[My Chamber of Textile Thoughts. No: XLI | By Viveka Hansen]
The dove-tail tapestry technique is known in Swedish as flamskväv or ‘Flemish weave’. Similar tapestry weaving can be seen on textiles that are thousands of years old, from many different parts of the world: for instance, as decorations on clothing and later as wall decorations. The technique opens up great possibilities for the use of free patterns and it has mainly been used in the representation of scenes with figures, including people, animals and landscapes but also simple scattered flowers and leaves, all with immense richness in details and nuances. My attempt to reproduce part of a cushion in this technique has its origin from a pattern-combination seen on a couple of preserved square shaped fabrics, made in upright looms around 1800 to 1830 in the Torna district in southernmost Sweden.
Some further research into the history of this particular flamskväv cushion reveals that the textile was sold, jointly with about twenty other 18th and 19th century textiles by a Sven Bengtsson to the museum Kulturen in 1916. Additionally in the same year an almost identical example – together with more than two thousand other textile treasures – was included in the comprehensive publication Gammal Allmogeslöjd från Malmöhuslän. The only visible difference between the two textiles is the bride-to-be’s initials in the marking, so the two cushions were probably woven if not in the same family at least in the same village or close district.
This folio sized publication was based on a large-scale inventory of traditional textiles in southernmost Sweden. A translation of the quote for this particular cushion gives a good understanding of the enormous work which was done by the area’s handicraft organisation one hundred years ago. Their aim with this publication was to spread knowledge about the areas former textiles via careful factual research and a colour or black & white photographs of each item, but also to secure as much oral information as possible from the relatives still having the knowledge of where and by whom these various textiles were once made.
Quote Plate: 235 (see image below): ‘On this square shaped cushion the “Annunciation” pattern has been changed to another image, while the green wreath and it there above floating blue angle and all its surrounding flowers have been kept. The small couple, which besides the three tulips are centred in the wreath, alternatively named the “bridal couple”, “betrothal” or “twins”. Most likely it is probable that it depicts a young couple celebrating their betrothal or wedding, and has maybe been woven to just such an occasion. The girl is dressed in a red wedding dress, and on her head she wears the red girl-ribbon, which at this stage not is a white bonnet, the married woman’s characteristic. The man is dressed in the typical dress from Torna district, where the clogs have been woven blue instead of black and the coat greying green instead of blue or white. The cushion is marked BID, edged with a multi-coloured woollen fringe. Size 52×52 cm. Owner : Ingrid Persson, Weberöd parish, Torna district. She has inherited it from her mother, Anna Kristenssdotter, Hasslemölla, Weberöd parish, Torna district. If she or her mother has woven it, there is no knowledge.’
In the making of dove-tail tapestries, the design, in the form of a sketch is placed behind the warp threads. The tapestry is woven on its side so that, when complete, the linen warp (covered by the woollen weft) runs horizontally. The weft follows the rounded forms found in the various designs, and dove-tailing is used to join two areas of colour, where there would otherwise be a slit. As with all tapestry weaving the technique is quite slow, while no shuttle is in use. For my reproduction, the warp was a 4-ply strong linen thread and weft in 2-ply woollen yarn, specially dyed and spun to be used for reproductions of these dove-tail tapestries or parts of the same. The yarn was spun and dyed by Wålstedts in Dalarna (Sweden) and purchased in the 1980s via at the time active Handicraft Organisation in Malmö, to be as close as possible to the original tapestries in quality as well as colour (even if the original colours are somewhat darker). The chosen colours were synthetically dyed, but if I had have done the experiment today I had probably used natural dyes and tried to come even closer to the original seven shades. For example by using the following plants/insects:
- Madder (Rubia tinctorum) – red
- Cochineal (Dactylopius coccus) – reddish pink
- Indigo (Indigofera tinctoria) – dark & light blue
- Birch leaves (Betula alba) – yellow
- Birch leaves & Indigo – dark & light green
- Added with: Natural white wool – white
Most of the extant dove-tail tapestries (flamskväv) originate from rural society. The weavers frequently dated and signed their works, and these inscriptions suggest that the surviving textiles were largely woven between 1750 and 1850. The earliest mention of a dove-tail tapestry in a farmer’s home can be found in an estate inventory of 1742, at the death of Ingeborg Persdotter’s husband – though, of course we do not know if the tapestry was new at this times. In all events, the number of dove-tail tapestries in estate inventories increased during the following decades and reached its peak an the end of the eighteenth century. This accords well with the dates inter-woven or embroidered on the surviving cushions and covers. The textile researcher Ernst Fisher also emphasised that the art of dove-tail tapestry weaving became established in certain families and was practised for several generations.
The spread of the technique seems to have been surprisingly limited, confined to the southwest of Skåne and centred on the districts of Torna and Bara, in the vicinity of Lund and on the districts south of Malmö, namely Oxie, Skytts and Vemmenhög. Judging from the patterns used, these two areas developed a tapestry tradition independent of each other, and we assume that earlier workshops of the two towns of Lund and Malmö spread the art to their own vicinity. However, we cannot say with certainty why the dove-tail tapestry technique was common only in these two areas. One probable reason is that this type of weaving was very time-consuming, thus limiting it to prosperous farmer’s areas where people had the times for such an occupation.In the second half of the 19th century – when the long tradition to weave such textiles almost completely had ceased – it was not unusual to cut up, re-shape and use these fabrics for other purposes in all sort of situations. These two chairs (below) from a bourgeois home in Stockholm are one such good example of how to place the originally wealthy farmers cushions, bedcovers etc in a totally new context in the late 19th century or early 20th. These are still well-preserved, even if they have lost some of their history – but unfortunately many other textiles were not cared for in the same way and in the worst cases used as door mats or horse blankets.
However, a substantial number of Swedish museums have extensive collections of these dove-tail tapestries from southernmost Sweden. Many thanks to the early curators of these institutions who searched for and saved textiles for future generations without changing their sizes and original purposes in any way. These items were primarily collected/bought/received as gifts from the 1880s and a couple of decades in to the new century, during a period when these once treasured textiles since long had lost the importance for the families and the young woman’s dowry in various wealthy farmers areas.
- Digitalt Museum (Digital source: upright loom, and several examples of ‘Flamskväv’ from Skåne in southernmost Sweden).
- Fischer, Ernst, Flamskvävnader i Skåne, Lund 1962 [in Swedish only].
- Gammal Allmogeslöjd från Malmöhuslän, Malmö 1916 [quote p. 111, translated from the Swedish + image Fig. 235].
- Hansen, Viveka, Swedish Textile Art, London 1996.
- Hansen, Viveka (Historical reproduction/weaving of flamskväv).
- Kulturen (Digital source: flamskväv & historical facts from catalogue card).
- The former Handicraft Organisation in Malmö (Wool and linen yarn for the woven reproduction).
PLEASE REFERENCE AS FOLLOWS:
- Hansen, Viveka, ‘Historical Reproductions – ’18th & 19th Century Dove-tail Tapestry’, TEXTILIS (May 22, 2015); http://textilis.net/ (Accessed: Day/Month/Year)