[No: LXXXI | July 11, 2017 |  By Viveka Hansen]

Linen weavers, stripy woollen fabrics, eiderdown filled bolsters, silver accessories for clothing, weaving of broadcloth and child labour within textile manufacturing. These are the main subjects that will be observed via historical documents and preserved items from the Malmö area in southernmost Sweden. The previous post in this series introduced textile furnishing from the period 1650 to 1700, particularly from the perspective of the major Knut Knutsson’s estate inventory dated 1667, which will be further examined together with a few illustrations aiding this study.

Due to the needs of linen yarn for the professional local linen weavers, it is most probable that flax was grown in substantial quantities outside the embankments of Malmö. The further preparations with retting, breaking, swingling and heckling – before the fibre could be spun to thread and twisted to suitable qualities – may have been done both outside and within the town. (Flowering flax field in Skåne, Sweden. Photo: The IK Foundation, London).

Quotes are translated from Swedish to English.

Local linen weavers foremost produced bedlinen like sheets, pillow cases and bed curtains together with tablecloths, napkins and towels. The woollen weavers were too few in number to organise a guild of their own, so linen weavers included stripy woollen bolsters side by side with their linen production (Kjellberg 1943). Archival studies by the contemporary historian Ernst Fischer also clarified that the customers arranged the yarn themselves. Either by purchasing ready-made yarn suitable for linen weaving or by obtaining the flax, which was then spun to thread and twisted to the desired qualities by servants/wives/children/elderly relatives. The ready-spun yarns were delivered to the weaving workshop in the next stage – and the detailed order probably put in place – so the weaver was paid for his work only.

The preserved estate inventory for major Knut Knutsson, dated 1667, will exemplify a wealthy town family’s storage of linens:

Linen cloths
12 table cloths
1 table cloth on the table with fringes
1 coarse tablecloth
4 towels
1 dozen coarse napkins
4 pairs of sheets
1 pair of old sheets
1 sheet
3 pair of pillow cases
1 pair of old pillow cases
(to a total value of 88 Daler)

To use linen sheets and table cloth was still a luxury in Sweden during the second half of the 17th century, and therefore primarily part of relatively wealthy homes. The most treasured linen item in this particular family was the ‘table cloth with fringes’ valued to 12 Daler. However, patterns or weaving techniques used by the linen weavers of Malmö are not known, but plain weave and twill variations were probably dominant together with twill diaper on finer table cloths.

Even if Malmö in 1662, had thirteen professional linen weavers added with their respective journeymen and apprentices, it has not been possible to trace any of their former produce today. However, the Malmö Museum keeps a contemporary 17th century linen damask tablecloth in the size of 213 cm width and 159 cm length (incomplete) woven in the Netherlands. But there is no proof for that this particular textile – or other similar linen fabrics in the museum collection – were imported already at that time and used by well-to-do inhabitants in Malmö. The history of this linen is unknown from the approximate date of weaving and up to when the museum purchased the item in 1931. (Courtesy of: Malmö Museum, MM022094, Creative Commons).

The major Knut Knutsson’s estate inventory also included woollen bed textiles for comfort and warmth. Down in bolsters were especially important, primarily collected from goose, swan, hen or eider. But various other materials were in use – more or less comfortable – like feather, horsehair, hay, straw, reed, bast fibres or grass. This particular inventory list lacks a loom, so it is unlikely that cloths were woven within the home environment. Import of fabrics were modest in Malmö after 1658, depending of changes of trade routes and high taxes (as was discussed in the previous post of this series). Due to these circumstances, woollen textiles for interior furnishing were probably either imports of older date or fabrics woven by professional local linen weavers, whom produced woollen cloths as an additional branch of commerce.

Below follows the list of woollens etc from Knut Knutsson’s estate inventory, placed in: a chest, the bed, a bedroom and the loft.

In the chest no 7
2 bed bolster
2 down bolster
2 bolster
In the bed
3 mattresses
1 old down bolster
1 old cushion
3 old bed curtains
In the bedroom
2 mattresses
1 bolster
3 cushions
1 stripy cushion
1 cushion with woollen cloth
1 pair of sheets
1 pair of linen curtains
In the loft
6 old mattresses
3 woollen cushions
1 bolster
1 old down bolster
(to a total value of 115 Daler)

To my knowledge neither local everyday clothing or more festive garments are preserved from this period in Malmö, but during archeological excavations a rich selection of silver items have been unearthed, once important part of the dress. This well-preserved gilded silver model for instance – found in the district Druvan in Malmö in 1888 – was used to decorate or/and hold together a upper garment at the neck. The item was probably made in the 17th century (dated to pre-1677). A design of this type has its roots in Medieval time, according to research by the historian Sigfrid Svensson in the 1970s. (Courtesy of: Malmö Museum, MM029603:011, Creative Commons).

These six small silver buckles have a similar history as the item above, dated to pre-1677 and found in the same spot in 1888. Buckles of this type also have a long history back to the Medieval period and was commonly used in two or three pairs on the upper garment. A string, ribbon or silver chain was drawn through the buckles to tighten/hold together the upper part of the bodice – before the introduction of buttons and buttonholes. (Courtesy of: Malmö Museum, MM029603:015, Creative Commons).

Woollen manufacturing in conjunction with an orphanage was also introduced in the 1680s Malmö by major Lars Persson Törnskär and a group of local citizens. Parallel to the children’s combined education/work in spinning and knitting, a textile manufacturer who engaged professional dyers and weavers produced broadcloth primarily for the needs of the army. This textile production and its financial circumstances, the educational aims for the circa fifty orphans and the conditions for child labour were thoroughly researched by Sven T Kjellberg in the 1940s, which are here exemplified:
‘The children were educated by specially trained teachers in wool production, spinning and knitting. During the period 1690–mid 1691 the knitting department produced 4 night jackets, 255 pair of men’s socks and 63 pair of women’s and children’s socks, which numbers in the following year was 19, 57, 29 and 30. In the accounts for 1693 it was mentioned that the orphaned children, whose work consist of picking wool, scrubbing, carding and spinning, not have any other wages than food and clothes.’ (quote p. 651)

The ages of the orphans who took part in this woollen work are unknown. Some of these children were paid a small sum of money after half a year of training, partly depending on which type of work each individual was assigned – knitting was in this context regarded as more qualified and “valuable” than the preparation of the wool.

Previous post in this series:
‘Textile Furnishing & Embroideries – A Case Study from 1650 to 1700’.

– Fischer, Ernst, Flamskvävnader i Skåne, Malmö 1962.
– 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 & Christinehofs Fideikommis historiska arkiv, (Alum Archive, F IIIa 5, Oluf Knutsson’s estate inventory).
– Kjellberg, Sven T, Ull och Ylle, Malmö 1943.
– Malmö Museum, Sweden (Online collection, three images & information from catalogue cards).
– Svensson, Sigfrid, Folkligt dräktsilver – ur Kulturens samlingar, Västerås 1979.


– Hansen, Viveka, ‘Professional Weavers and Child Labour in Malmö – 1650 to 1700’, TEXTILIS (July 11, 2017); https://textilis.net/ (Accessed: Day/Month/Year)