[No: LXXIV | March 23, 2017 |  By Viveka Hansen]

For several centuries Malmö and its nearby districts had benefited from a prosperous and long-lasting trade – including imports and exports of various textile goods. Circumstances that changed rapidly at the Treaty of Roskilde in 1658, when this wealthy Danish town and other closely situated areas became part of Sweden. The main trade routes were now altered, new taxes were introduced and much of the commerce went via Stockholm, 600 kilometres away. This study will briefly look into which effects the restrictions of new influences had for Malmö and particularly for the textile trade and handcraft.

Part of 17th century map including Malmö [Ellebogen], situated by the Öresund. Undated map of Skåne, printed in Amsterdam. (Private owner)

Quotes are translated from Swedish to English.

The change of geographical boundaries in the 1650s not only effected the individuals in the 17th century, it had a substantial impact even two hundred years later on many traditions. For instance, this was particularly well demonstrated in the stagnation of decorative patterns/styles on both clothing and interior furnishing in the farming community. Resulting in that Renaissance or even Medieval influences to a great extent still were present in the 1850s. The situation for Malmö in a new country – located at a lengthy distance from the capital Stockholm – was not the only reason for an abrupt end to an economical centre. Just as important was the negative effect of King Karl X’s newly introduced high customs tariffs, which almost made it impossible for import and exports of most goods to and from the old areas of Denmark.

Fewer textile remnants have been unearthed from the period 1650 to 1700 compared to previous centuries. Even preserved fragments/garments above ground which were once locally made or used are very rare, possibly due to long-lasting wars in the 1670s and frequent fires which ruined entire villages or town districts. Historical documents therefore form the most important knowledge about interior furnishing from Malmö. Foremost from the wealthy townsmen’s estate inventories, whose places of residence were around Stortorget or along the main central streets close by. One of these individuals was the major Söffren Christensen who lived in one of the larger townhouses, illustrated below.

Detailed reconstruction of the living room at major Söffren Christensen’s residence “The Flensburg house” in Malmö 1651, drawn after listed items in an estate inventory by Einar Bager in 1936. Among other interior furnishings, a number of cushions and long bench covers are sketched without revealing any further features of patterns or techniques. (Courtesy of: Malmö Museum, MHM 007355:011, Creative Commons).

A more detailed account will be discussed from another Malmö major – Oluf Knutsson – who died in 1659 (estate inventory dated eight years later in June 1667). The listing of existing possessions at his death gives quite a clear picture of the importance of decorative interior textiles as well as a rich selection of woollen and linen goods. His living room was furnished in the same style as above with long benches fixed to the walls, in this context was mentioned: ‘one old Flemish [tapestry] bench cover for the side of the table, 3 dl’. To be a owner of tapestry woven items were still common in the wealthy townsmen’s homes at this period of time; used for benches as well as chair cushions, bedcovers and tablecloths. This tradition was thoroughly documented in the 1960s by historian Ernst Fischer. He stated that the tapestry weaving was established in the early 16th century and reached its peak in popularity more than hundred years later – or around 1650 – for this strata of society. With other words concurrently with Knutsson’s estate inventory, where two further tapestries were listed in the Loft room: ‘1 Flemish bench cover, 2 dl’ and ‘1 Flemish bench cover with green broadcloth, 4 dl’.

In numerous protocols and listings which described the inhabitants of Malmö, further research has also revealed that women weavers moved from house to house within the wealthy family residences in the early 17th century. One of these professional weavers – producing tapestries was ‘Anne Poffuell Flemish weaver’, she has been possible to trace via the town tax records from 1612. At the later part of the century estate inventories sometimes include looms for tapestry weaving. One such example is dated 1677 after Sidtzele Hellesdotter who owned ‘1 tapestry loom, 8s’ and ‘1 horizontal loom, 1 metre [wide]’. Additionally she left nine ‘Flemish’ tapestries of various sizes, most probably woven on her own loom.

This is a rare example of a very well-preserved “tvistsöm” embroidery from the late 17th century. The impressive bedcover – dated 1684 – measures 202cm x 150cm and was possibly stitched by one or several women in a wealthy farming family close to Malmö. In an inventory of textiles in 1916, some of its history was described as follows. ‘The bedcover was purchased in the 1880s by the artist Jakob Kulle from Skåne…due to all probability it has its origin from southern Oxie or northern Skytts districts. It is in this small area, where from all “tvistsöm” embroidery seems to have its roots’. Kulle donated the embroidery to the National Museum in 1885. (Courtesy of: Gammal Allmogeslöjd från Malmöhus län, 1916, fig 361 & National Museum NMK 1018/1885).

Embroideries of this type (or in other woollen stitches) of various dimensions, were also part of Oluf Knutsson’s estate inventory. These belongings were listed from the living room as: ‘1 stitched bench cover, 6 dl’ and ‘1 one tattered ditto 1 dl’. Whilst ‘1 stitched bench cover’ had its place in the loft room, according to the inventory. It is worth noticing that the embroidered covers were valued higher than the tapestry ones, unclear why, as both techniques are equally time-consuming to produce. Fischer’s research mentioned in this context that contemporary estate inventories used descriptions as: ‘bench cover with damask flowers’ or ‘stitched new bench cover in damask embroidery’. This may be comprehended such as that the embroiderer copied patterns from the flowery motifs on linen damask tablecloths. As the opposite to weaving – which often was based on professional work in a town environment – embroidery was a popular occupation for the wives, daughters and female house servants of the bourgeois/towns people in the late 17th century Malmö.

Additionally: the estate inventory of major Oluf Knutsson included linen and woollen textiles for the home, possessions which will be discussed in the next post of this series.

Previous post in this series:
‘Textile Production & Traditions in a Coastal Town 1525-1650’.

– Fischer, Ernst, Flamskvävnader i Skåne, Malmö 1962.
Gammal Allmogeslöjd från Malmöhuslän, Malmö 1916  [quote p. 171, translated from the Swedish].
– Hansen, Viveka, ‘Fyra sekel Malmö textil – 1650 till 2000’, Elbogen pp. 23-91, 1999. (A large number of primary and secondary sources were studied for this article. For full Bibliography etc; please see the Swedish article.)
– Högestads & Christinehof Historical Archive, (Alum Archive, F IIIa 5, Oluf Knutsson’s estate inventory).
– Malmö Museum, Sweden (Online collection, image & information from catalogue card).
– National Museum, Stockholm, Sweden (Online collection, NMK 1018/1885).


Hansen, Viveka, ‘Textile Furnishing & Embroideries – A Study from 1650 to 1700’, TEXTILIS (March 23, 2017); https://textilis.net/ (Accessed: Day/Month/Year)