If You Can’t Read the Norwegian Weaving Book, So What?

comboHow did the contemporary weavers in the “Traditional Norwegian Weaving: American Reboot” exhibit learn to weave in traditional techniques?  Sometimes it was a class, other times by studying an old textile. But books are key.

If you could create a state-by-state map showing ownership of weaving books in Norwegian, Minnesota would win, hands-down.  Many weavers around the state have collections of books bought on trips to Norway or many times, from the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum.  It doesn’t even matter if the owners don’t read Norwegian, weavers find inspiration from the photos and can read the drafts for the loom.

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Jeanine Swanson Ehnert‘s beautiful and traditional weaving in skilbragd technique was inspired by the draft for a “Skilbragd from Fosnes” found in a book published in 2001 by the Nord-Trøndelag Husflidslag, Om Fellen Kunne Fortelle: Åkletradisjon til Inspirasjon  by Randi Breistet (loosely translated as If the Blanket Could Talk: Coverlet Traditions for Inspiration). She used a draft similar to this one from the book.

Jeanine weaves in Frazee, Minnesota, with a concentration on traditional Norwegian weaving techniques.  She also conducts weaving workshops and classes at the Vevstuen Nordic Weaving Studio, located in her home, which includes two floor looms and several table looms. Some workshops are for beginning weavers, and others focus more on Scandinavian design aspects.

Here is Jeanine weaving the first section of her “Skilbragd fra Fosnes.”

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The piece progresses.

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Come to the wide-ranging exhibit at Norway House, July 20-September 10, “Traditional Norwegian Weaving: American Reboot” to see the full piece. Don’t miss it! During the run of the show, there will be classes, demonstration days, gallery talks, and a lecture.  Full details here.

Acquiring Yarn the Traditional Way

Six pieces in krokbragd, a favorite weave structure for viewers and weavers, are in the “Traditional Norwegian Weaving: American Reboot” exhibit at Norway House, July 20-September 10.

Most weavers featured in the American Reboot show use Norwegian yarns in their pieces, which they acquire by purchasing in Norway, or pulling from their extensive personal stashes, or maybe ordering online; you know, the slacker way of getting your materials.  For much of her work, Nancy reaches back to more traditional roots, by raising her own sheep, shearing them, spinning the yarn, and then weaving. Ellison Sheep Farm, outside of Zumbrota, Minnesota, is a magical place, filled with sheep, chickens, goats, ducks, and Nancy’s collections of antique spinning wheels and looms.

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Most of the yarn in Nancy’s American Reboot piece is purchased, but I’m sure the fuzzy tombstones are from home-grown yarn. While krokbragd designs are usually abstract, small figures can also be designed. Nancy Ellison’s “Sheep Pasture by the Cemetery” is a summery homage to pastors, wives, sheep, tombstones, and fences–all lined up in a green pasture.

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When Nancy first wove this piece, it was featured on this blog, and noticed by a weaving student in England. The student’s instructor asked for permission to reproduce the pattern.  As a result, Nancy’s Norwegian-inspired weaving has traveled back across the ocean, and two British weavers made similar pieces.  (Read “Woven Pastors in a Row – American and British.)

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Nancy is a dealer for a number of brands of spinning wheels and looms.  She teaches spinning and weaving, including weaving on the Norwegian cradle loom, in her studio on her farm and elsewhere.

Don’t miss Nancy’s krokbragd in the “Traditional Norwegian Weaving: American Reboot” exhibit, sponsored by the Weavers Guild of Minnesota and Norway House.  At Norway House from July 20-September 10.  Details here.

 

 

Flowers Translated to Thread

Two of the rya pieces in the “Traditional Norwegian Weaving: American Reboot” exhibit are direct responses to flowers, both Norwegian and American.

