possible to study in Renaissance art. In these well-to-do homes decorations and religious motives which are reflected in the described art objects from Byzantine Empire, Rome and further north in Europe the usage of portable cushions ends around the time of the Renaissance’s final phase. Furnishing along the walls now more and more is replaced with the developing tradition of moveable furniture and upholstered chairs which were followed by divans and sofas in coming centuries. Even so in “ordinary homes” the older furnishing tradition stayed on for much longer in many places, for example with the farmers from Skåne where the portable cushions in various sizes were commonly in use up to the mid 19th century.

Chair with square cushion in double interlocked tapestry from Villands district, Skåne. (Owner and museum interior: Malmö museums, photo: The IK Foundation & Company, London).

Chair with square cushion in double interlocked tapestry from Villands district, Skåne. (Owner and museum interior: Malmö museums, photo: The IK Foundation).

From my researched material of more than 1.600 double interlocked tapestries – as described in earlier “Textile Thoughts” – four areas of use have been possible to detect. These were: seat cushion 28 %, travel cushion 42%, bench cushion 14%, bedcover 13 % added with a smaller number of textile fragments/cut pieces of fabric with uncertain original usage. The large amount of travel cushions from the documentation work were not only used in the carriage, but could also function as a seating cushion indoors for two people.

Interior from a farm in southern Skåne, oil on canvas by Jacob Kulle 1881. Observe the bed, covered by a woven double interlocked tapestry with star patterns. (Owner: Malmö museums, photo: The IK Foundation & Company, London).

Interior from a farm in southern Skåne, oil on canvas by Jacob Kulle 1881. Notice the bed, covered by a woven double interlocked tapestry with star patterns. (Owner: Malmö museums, photo: The IK Foundation, London).

It must be noted that the majority of the woven textiles during the main part of the year were kept in chests. The number of textiles in wealthy farmers’ homes were also usually large, which often lead to a need for separate chambers intended for the chests where woven fabrics and other valuable items could have safe protection. To keep one’s treasured possessions in chests, was like so many other customs in the homes of the farmers inherited from the upper classes furnishing. The tradition reaches far back to the Viking age and early Medieval period from where chests have been located from these groups of society. The chests for the gentry as well as the burghers, vicarages etc also continued to be the primary place for keeping the family’s personal belongings up to the early 18th century, when the chest gradually was replaced with storage in cupboards and clothes closets. On the other hand by many “ordinary citiziens” like from the south Swedish farmers’ homes, the chest kept its popularity as the most important piece of furniture for storage more than 100 years longer, up to mid 19th century.

Carriage seat with travel cushion from south eastern Skåne. (Owner and interior: Österlens museum, Simrishamn, photo: The IK Foundation & Company, London).

Carriage seat with travel cushion from south eastern Skåne. (Owner and interior: Österlen museum, Simrishamn, photo: The IK Foundation, London).

At festivities the textiles adorned the farmer’s interiors in abundance, as well as one preferred to use several travel cushions on top of each other on the way to church to show off the status of the family. Nevertheless in every day life the homes were quite sparsely decorated, consisting most commonly of bed-linen, feather-beds, sometimes a seat cushion and simple striped bench covers. Festivities and celebrations of various kinds could be several during the year, but when a wedding took place this was one of the more important occasions in a family’s life, an event which had been prepared during several years of collecting, weaving and embroidering for the daughter’s dowry. Consisting of woven fabrics, clothes, bed linen and embroideries, often double interlocked tapestries were included as treasured possessions which not only had an economic value and gave the family a particular status for the moment. These textiles also had a considerable value in the long term and became possible to inherit through several generations, for the reason that said textile belongings most of the time were kept in chests, were given an airing but otherwise kept out of the sunlight. The consideration of one’s interior decorative textiles contributed with other words towards limited wear and tear, the colours of the wool were almost preserved unchanged through the years and at the same time as the storage of many farmers’ textiles had the possibility to be added in size for each coming generation.

The artist Jacob Kulle at several occasions also used the decorative textiles from Skåne as pure “display” in his interior paintings. Here demonstrated with a double interlocked tapestry piece with star pattern placed in the basket at the front. Torna district, Skåne c. 1870s. (Cederblom, G., Svenska folklivsbilder, fig 88, 1923).

The artist Jacob Kulle at several occasions also used the decorative textiles from Skåne as pure “display” in his interior paintings. Here demonstrated with a double interlocked tapestry piece with star pattern placed in the basket at the front. Torna district, Skåne c. 1870s. (Cederblom, G., Svenska folklivsbilder, fig 88, 1923).

A farmer’s family from Torna district in Skåne; consider the extent of the daughter’s dowry, with the lid of the chest open. Oil on canvas by Jacob Kulle c. 1870s. (Cederblom, G., Svenska folklivsbilder, fig 84, 1923).

A farmer’s family from Torna district in Skåne; consider the extent of the daughter’s dowry, with the lid of the chest open. Oil on canvas by Jacob Kulle c. 1870s. (Cederblom, G., Svenska folklivsbilder, fig 84, 1923).

To be continued…

[SOURCE: Hansen, Viveka, Textila Kuber och Blixtar – Rölakanets Konst och Kulturhistoria, pp. 141-158, 1992.]

PLEASE REFERENCE AS FOLLOWS:

  • Hansen, Viveka, ‘Double Interlocked Tapestries in Works of Art’, TEXTILIS (February 14, 2014); http://textilis.net/ (Accessed: Day/Month/Year)