Learning Weaving: Johanna Brunsson’s Weaving School

During the 20th century, how did young Swedish women learn to weave?

Many of them began at home on a loom with grandmothers or mothers, or studied at local craft associations. Most who became important designers learned the rudiments at home and then went to one of the country’s several established weaving schools or programs. In Stockholm there was the government-run university first called the Higher Industrial Art School, (Högre konstindustriella skolan, later called Konstfack), established in 1859. Another weaving school, begun in 1881, was run by the Friends of Handcraft organization (Handarbetets Vänner).

Perhaps the most established and well-regarded independent weaving school, however, was Johanna Brunsson’s Weaving School (Vävskola in Swedish), which trained many talented young weavers to be weaving teachers. The school opened first in the parish of Valbo Ryr, north of Gothenburg, and later moved to Stockholm. Founded in the 1873, it operated until the late 1950s. Its founder, Johanna Brunsson, was born in 1846, the youngest of four daughters, a girl who reputedly started to weave at the age of 9. She developed a particular interest in damask weaving, and began to teach friends and neighbors. As recognition of her talents grew, the provincial governor helped Brunsson to establish a local weaving school. A focus of Brunsson’s program was the collection and copying of traditional weaving patterns.

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Johanna Brunsson in 1911 at the loom at her school in Stockholm, aged 65. Digitaltmuseum: Vånersborgs Museum, Johanna Brunsson collection, archive # VMJB00108, photographer unknown.

By 1888, the school had outgrown its provincial origins, and moved to Uppsala, but a year later, Brunsson moved it to Stockholm. Not only was Stockholm the capital of the country, but it also offered considerable resources for study, including the recently established Swedish Ethnographic Collection, founded in 1873 by Artur Hazelius. Concerned, as many in his generation were, that industrialization and modernization were eroding traditions and forms of an earlier Swedish peasant society, Hazelius set about collecting material evidence of that past. Peasant textiles, clothing and folk art were among Hazelius’ major collecting interests, and Johanna Brunsson’s Stockholm students made frequent copies of early Swedish textiles in his collection, as well as those in the State Historical collection.

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1923 copy of 14th c Swedish Grodinge Tapestry with lions and eagles, and griffins in the border. Woven by Johanna Brunsson Weaving School students from original fine-woven wool tapestry in the State Historical collection. Digitaltmuseum: archive #VMJB00087.

By 1880, Hazelius’ collections had broadened and were renamed the Nordic Museum. Hazelius also went on a few years later to found Skansen, a collection of antique buildings, mostly rural, from all over Sweden, which he moved to Djurgärden, an island in the Stockholm harbor.

The Johanna Brunson Weaving School moved 3 times in Stockholm, finally in 1909 to Kungsgatan 70. (That 1880’s building is now a large hotel near the central train station). Brunsson’s niece, Alma Jacobsson, came to the school first as a student, but stayed on as an administrator, teacher, and sales director in the in-house store which helped to support the school. When Brunsson died in 1920, Jacobsson continued the program until its closing in 1958.

The weaving school program was noted early on for its discipline and for the hard work required. Photos of the school from the 1920s  or 30s show students at spinning wheels and at looms— and with many looms in the large rooms well lit with natural light as well as electric ceiling fixtures.

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Students at looms in large weaving room. Digitaltmuseum: archive #VMJB00114, Almberg and Preinitz, photographers.

The school offered a two year course for serious young weavers, as well as shorter courses. At any given time there seem to have been about 20-25 students from around Sweden.
Rugs and carpets, both flatware and pile, were woven, and signed JBV in the lower left corner, without any individual signatures. Fine damask weaving continued to be a specialty. Also included were courses in dying with vegetable matter (collected in the woods and fields by the students). Each girl was also required to have her own notebook to record and design weaving patterns.

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Students at the Johanna Brunsson Weaving School learning to make plant-based dyes. Digitaltmuseum archive # VMJB00118,  Almberg and Preinitz, photographers, dated 1930.