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Corwyn K. Knutson

Corwyn Knutson, from St. Paul, wove “Hardanger Cherry Blossoms,” inspired by flowers he saw on a memorable driving trip through Norway.  The trees with red, pink, and purple form a beautiful abstract image.  It is so deftly balanced, in fact, that it was once hung in an exhibit upside-down and  it was just as beautiful! Corwyn’s rya was a double winner at the Minnesota State Fair; it received a blue ribbon and the Doris Tufte award for Creative Loom Weaving in Scandinavian Tradition.

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Marilyn Moore

Marilyn Moore, from Cedar, Minnesota, learned to weave rya from Jan Mostrom, co-curator of the “American Reboot” exhibit, at the Weavers Guild of Minnesota. Excited about the possibilities of color blending, Marilyn quickly moved to an interpretation of her perennial garden, which includes 25 varieties of day lilies and gives her color all summer long. Marilyn wrote, “It  introduced me to a freedom that I had not experienced before working with color and fiber, and I loved every minute of it.”

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This summer, enjoy flowers outdoors and the indoors at the Norway House Galleri, from July 20-September 10.  Come to the opening!  July 20, 5-8 pm.

A Traditional Krokbragd: Pretty in Pink

One of the pieces on loan from the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum for the Norway House/Weavers Guild of Minnesota show, “Traditional Norwegian Weavings: American Reboot,” is a krokbragd coverlet, chosen for the striking colors in its bands.

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A traditional krokbragd coverlet from the collection of the Vesterheim Norwegian American Museum

Sometimes textiles in the museum have detailed provenances and specific dates; this one does not.  Curator Laurann Gilbertson guesses that it was not woven before the late 1800s, as the addition of bright pink means that chemical dyes were used.  Also, it has hemmed ends, rather than fringe.  At least in the coverlets at Vesterheim, fringed ends became more common in the first decades of the 20th century.

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Claire Caughey Most. Photo by Jenny Rediske

Krokbragd bed coverlets were commonly found in most regions of Norway.  It remains a popular weave structure for contemporary weavers in Norway and the U.S.; nearly all of the members of the Scandinavian Weavers Study Group have woven at least one.

Claire Caughy Most, from Stillwater, Minnesota, has explored luminosity in a series of krokbragd weavings, and the American Reboot show includes “Beyond Midnight #2.”  Claire uses the same technique as the 19th century piece, but in a graphic and contemporary interpretation with narrow interlocking stripes.  The shades of turquoise and green almost glow.

 

Beyond Midnight #2 for American Reboot

 

A Virgin and Violence: Lila Nelson’s Weaving at the American Reboot Exhibit

IMG_1904Lila Nelson, who died in 2015 at age 93, was the Registrar and Curator of Textiles at the Vesterheim Norwegian American Museum for 27 years, and a mentor to many of the weavers whose works are in the “Traditional Norwegian Textiles: American Reboot” show. No retrospective of American weaving in the Norwegian tradition would be complete without her work.

Two of Lila’s tapestries, both owned by the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, are included in the American Reboot exhibit.  One is a “virgin” with a puffy skirt.  Many people who are fans of Norwegian tapestry, or billedvev (literally, picture-weaving), weave one of the virgins from the most popular medieval weaving motif, the Wise and Foolish Virgins. Lila wove one with attitude, and with a distinctive skirt.  She wove the tapestry on a floor loom and used a clever combination of loom-controlled weave structure along with billedvev technique. When she wove the image of the woman, the threads in the “H” technique of the background floated behind, and she wove the figure in tapestry (billedvev). Perhaps it was unintentional, but that technique made the skirt pouf out.

virgin-foolishMost of the virgins in the old tapestries held stylized small squares to their faces.  (See the detail here, from a Wise and Foolish Virgins tapestry owned by MIA, the Minneapolis Institute of Art.) On Lila’s virgin, there is no doubt that the foolish virgin is crying into a substantial and functional handkerchief. This piece shows Lila’s lifetime love of experimentation in her weaving. It was also chosen because the exhibit will include many other virgin interpretations, showing the influence of that design in traditional Norwegian weaving.

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Lila’s other tapestry in the show illustrates another characteristic of Lila’s work–her frequent commentary on politics and world events.

