Kerstin Mauritzson arrived as a young designer in 1953, at the Malmö County Crafts Association (“Malmö lans hemslöjd föreningen”) working at first only half-time until a full-time position opened up. She remembers sitting in the atelier with a loom and designing “all the time.” She designed many rugs, as orders came in or as the organization wanted to make rugs to attract customers. She would make sketches and weave small samples for the head of the organization to approve, and then turn the sketches over to the weavers employed full-time to produce rugs. She also designed smaller items in to be produced in various kinds of textile techniques by an extended network of weavers and embroiderers throughout the countryside who would produce these smaller items. Young girls learned to weave from their mothers, and sometimes both mothers and young women wove together for the Craft Association. Mauritzson says she remembers the Malmö County Craft Association employing some 80 weavers and embroiderers at the peak of their operation. She supervised these women for two to three years, and recalls having in her head the party line phone numbers or numbers of neighbors who could be called in order to reach all of them.
These early post-war years were the high point of creativity and production for the County Crafts Associations around Sweden. In terms of textile production, the Malmö County Crafts Association was one of the most active of these Associations. The Hemslöjd store was an busy, popular place: it had the best yarn available in many colors, and because the organization hired young designers like Mauritzson, fresh and up-to-date designs were produced. Rugs could be either ordered already made —which was quite expensive —or materials and patterns could be purchased and items woven at home. And the store began to sell DIY kits of smaller eye-catching items. The store moved twice to have space large enough for its materials and displays.
The woman who was Director (“hemslöjdschef”) of the Craft Association when Mauritzson arrived was named Gertrude Ingers. She was actively involved in publishing a number of books of patterns to popularize the Hemslöjd products and engage women in continuing to practice traditional weaving and embroidery skills. Mauritzson’s designs were frequently featured in these books.
As an in-house designer, Mauritzson designed for a range of clients, both individual and institutional. My last post looked at a rug she designed for a church about 30 miles from Malmö. In addition to quite a few churches, she also designed for regional banks, hospitals, an apothecary, a foundation, and a number of commercial enterprises including offices for the Volvo company.
But she also designed a huge number of small products. This post will look at some of these. While today the quality of design may seem disproportionate to the nature of these items, to a woman in the 1950s, after the lack of available materials in wartime, it was probably thrilling to be able to make a really gorgeous embroidered little purse or a wall hanging from a Hemslöjd kit. You would feel like you had something, even if small, that was really up to the most contemporary standards of design.
While some of these— like the third one shown which was also made in blue —were made in several color variations, the range of sizes, systems of closure and fabrication which these bags exhibit, suggest that there was ongoing exploration of ways to make products which were appealing, but perhaps less expensive or complicated to fabricate.
It is also interesting to note that most of the designers who I am looking at in this blog were trained in all aspects of textile design. When I started the blog, it seemed easy to limit my blog posts to rugs—my own interest— but it became clear to me rather quickly that these designers designed not only wonderful rugs, but many smaller items — church textiles, pillow covers, and even these kind of hemslöjd kit materials. We may dismiss these as less important, but in fact, many of these small items express the same graphic quality and attention to form seen in a designer’s rug designs. They come from the same eye and hand. They are also a credit to their designers sense of style and solving of problems of fabrication—and of course it is also just fun to see and explore this little corner of ’50’s-60’s textile design.
The range of small products for the Malmö County Crafts Association that Kerstin Mauritzson designed seem to have been made from the late 1950s up through the ‘70s after she had become Director of the organization herself. In fact, they may have been one way for her to be able to do a bit of designing when she had so many additional administrative responsibilities. She noted in conversation that in the 1960s and 70s there was also less demand for rugs as industry became geared up to produce more acceptable and attractive alternatives to hand-woven rugs, and that it was also harder to find weavers to weave rugs as the older women trained in this skill began to grow older. This meant that the source of Craft Association revenue in the ‘70s from these was much diminished, so there was pressure to develop and sell many more small products such as these tapestry-weave and embroidery kits.
Some of these small embroidered or woven articles were for churches, such as the little collection bags shown below. While these are dated loosely 1975-86, which was during her years as director of the Malmö County Crafts Association, they seem so specifically designed in their aesthetic motifs and colors, that I wonder if they were designed later but meant to match patterns of rugs she had designed earlier for churches, and intended for members of the congregations to make themselves. At least one of these seems similar to several rug samples (# MSSH-1133 and MSSH-1146 )held in the Skånsk Hemslöjd Landskrona archives, with an earlier date.
There were also both practical and decorative items for the home, including woven table mats, a coffee filter holder, and many small wall-hangings, both traditional and more modern, which would have been fun projects to weave on a home loom.
And some of these woven items suggest —like the construction of the purses above — that there was constant effort to offer new and varied products. One such project is the tiny weaving shown below.
By the 1980s, there was less active interest in traditional weaving and craft in Sweden, and the County Craft Associations had a hard time maintaining their prior popularity. Having served as a
Craft Association designer in Malmö from 1953 to 1969 (and for several years earlier in Kristianstad), and 17 years as Director (“Chef”) of the Malmö County Crafts Association, Mauritzson stepped down in 1986. She continued to show internationally and to pursue her own work.
Even today, Mauritzson delights in her own weaving projects. Like many of the small items she designed earlier for Craft Association customers, these are small items which are a pleasure for her to make at home without a large loom. When I visited her earlier this spring, she was working on a small weaving—in this case, using silk rather than wool thread— a flamskväv tapestry of tulips on a small hand loom. This kind of tapestry is woven so that the pattern is sideways to the warp.
This blog focuses on mid-century Swedish rugs, but many of the rug designers whose work the blog highlights also designed small woven and embroidered items. The range of the small items designed by Kerstin Mauritzson and produced as kits for the Malmö County Crafts Association, from the 1950s-70s are exquisite and satisfying in their graphic and tactile qualities, and yet further evidence of her considerable talent. It is a pleasure to see her today, still producing work and simply enjoying the process of designing and making.
Interview with Kerstin Mauritzson, April 26, 2017.
Stiftelsen Skånsk Hemslöjd Landskrona, with particular thanks to Åsa Stentoft, Director, and Lena Lundström.
Please reference as follows:
Whidden, Anne, “Stocking the Store: Kerstin Mauritzson” theswedishrugblog (7/10/17); theswedishrugblog.wordpress.com; accessed (day/month/year)