A summer holiday with historic textiles in Denmark and Sweden

Just back from our summer holiday: this year to Denmark and Sweden (and then Denmark again, that’s what you get if you drive to Sweden from Holland!).

Sweden

Sweden

We had a wonderful trip, travelling by car and stopping off on the way at selected places for two or three nights, so that we could ditch the car and explore the local area by bicycle or on foot (and sometimes by boat). We had superb weather and enjoyed ourselves immensely. Apart from enjoying the natural world we also visited a lot of museums, and came across some fascinating textiles: some that I had known about in advance and others that were a complete surprise. I’d like to share some of them with you.

Our first museum port-of-call was the National Historical Museum in Copenhagen in Denmark, which has a fabulous collection of Prehistoric and Viking Age finds (and lots of other interesting things as well). For me, one of the most fascinating things was the clothing that has been recovered from prehistoric burials from the Bronze Age. The clothing and other attributes buried with the dead are very well preserved because they were buried in oak-log coffins. They show sophisticated weaves, including checks and stripes, and constructions: hats, cloaks, jackets and dresses. Also clothing made from animal hides has been recovered. One of the most famous of these finds is the so-called Egtved Girl, whose oak-log coffin was discovered by a farmer in 1921. She had been buried in a short woollen tunic and a woollen string skirt (made up of lots of strings hanging from the waistband) and wearing a huge bronze belt. There was a reconstruction of her outfit in the museum that could be photographed (the original textiles are very fragile, obviously, and sensitive to light).

The reconstruction of the woollen top and skirt of the Egtved girl: the original is from 1370 BC.

The reconstruction of the woollen top and skirt of the Egtved girl: the original is from 1370 BC.

While we were in Copenhagen I also paid a visit to Sommerfuglen (www.sommerfuglen.dk), a wool and cross-stitch shop that I have been buying from mail-order for years, and I stocked up on a few new Håndarbejdets Fremme (Danish Handcrafts Guild) kits as well as some fun modern kits from Fru Zippe.

Our textile surprises started in Skåne, in southern Sweden when we visited the Fotevikens Viking Museum at Höllviken. This is a living history museum: a full scale reconstruction of a Viking village from around the turn of the first and second millennium (c. 1000 AD). Once you are through the entry building, which has a good display about the history of the site and how the museum has been created, you are back in the Viking world: surrounded by Vikings cooking, woodworking, tanning hides, repairing boats and making pots. It was great.

 

The merchant's house in the Viking Village at Fotevikens Museum, Sweden

The merchant’s house in the Viking Village at Fotevikens Museum, Sweden

In one of the houses (the merchant’s house, so the house of a wealthy man) there was a terrific embroidery on the wall, in the same technique as the Bayeux tapestry (ie: Bayeux stitch in wool on a linen ground) showing the story of one of the famous battles at the site. The merchant’s wife, who was cooking a chicken in a big iron pot on a fire outdoors, explained that the ladies of village had sewed the embroidery over a number of months. A photographic reproduction was also viewable in the interpretive centre.

The embroidery hanging in the Merchants hosue: this is eaxctlu how these long narrow embroideries and weavings used to be displayed.

The embroidery hanging in the Merchants house: this is exactly how these long narrow embroideries and tapestries used to be displayed.

A close up of a Viking ship in the embroidery.

A close up of a Viking ship in the embroidery.

Stitched embroideries inspired by the Bayeux Tapestry seem to be enjoying a renaissance: at the Viking Ship Museum in Ladby in Denmark they are also busy embroidering two 7 meter long panels: one illustrating the original story of the Ladby Ship (which was used for a Viking ship burial) and one telling the story of the making of the new reconstruction.

Part of the Ladby embroidery in progress.

Part of the Ladby embroidery in progress.

The ladies embroider in the museum every Wednesday afternoon, and for the rest of the week the half finished embroideries are on display. They hope to finish both tapestries by the end of 2018. Well worth seeking out if you are in the vicinity of Ladby! Often these projects take a huge amount of space because of the frame to keep the linen taut. At Ladby they have solved that by having each individual embroiderer use her own round embroidery hoop. If you look carefully at the photo you can see them. There are currently 14 ladies working on the tapestry, the maximum number for the group.

The ladies of Ladby working on the 'Ladby tapeset'.

The ladies of Ladby working on the ‘Ladby tapeset’.

Of course there was also a weaver’s cottage in the Viking village, complete with Viking Age style upright loom, and indeed, they weave on it (and another that they use for demonstrations in the interpretative centre).

Viking Age upright loom at Fotevikens Museum

Viking Age upright loom at Fotevikens Museum

Some of the tapestries they had woven were  hanging in the buildings, including the merchant’s house. One was in the style of the famous Overhogdal tapestries from Northern Sweden, that are on display in the Jamtli Museum, although the images were more widely spaced at Foteviken.

The merchant's house living area with the woven tapestry on the wall.

