Weaving was an important craft and folk art in Scandinavia until fairly recent times, and
traditional techniques have been revived this century to good effect.
Before the 18th century, textile-making was, for the most part, literally a cottage industry throughout Europe. Weavers might band together in workshops to produce finer materials for the gentry, but most clothes, carpets and coverings were produced by families or lone craftsmen based in a village and using skills and patterns learned from their parents. The majority of peasant families kept a wheel and a loom to spin and weave their own rough cloth.
However, the invention of various powered machines for spinning and weaving in the 18th and early 19th centuries made possible the mass production of cheap textiles, and the tradition of folk weaving began to die out across most of Europe.
It persisted longer in Scandinavia, and particularly Sweden and Finland, than many other European countries. It was a useful indoor occupation in the winter months; mothers and children would work alongside one another, mostly by the light of candles or oil lamps, in the almost day-long darkness of the northern winter.
They mainly produced plain material for clothing and blankets, but used various weaving techniques to produce tapestries, piled and
flat weave carpets and other decorative items. Fine pieces were also created by more leisured ladies as a genteel hobby. Some of them were used around the maker's home, but other ones were given as gifts on special occasions, particularly weddings, or as part of a young woman's dowry.
The two most popular techniques among collectors are flamskvav, a type of slit tapestry, and
rollakan, an interlocking tapestry stitch usually used in geometric designs. Other motifs varied from place to place, but often included stars and checkers, and
stylized deer, birds and other animals.
The British Arts and Craft movement had a great influence in Scandinavia around the turn of the century, and the folk craft of weaving was one 'of many to be revived by artists and designers looking for what they thought of as a lost simplicity. The woven wall hangings they produced, which mix traditional and art nouveau features, are now collectable in their own right.
While the best woven textiles were used as ceremonial gifts, seat covers and wall hangings) more mundane ones were widely used for
more functional puiposes such as rugs or blankets.
As traditional Scandinavian textiles were so often woven to celebrate a special occasion such as a wedding or religious festival, and were not in daily use, many of them have survived intact to the modern day.
Swedish agedynas, covers made for the double-width cushions on which the bride and groom sat in a wedding coach, are a good example of this. The combination of little use and great sentimental value means that many have survived in good condition. However, the majority have, for the same reasons, remained family pieces, and are rarely found outside Scandinavia and the USA.
When they are, though, they tend to fetch good prices, and will rarely be found offered for sale except in specialist shops and major auctions. Look for traditional patterns and good colours. On work made before the 19th century, vegetable dyes were used, giving a limited range of colours birch leaves for
yellow, black alder for yellow and brown, coltsfoot leaves for grey-green, and so on.
In addition, indigo, madder and cochineal were imported to produce blue, red and pink, but these weren't widely available to rural families. Synthetic dyes were increasingly used as the 19th century went on, and these can usually be recognized by their garishness.
Genuine hand-woven articles can be distinguished from their machine-made equivalents by the regularity of the work. Look underneath, where the warp shows. Regimented, utterly precise stitching is a sign of machine weaving. There is one other thing a warp can tell you. Before about 1800, they were generally made of two-ply linen, but after that date cotton was also used, which helps in dating old examples.