Syvilla Would Have Enjoyed the Exhibit

A beautiful blue runner in Telemarks teppe technique (a variant of skilbragd) is included in the “Traditional Norwegian Weaving: American Reboot” exhibit at Norway House (July 20 – September 10, 2017). It was woven by Syvilla Tweed Bolson, (1924-2011), who lived in Decorah and taught weaving in her home.

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The blue runner is modest in size, which is not commensurate with her influence on the Scandinavian weaving community.

Several of the weavers who have pieces in the exhibit studied with her.  Jeanine Swenson Ehnert traveled from central Minnesota down to Decorah to learn from Syvilla. And Corwyn Knutson wrote in his bio:

I was introduced to Syvilla Tweed Bolson, artist and weaver from Decorah, Iowa.  Syvilla, a renowned weaver, graciously guided me in the Norwegian textile art.  Syvilla taught me the basics of rya weaving and inspired me to be creative in design and motivated me to produce many beautiful pieces.

jan-fullJan Mostrom considered Syvilla a lifetime friend and mentor, and wove a sweet small tapestry portrait in homage to her.

In addition to teaching in her home, Syvilla was a dealer, feeding the expensive habit of area Scandinavian weavers–buying Norwegian yarn. She was so considerate and helpful.  If you ran out of yarn and needed a skein, you could send an email and it nearly instantly showed up on your doorstep.  One time I ran out of a gold color near the end of  and she took some off a project on her own loom and sent it to me, just to make sure I could finish my weaving before more yarn arrived from Norway. (Read that story here.)

The members of the Scandinavian Weavers Study Group considered it a privilege to have Syvilla’s advice and support and friendship.

 

A Multi-Generation Weaving Story

History. Color. Amazing workmanship. Funny images. Text and depth in fiber. You will find these things in pieces in the exhibit at Norway House, “Traditional Norwegian Weaving: American Reboot,” up from July 20-September 10.  You will also find stories. In two small tapestries at Norway House you can find a three-generation weaving story that  stretches from Norway to Minnesota.

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Hans Berg painted his wife Inga at the loom.

Inga Berg, born in 1897 in Lier, Norway, married artist Hans Berg in 1921.  They studied art on a months-long honeymoon throughout Europe. In 1929 Inga studied weaving theory at Sister Bengston’s weaving school in Oslo, Norway. She was prolific in spinning, dyeing, knitting, weaving and sewing.  Often Hans would create a pattern for his adoring wife to weave.

Inga’s daughter Ellen was born in Oslo, Norway, in 1924. While in Norway, she became a registered nurse and a medical technologist. During WWII she helped hide her soon to be brother-in-law Gunnar Lislerud in the attic of their home.   After WWII, in the 1950s, Ellen, along with her parents, moved to Minneapolis.

Ellen the WeaverEllen married Don Anderson in 1958 and they had two children, Kent and Karin.  She was an excellent strawberry farmer, beekeeper, weaver, painter, cook and caregiver.  She took care of both of her parents; Inga lived to the age of 106.

Ellen had a love for weaving and her homeland, so she joined the Weavers Guild of Minnesota and the Scandinavian Weavers group. Inspired by her mother’s work, she took a tapestry class at the Weavers Guild and the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum.  Ellen liked to use tapestry patterns from Norway that were sold for studying tapestry weaving, like this image of the girl and the cow. There is no doubt this same weaving is found on the walls of many Norwegian homes, too.

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In this particular weaving Ellen was interested in perfecting her tapestry techniques, and learning the various types of joining techniques that are characteristic of billedvev, Norwegian tapestry. This was Ellen’s last weaving before she died suddenly in 2003. She left an unfinished dream: to weave a picture of her beloved strawberry farm.

That brings us to the present, and the continuing weaving story of Karin Maahs, Ellen’s daughter, a member of the Scandinavian Weavers Study Group and a relatively new weaver. Karen relates the story of her tapestry in the American Reboot show.

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Karin Maahs

My inspiration was from the love of my mother.  For years my mom wanted me to draw a weaving for her of our strawberry farm.  After my mother’s death, I inherited all of my her and my grandmother’s wool, looms, spinning wheels, books and weaving journals. I initially joined the Scandinavian Weavers Study Group in 2003-2005.  I took some beginning floor loom classes to learn how to use my mom’s loom.  I was home schooling my children at the time so I stopped weaving and focused on them.  After both my kids started college I could not stop the burning desire to work with the loom again. The big question was, “What should I start with?”

