In 1959 Gertrude Ingers, head of the Malmö County Crafts Association, published an instructive little book called New Rugs (“Nya Mattor”).
Ingers’ book, clearly intended for a home audience of inexperienced weavers, focused heavily on rugs that could be made of inexpensive materials and woven easily. The book contained both patterns and colored images for 3 different kinds of rugs: rag rugs (“trasmatta”), flat weave rugs (“rölakan”), and rya—all of which would be woven without a shuttle— as well as specific tips about weaving each kind of rug. Inger’s introduction emphasized that the patterns were “simple” and cautioned beginning weavers against trying to weave “too-complicated carpets.”
Among the designers whose rugs were published, were several important young designers of the day. Since this was published by the Malmö County Craft Association (Malmo läns hemslöjdföreningen), it is not surprising that most of these were designers associated with craft associations in southern Sweden, plus several from the Uppsala County Craft Association. The designers included in the book were quite a few whose work we know: Ingrid Dessau, Marianne Richter, Kerstin (Bergman) Mauritzson, Irma Kronlund, Kerstin Butler, Ingrid Hellman-Knafve, and Britta Rendahl. The book also features work of several designers we have not looked at— among these, Gunilla Fleming, Märta Rinde-Ramsback, and Ulla Brandt.
But interestingly, the older and more experienced designers were asked to come up with new patterns for the lowly rag rug. Of the 60 rugs presented, more than 30 of these were rag rugs in plain weave with varying kinds and colors of stripes. There were 16 designs for rya rugs which could be woven either off the loom or on a pre-made “rya bottom”. The younger and less-experienced designers were asked to design the simple flat weave rugs (rölakan) in small sizes which would not require a large loom.
While the warp for these flat weave rugs was to be the usual linen rug warp, the yarn specified for their weft was a yarn made of cow-hair— a less expensive but sturdy soft yarn, still used with some frequency at mid-century.
Gunilla Fleming, a young designer, at that time working for Gertrude Ingers at the Malmö County Craft Association, designed 5 of the 7 flat-weave rugs in the book. This blog post will look at several of these patterns which represent her beginnings as a designer.
It is also useful to identify these rugs as hers from this book, since —as seemed to be the case with quite a few rugs made by young designers at county craft associations— they were not always signed, either by the designer or the craft association itself. It is not clear to me whether the youngest designers at the county craft associations had to earn the right to have their rugs produced with their own initials, or the fact that we see no initials on these rugs is because they were produced by weavers at home following patterns (like the ones in this book) provided by the craft associations.
Gunilla Fleming grew up in Stockholm, the daughter of Baron Erik Fleming, who was silversmith to the Swedish king. Her father, a “working aristocrat” did not use his full name, Fleming af Liebelitz, nor did his children. He had an active silver studio in Stockholm, called Atelier Borgila, later carried on by one of his sons, and was considered one of the world’s foremost silversmiths, as well as an excellent teacher.
Gunilla seems to have studied both silversmithing and weaving; the National Museum owns two of her pieces— one silver, and one textile. But at 24, having just graduated from Konstfack, the design school in Stockholm, in 1954, Fleming seems to have decided to pursue textile work. She was hired by the Malmo County Crafts Association and stayed there for 5 years, designing mostly flat weave rugs for the hemslöjd store and for local industries and businesses. She left to marry an architect in 1959, the year Inger’s book was published. Later in her career, Fleming herself authored several books on textile arts, including a biography of the designer Irma Kronlund who worked for many years for Kronoberg County Craft Association.
The archives of the Malmo County Crafts Association have the sketches and some weaving proofs for several of Gunilla Fleming’s designs used in Inger’s book. Three of these are shown below.
Apparently a year after this blue rug was designed, Fleming rendered it in a yellow-green and sized it larger.
The book makes use of the blue version in the smaller size, and shows both a working drawing and a photograph of the completed rug.
Also in 1955, Fleming had designed a rug called “Feather” (“Fjäder”), renamed “Blue Feather” in Inger’s book.
Fleming had designed another rug about the same size in 1955, this one called “Red Rails” (“Röd Räls”). Copies of this design have been sold unidentified at Swedish auctions in the past several years.
The book reduces this sketch slightly to be a rug of smaller size rug: 100 x 170 cm. Apparently in reworking this design for the book, Fleming decided to increase the with of red spacing between the white cross bars, (and reduce the number of the white cross bars) which improves the design, The original sketch had 15 white cross bars while the rug shown photographed in the book has only 13. The colors are consistent at whatever size: white, brown, green, and “blended reds.”
One rug produced to this design and sold at auction shows how much more exciting the color scheme is in reality than in either the original sketch or even in the book’s photograph.
All three of these designs by Fleming were for quite modest designs, but as the Red Rails rug shows, there is a nice balance between elements, and the colors are vibrant and subtly blended. It’s clear that well-trained young designers, even if young — Gunilla Fleming in this case was 25 when she designed these three rugs —were able to provide exactly what this book and what many local county craft associations were looking for, which was rugs which would be handsome in the home and relatively easy for their clients to produce. It is also fun for us to use Inger’s book to identify young designers behind some of these apparently anonymous rugs.
Bukowskis Auction house, Stockholm.
Gertrude Ingers, Nya Mattor, ICA Förlaget, Västerås, 1959
Malmö läns hemslöjdföreningen archives, Landskrona, Sweden, with thanks to Åsa Stentoft, länshemslöjdskonsultent.
Permission granted to use photos of these drawings and woven samples, taken from the collection from Malmöhus County Craft Society (Malmöhus läns hemslöjdförening). The photos may not be reproduced without such permission. Stiftelsen Skånsk Hemslöjd (The Foundation Handicraft of Scania) shall be named owner of the collection. The individual artifacts depicted are protected by copyright, and the names of the creators behind the photographed objects will follow the photos at publication.