One of the school’s most important teachers was Hildegard Dinclau (1890-1974), a capable and versatile designer, who taught at the school from sometime before 1930 until it closed. Dinclau herself was one of the ten Swedish female designers who showed carpets at the 1925 Paris Exhibition and she can be counted as one of the major Swedish designers of the early 20th century.

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Hidegard Dinclau, standing and Alma Jacobsson at desk, 1953, year of Johanna Brunsson’s Weaving School 80th Anniversary. Digitaltmuseum archive #VMJB00120; photographer, Folke Hellberg.

When Brunsson’s school participated in the Stockholm 1930 Exhibition (see the last 3 posts for more on this exhibition), much if not all, of the work shown had been designed by Dinclau, and all of it was woven by the students at the school. Unlike the copies of traditional patterns, these have an art deco jazziness and asymmetry. There are several photographs of the Brunson school display at the 1930 Exhibition, and one can identify these as such by the curving vertical beams which define cubicles for exhibitors.

The rug in the photograph below which is only partially shown hanging from the ceiling, was reproduced in Nils Wollin’s 1930 book,  Svenska Textilier, one of the several official catalogs of the fair, this one of notable individual textiles shown at the Stockhom 1930 Exhibition. There it is identified as a pile rug designed by Dinclau, 237 x 315 cm and with the cost given as 1,360 Kroner.

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Johanna Brunsson Vävskola display for Stockholm 1930 Exhibition. Pile rug hanging above was designed by Hildegard Dinclau, and hanging to left as well. Other pieces likely to have been designed by her and all woven by students at the school. Digitaltmuseum archive #VMJB00106
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Hildegard Dinclau, hanging shown at Stockholm 1930 Exhibition, and in photo above. Digitaltmuseum archive # VMJB00088, original image cropped.
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Flatweave rug, attributed to Hildegarde Dinclau, for Johana Brunsson’s Weaving School, 238x 145 cm. ca 1930.
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Detail of previous flatweave showing characteristic JBV signature in lower left corner.

Dinclau was also a superb designer of damask weaves, a number of which were collected by Sweden’s National Museum. In 1938, for the 80th birthday of King Gustav V, the school produced the following tablecloth to her design:

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Damask tablecloth designed by Hidegard Dinclau and woven at the Johanna Brunsson Weaving School for the 80th birthday of King Gustav V. It reads “To the King, 16 June 1938, With the people, For the homeland.” Digitaltmuseum archive # VMJB00082, photographer Arne Wahlberg.

And in 1960, at age 70, she designed this lovely little damask weave pattern of lighthouses, ships and crosses and wave-like arcs for the chasuble, or priest’s vestment, for a small church in Björna, in Västernorrland County. It’s hard to see in this small image, but the ships’ sails also contain the Christian signifier, “IHS.”

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Hildegard Dinclau designed damask pattern woven 1960, not at Johanna Brunssons Weaving School, but for  church in Västernorrlands.

While she was in her 50s in the 1940s and in her 60s during the ’50s, Dinclau’s designs and colors continued to be surprisingly fresh and contemporary. The green flat weave rug shown below has been attributed to her.

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Flatweave rug (rölakan) attributed to Hildegard Dinclau. 326 x135 cm. ca 1940s.

An image from the British design publication, The Studio, in 1954-5 shows a lively rya rug with a yellow ground and figures in deeper yellow, grey, white and grey green. And this small rya rug designed in 1958, is startling in its casual raggediness and bold color choices.

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Small rya rug (mat?) designed by Hildegard Dinclau, size 68 x 54cm Digitaltmuseum archive #NM.0256438

Perhaps the most important alumna of this school was Barbro Nilsson, nee Lundberg, who began to weave seriously as a young girl, entered Johanna Brunsson’s school in Stockholm when she was 14, in 1913. She stayed for four years as a student, and then continued to teach part time while she attended an evening course at the Higher Industrial Art School. Even when she entered the Higher Industrial Art School full time in the textile division, she continued to teach the plant-dying course at the Brunsson Weaving School. In fact she is quoted as saying that it was this school which awoke her interest in material and color, with its vast yarn stock. Presumably, she enjoyed the process of contributing to that yarn stock with her own dying courses.