I knew there was some very special yarn in my stash, Kunstvevgarn Spelsau yarn in every color of the rainbow, shipped from my aunt in Norway to my mother.  In an attempt to honor my mom, grandmother and aunt I decided to weave the tapestry my mom always wanted to do, a picture of “The Farm.”  At first it was intimidating because I knew nothing about how to start.  After some great encouragement from my mom’s Scandinavian weaving friends, and a plethora of books I inherited, I dove in.  My thought was—I know I can paint this, so why not treat the yarn like it was paint?  It didn’t take long to absolutely fall in love with working in wool.  Especially this wool… my mom’s wool.

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Karin has two grown children. Perhaps it is time to stretch the weaving tradition to a fourth generation? The Weavers Guild of Minnesota is a perfect place to learn.

Mark your calendars for a trip to Norway House between July 20 and September 10.  Come to the opening! Thursday, July 20, 5-8 pm.

 

 

 

 

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.

Rya: From a Weaving for Warmth, to Just Plain Wonderful

Rya coverlets are perfect for Norway, aren’t they? If you are covered with shaggy threads of wool, just like a sheep’s fleece, the heat of your body is trapped, and you manage to keep warm in a drafty old wood home, or a loft in a barn, or in a cold, damp fishing boat along the coast.

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Båtrye, or boat rya, from the collection of the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum

 

Along the west coast of Norway, boat ryas were woven by women for everyday use in a hard climate. They were utilitarian, yet valuable textiles. Fishermen used the båtryer in boats on their trips to the offshore fishing banks, or while bunking in a cold and damp rorbu, or fisherman’s cottage. They were ideal to roll yourself up in against the cold and raw weather. The båtryer, with thick pile, were woven counterparts of sheepskins, but much better because a sheepskin stiffens when it gets wet.

Women wove båtryer for their husbands and sons and they were used for many years, sometimes generations.  A boat rya used ten to twenty kilos of wool, which was a significant portion of the annual production of a small farm. To ensure they lasted it was important to dry them thoroughly between each use, so the yarns would not rot. They were crucially important objects, as illustrated by the story of a fisherman whose boat capsized. He floated in the water and thought about all of the things in the boat that were lost. When the rescuers arrived, his one thought was, “Save the rya first!”

boatryadetailThe “Traditional Norwegian Weaving: American Reboot” exhibit includes a wonderful donated båtrye from Skodje, Sunnmøre, Møre og Romsdal, NorwayThe coverlet was made by Nikoline Indreberg, the great-grandmother of the donor, in ca. 1890, for her new husband Ole. The coverlet was one of the few belongings that the family brought with them when they had to move after Ole died.

The smooth side of the rya was woven in twill weave with red and white bands. The pile side was woven with rya knots of wool, along with narrow strips of cloth. To save wool, weavers often used wool rags in the knotted pile. You used what you had.

In addition to the important utilitarian boat ryas, by the eighteenth and nineteenth century another tradition of decorative rya bed coverlets developed, although not to the extent they were woven in Finland and Sweden. The patterns on the decorative top side were generally simple: checks, plaids, or warp-wise stripes in a variety of twills.

 

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Lisa-Anne Bauch

Moving to contemporary pieces woven in rya technique, American weavers generally create pieces for wall display, and sometimes for pillows, too.  The ability to mix yarns in each rya knot enables subtlety and depth in color changes.  The textural aspect of the knots adds richness. Locally, the interest in rya led to a year-long study group and exhibit in 2015.  See “The Fruits of Rya Exploration.”

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“Moonlight,” Edvard Munch

Lisa-Anne Bauch used the technique to mimic the atmosphere of a famous Edvard Munch painting, “Moonlight,” from 1895.  Lisa wrote, “I was fascinated by the way Munch captured the glint of moonlight on water. I replicated the effect by adding linen, which catches the light, to the wool knots. I also used a pale yellow yarn in the moonlit sections to draw the viewer’s eye.”

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Watch for posts on more contemporary ryas in the American Reboot exhibit.

 

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