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Tree of Death. Lila Nelson, 2004

 

It was inspired by the photo, “Torture at Abu Ghraib,” by Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker on May 10, 2004.  Here are Lila’s comments, as related in an interview with Sam Iverson.

“I saw an image of how they were treating some of the prisoners to get them to talk at Abu Ghraib and I thought this was quite horrifying. I think you can see that I turned this [image] into a cross-like thing and the AG stands for Abu Ghraib. At the bottom are impersonal guards or soldiers. The characters at the top are “vultures” that are in charge of all this. The designs on the garment are being ironic. They are from one of the Finnish runic alphabets and they are sort of the letters for love.”

Only two pieces from Lila’s loom are in the American Reboot exhibit, but her influence, whether through acquiring textiles for Vesterheim, or mentoring aspiring weavers, can be directly tied to many other weavings on view.

Explore more about Lila’s work in these online articles.

The Tapestries of Lila Nelson: Poetry, Myth, and Protest. This article was published at the time of an exhibit of her work at the Textile Center of Minnesota, November 2 – December 16, 2015. Also, this document includes images and commentary from the show. (Warning: it is a large file and will load very slowly.)

From Tradition to Protest: Lila Nelson’s Weaving Life.  An overview of a retrospective of Lila Nelson’s work at the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, December 5, 2015 – November 16, 2016.

At a celebration of her life held on June 25, 2015, several friends spoke about Lila: Robbie LaFleur, Laurann Gilbertson, Carol Colburn, Lisa Torvik, Claire Selkurt, Wendy Stevens, and Mary Skoy.

The May 2012 issue of the Norwegian Textile Letter was devoted to Lila and her work.

Watch a video interview by Sam Iverson about Lila’s political weavings, here.

A Two-sided Textile: Pick Your favorite Side

Iowa artist Laura Demuth sets up amazing weaving challenges for herself.  Often, not content with just buying and weaving with beautiful wool, she spins and dyes yarn from her own sheep.  In a number of weavings she has gone beyond weaving for beauty on one side, and combined techniques to make unique two-sided textiles.  One of those will be included in the upcoming “Traditional Norwegian Weaving: American Reboot” exhibit at Norway House from July 20-September 10, 2017.

On one side of the hanging, Laura wove an intricate pattern in a complex doubleweave technique.  She hid the knots of the rya pile between the two layers of the doubleweave. Because the doubleweave pick-up surface needs to be the upper side during weaving, she tied the knots upside-down on the lower surface. (Rya weavers would understand: this is tricky.)

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On the other side, colorful stripes of beautifully-blended yarns are dense and enticing. This piece perfectly fulfills its purpose as a warm throw.

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Biography:

Laura Demuth has been weaving for over 30 years and enjoys all aspects of textile production, from raising the sheep to taking a finished piece off the loom. Living on a small acreage just  seven miles northeast of Decorah, Iowa, Laura has a small flock of registered Blue Faced Leicester sheep that keep her hands busy spinning wool all winter. She often dyes the handspun yarn with natural dyes from the garden before putting it to use in a woven or knitted textile.

Because Laura lives so close to Decorah, Vesterheim Norwegian American Museum has been a continual source of education and inspiration throughout her weaving career. Laura has  focused on traditional weaving structures and techniques, especially bound weave and doubleweave.

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Don’t miss this piece and so many more in “Traditional Norwegian Weaving: American Reboot.” The opening night at Norway House, July 20, 5-8, would be a smashing time for a first peek.

A Tapestry with Soul

The “Traditional Norwegian Weaving: American Reboot” exhibit this summer at Norway House includes a beautiful, large (59.5″ H x 47″W) tapestry by Susan Gangsei.