The training at both schools gave Nilsson an unparalleled grounding in the discipline of weaving and an ability to invent and improvise new weaving techniques. She later wove huge complex tapestries for public buildings during the 1920s and 30s based on cartoons by avant-garde Swedish painters, and in 1942 became the director of the Märta Måås Fjetterström atelier. Other posts in this blog look at her own work.

It seems, given the age of most of the students, that this was always a boarding school for at least some of the girls enrolled. In fact, one of the most charming documents that remains of this school, is a 40 page photo album compiled by a student during 1957-8, the last year the school was operating. This captures friends on outings to collect materials for their dye course, working at the looms, and dressed up to present their individual weaving projects. But it also shows them celebrating St Lucia day, singing around the piano, going out to dinner with visiting parents, and touring the city. Most of the students were Swedish, though one of the students that year was identified as a young married American woman from Minnesota.

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Page from photo album kept by Kerstin Saltin, 1957-8. A friend, Margareta Wallin, at her loom. Digitaltmuseum archive# VMJB00128-09
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Page from photo album kept by Kerstin Saltin, 1957-8. Two friends, Ingvor Gustavson and Ingalill Helms, at their looms. Digitaltmuseum archive# VMJB00128-14
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Page from photo album kept by Kerstin Saltin, 1957-8, who is at lower right with striped skirt. showing a group of friends. Digitaltmuseum archive# VMJB00128-44
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Page from photo album kept by Kerstin Saltin, 1957-8, “Me and my display” at end of year exhibition of weaving samples. Digitaltmuseum archive# VMJB00128-35

Clearly, as long as it lasted, the Johanna Brunsson Weaving School gave young women an excellent preparation for work as weavers, weaving teachers, and in some cases, designers.  For us today, this looks like a long-vanished world of hand crafts, but it is fascinating to see how comprehensive a training was involved for those designing and weaving Swedish textiles including rugs in the 20th century.

Sources:

Day, Susan. Art Deco Carpets,  Chronicle Books, San Francisco, (2002).

Decorative Art 44, 1954-5 Annual Issue of the Studio Year Book of Furnishing and Decorative Art, Studio Publications London and New York, p. 86

Digitalt Museum, images of the school and photo album compiled by Kerstin Saltin;
title image of this blog is a slightly cropped version of  archive #VMJB00116, an undated photo of the larger weaving studio at the Johanna Brunsson school, taken by photographers Almberg and Preinitz, probably ca 1930.

eMuseum, Archive of Zurich University of the Arts, Dinclau listing

Konstlexikonete amanda, entry on Hildegarde Dinclau

Läns museet, Västernorrland, image and description of Dinclau designed chasuble, at
http://www.murberget.se/upptack/foremalspost.aspx?invnr=YAT3507&litt=- viewed 10/28/16

Larsson, Solveig, knitting blog with entry on Johanna Brunsson’s patterns as influence,
http://www.solveigs-vantar.se/personer/johanna-brunsson/

(via internet) Sollentuna churchyard, photo of Hildegard Dinclau gravestone with parents and 2 siblings

Sten Møller, Viggo. En bok om Barbro Nilsson,  Bokförlaget Trevi, Stockholm (1977).

Wollin, Nils W. Svenska Textilier, Utsällningsförlaget, Stockholm (1930).
Note: Addresses for the Johanna Brunsson Weaving School in Stockholm were as follows:

1889: Norrlandsgatan 37
1889-1909: Birger Jarlsgatan 27
1909-1958: Kungsgatan 70

Please reference as follows:

Whidden, Anne, “Learning Weaving” theswedishrugblog (11/1/16);  theswedishrugblog.wordpress.com; accessed (day/month/year)

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