[No: XCIV | July 9, 2018 | By Viveka Hansen]

In 19th century Malmö as in many other Swedish towns and cities, one of the effects of industrialisation was a rapidly increasing population – from ca 13,000 inhabitants in 1850 to ca 38,000 in 1880. This situation changed the everyday life in all sorts of ways, for the urban and close-by rural areas alike. The textile industry was central, including a wide range of woollen cloth factories, stocking weavers, ribbon production, spinning manufacturers etc. The aim with this essay is to take a local reflection on the new possibilities for factory owners, the consumer revolution for the middle-classes as well as the poor standard of living for the labouring individuals, often employed within the textile industries.

This Malmö woollen factory was established in 1861-62, here depicted about ten years later. Initially the firm worked as a shoddy industry – weaving cloth from wasted woollens, clippings etc. At the time of this image, the workforce consisted of about two hundred employees who produced coarser cloths, corduroys and fabric for duffle coats. Lithograph after an original of unknown artist (Courtesy of: Malmö Museum, No: MM 042424).

A complex mix of circumstances resulted in the growing of textile industries in mid-19th century Sweden – as freedom of trade in 1846, increasing use of steam power, more effective looms and spinning machines, extensive imports of cotton and movement of people from rural to urban areas. Even if several strata of society enjoyed the positive effects of the new innovations, it was not the case for many working class families. The rapid movement to where industry employment were created, gave rise to shortage of housing and many lived under extremely poor conditions. A contemporary observation gives an insight of working families’ beds: ‘The bed consisting of straw at the very bottom and both mattresses and cover feather bolsters are in use, which never are aired, and all is damp and impregnated with a stifling filthy odour, and which may be added various vermin at some even uncleaner homes’ (in translation from Swedish: Bjurling, p. 119). This was probably the reality for many within the textile industries, who worked almost 70 hours a week with poor pay.

Another local textile industry was P. Dahlström’s dye works founded in 1869. This block print of pear tree was used for printing the motif on fabrics up to the 1880s – probably on both cotton and woollen qualities. Furthermore, Malmö Museum keeps more than twenty contemporary wooden block prints once used in this particular 19th century establishment (Courtesy of: Malmö Museum, No: MM 006620:025).

This view of Malmö from 1857 was sketched from the nearby countryside and gives a good understanding of the early industrialisation, including the high chimneys from the spinning and weaving factories of the city. The new railway is not visible from this angle, but the first line was established just the year before and came to be of great importance for the urbanisation of the area. Pencil and tinted drawing by Carl Ludvig Ferdinand Messman. (Courtesy of: Malmö Museum, No: MHM 002903).

Cotton fabrics had prior to this period been quite expensive and in large been restricted to the well-to-do population, but with the increasing availability of the raw material, it became more and more popular in wider circles of the society. Not only for clothing, as it suited a range of uses within the home. Curtains, carpets, draperies and upholstery fabrics increased in number in apartments or villas of the middle-class and gradually in some working-class homes too. The need for imports of raw cotton packed in bales and possibly to some extent ready-spun cotton thread, was due to the establishment of a spinning factory and weaving mill for cotton in the mid-1850s. Their production included machine woven corduroy, moleskin, denim, calicos etc which made it possible to sell fabric to more reasonable prices than previous and at the same time this machine-weaving became a competition to the long-lived traditions of hand-weaving in the local rural area.

Despite the increasing textile industry with machine woven qualities, the hand weaving continued side by side during many years in the area, though with decreasing importance. This colourful bedcover of cotton warp and woollen weft is one evident example. The interior textile was produced in a home environment and clearly marked “1851” and the initials “JJD” in chain-stitch with silk thread. The unknown female weaver lived in the then rural area Östra Skrävlinge, which today is part of Malmö. (Courtesy of: Malmö Museum, No: MM 003638, detail of bedcover, 178cm x 134 cm).

Notice: A large number of primary and secondary sources were used for this essay. For full Bibliography and a complete List of notes, see the Swedish article by Viveka Hansen.

– Bjurling, Oscar ed., Malmö stads historia, D. 3, 1820-1870, Malmö 1981.
– Hansen, Viveka, ‘Fyra sekel Malmö textil – 1650 till 2000’, Elbogen pp. 23-91, 1999 (pp. 50-51).
– Kjellberg, Sven T, Ull och Ylle, Lund 1943.
– Malmö Museum, Sweden (Online collection, four images & information – catalogue cards).