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“Seal Skin, Soul Skin” by Susan Gangsei

 

Susan recounts the story: “Seal Skin, Soul Skin tells the story of a Selkie, a sea creature that can come up on land, take off her skin and dance in the moon light. One night a Selkie comes up on land and is dancing. A fisherman sees the Selkie and steals her skin so she cannot not go back home. He forces her to marry him and have his children in return for the promise to return her skin in 7 years. After 7 years the fisherman reneges on his promise to return her skin, so she begins to dry out. One of her children finds her skin, gives it back to her and she returns to her home the sea. Today she comes back to land to visit her children. This is a story of the renewal that come from returning home, returning to one’s whole and true self.”

More about Susan:

After weaving on a floor loom for many years, I was given an tapestry weaving class for a gift for my 50th birthday. Tapestry weaving become my passion and refuge.

My tapestries tell stories. They start out telling a story about my life and end up telling a story about human kind. As life has presented me with challenges, my weaving has told my story through universal and biblical stories. My husband had Parkinson’s Disease and I was given the role of caregiver. The Burning Bush tapestry tells of my conversation with God, telling him I did not want that role, just like Moses did not want to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. The tapestry Jacob and the Angel tells the story of both the blessings and the wounds of being a caregiver, just like Jacob was wounded in his hip, yet blessed by God making him the father of Israel. The Seal Skin, Soul Skin tapestry talks about the need to renew oneself.

The current style of my designs come from my Nordic background. Nordic tapestry has a folk art tradition that is more representational and “flat.” Colors are limited and used carefully. The fabric is structurally sound with use of multiple kinds of joins versus slits. The weaving is complex with use of outlining and patterns.

Is Susan’s selkie tapestry a “reboot” of a traditional Norwegian style?  A tapestry owned by the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum shows medieval similarities to the format of Susan’s tapestry.  The Adoration of the Magi is divided in a similar four-frame style.

You can see the tapestries that Susan references, along with other work, at her website: susangangsei.com

 

“Traditional Norwegian Weaving: American Reboot:” Take Classes Right in the Gallery

The Norway House/Weavers Guild of Minnesota exhibit this summer, Traditional Norwegian Weaving: American Reboot, includes special events and programming.  (Full list here.) Three classes by Weavers Guild instructors will be offered, all on Mondays, and will be held right in the Norway House Galleri.  This is a great opportunity to learn a new skill while surrounded by the color and texture of the textiles in the show.  Sign up soon!

Viking Metal Bracelet: July 24, 2017, 10 am – 2 pm. Instructor: Melba Granlund

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Learn an ancient wire looping technique called Viking knit.  Dating back to the Viking era, it was used in jewelry making and as ornamentation on garments.  In this class, students will learn how to use various nickel-free wires (stainless steel, copper, brass, or gold plated copper) or colored artistic wire to create a one-of-a-kind bracelet.   Materials fee of $12 payable to the instructor.  Maximum number of students: 8. Sign up

 

Cardboard Loom Weaving for Kids: August 7, 2017, 10 am to 12 noon.  Instructor: Melba Granlund

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Easy to learn weaving for kids (age 9 and older).  In this class, kids will learn basic weaving skills to make a bookmark using a needle, yarn or embroidery floss, and a cardboard loom.   All materials are provided.  A great project to keep little fingers and minds occupied on a long road trip or as an alternative to an electronic device. Choice of yarns and threads in bright, vivid colors make weaving fun.  If project does not get finished during the class, child may take their work home to complete on their own.  Materials fee of $5 payable to the instructor. Maximum number of students:  8. Sign up

 

Sami-Style Band Weaving: Mondays, August 14 and 21, 12-4 pm.  Instructor: Keith Pierce

 

keith-band-classLearn to weave intricately patterned and colorful bands found throughout Scandinavia and the Baltic regions, and used by the Sami people as embellishments on their folk costumes. Students will weave using methods and tools traditionally used for centuries in northern Europe. In the first session students will start weaving immediately with a pre-warped heddle and will learn to read a pick-up pattern to create short bands for bookmarks or key fobs. In the second session students will learn to warp a heddle for weaving a pattern of their choice. Maximum number of students: 8. Sign up

A $20 materials fee is payable to the instructor and includes a variety of yarns and a heddle and shuttle that you can take home to create additional bands on your own.