The merchant’s house living area with the woven tapestry on the wall.

The other tapestries were geometric weaves in soft coloured wools, gained from natural dyes.

Viking style two colour weave.

Viking style two colour weave.

We headed from Skåne up the coast via Oland to Stockholm and saw some great textiles there: both in the Skansen open-air folk museum and in the National Historical Museum where they had a nicely presented  reconstruction of Viking Age dress, as well as a stunning display of medieval textiles, some of them quilted, that had been preserved because they had been used in various churches throughout Sweden.

Two styles of womens' Viking Age dress, with genuine fabric survivals mounted behind.

Two styles of women’s’ Viking Age dress, with genuine fabric survivals mounted behind.

The Textile Chamber at the National Historical Museum in Stockholm.

The Textile Chamber at the National Historical Museum in Stockholm.

One of the special goals of the trip was to visit Carl Linnaeus’ houses: his farm at Hammarby, just outside Uppsala and his house and botanic garden in Uppsala itself.

The main house at Hammarby: Linnaeus' country home.

The main house at Hammarby: Linnaeus’ country home.

Hammarby was magical: a beautiful house and farm in the midst of spectacularly lovely countryside. We had a fabulous time there. The house is basically unchanged since Linneaus’ own time and a number of his and his family’s possessions are still there after 270 years. We were able to tour the house, and to my surprise and delight one of the items on display was a quilt! Unfortunately I couldn’t photograph it (no photography allowed), but it was a whole cloth cotton quilt, with a brown and red Swedish made floral on one side and a imported red, brown and white Palampore type cotton on the other.

The Linnaeus quilt at Hammarby: detail showing front, back and scale of pattern.

The Linnaeus quilt at Hammarby: detail showing front, back and scale of pattern.

The above photo showing a corner of the quilt is courtesy of Duran Textiles (www.durantextiles.com), who produce collections of home furnishings (The Historic Textile Collection) based on historic Swedish textiles, and who have reproduced the brown and red floral fabric from the quilt front in two colour-ways (brown and red and blue and red). I treated myself to a tote of the brown reproduction fabric! The fabric design dates from the 1740s or 1750s, so this was a very old quilt indeed. The quilt is also described in the inventory of goods in the house made in Linnaeus’ time, so there is no doubt as to its provenance and age.

The brown reproduction fabric. An 1750's Swedish design.

The brown reproduction fabric. An 1740’s-1750’s Swedish design.

Fresh from that amazing discovery (they also has clothes, and shoes and other textiles, but I hadn’t expected a quilt!) we travelled on to Uppsala and his house there at the university.

Linnaeus' house and Botanic Garden in Uppsala.

Linnaeus’ house (left) and the old Botanic Garden in Uppsala.

Again we toured the house, which is also a museum and to my utter amazement came across two more Linnaean quilts! One was whole cloth silk in blue and what looked like old rose on the reverse and the other was again patterned cotton, but different fabrics than in Hammarby. Unfortunately I couldn’t photograph these either, and haven’t yet tracked down a photo from elsewhere, but it made my day. How often does one get to see three mid 18th century quilts, in the houses where they were used, in the space of two hours? The house was also full of other interesting things: more clothing and household textiles, books, paintings and furniture. One had the feeling that Mrs. Linnaeus would come around a corner at any moment and say not to be so nosy!

Linnaeus's house at Uppsala.

Linnaeus’s house at Uppsala.

After Uppsala en Stockholm we wended our way southwards again, stopping of in Granna (very good Polar Museum because of a local polar explorer, also with textiles used in polar expeditions) and Visingsö, before returning to Denmark on our way home. There we visited the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde, where they had fascinating displays and ship- and sail-making workshops (they make working reproductions of Viking ships). They also had a loom on display, showing how the Vikings wove woollen twill sails for their ships.

The loom at the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde

The loom at the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde

The loom from the other side!

The loom from the other side!

If one looked out the window into the fiord, one could see one of the little reconstructed Viking ships plying the waves, with its woollen sail fully extended.

Reconstructed Viking ship sailing in the Roskilde fiord with a woollen sail.

Reconstructed Viking ship sailing in the Roskilde fiord with a woollen sail.

From Roskilde we went westwards and after a couple of other stops took in an old favourite, the Viking Museum in Ribe, on the west coast of Denmark. Ribe is a fantastically picturesque town, with beautiful cobbled streets and old houses dripping with roses and the like. The museum is small but terrific, as Ribe was an important settlement in Viking times , so the quality of the finds there is very high. I came across two old ‘friends’ as we did the rounds: Viking man and woman.

Viking woman in Ribe.

Viking woman in Ribe.

Viking man in Ribe.

Viking man in Ribe.

Ribe also has a really good wool, sewing and embroidery shop, Ribes Broderi Og Garn, that can quicken the heart of any sewer, knitter, embroiderer or quilter: and a bit of stash building made an good end to our holiday!

Now: to work!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s