Scandinavian Textile Design

Instructor: Stephanie Przybylek

Stephanie has taught studio art and art history classes to audiences of all ages. She holds a master's degree in Art History.

Do textile designs represent the places from which they come? People from Scandinavia who design textiles would certainly say they do. In this lesson, learn about the history of Scandinavian Textile Design and some companies and people involved in it.

Where is Scandinavia?

We live with textiles all around us. But have you ever thought about who designs them and where they come from?

People have made textiles for centuries, and different parts of the world have different textile traditions. One place known for distinctive textile designs is Scandinavia.

Scandinavia is the name for a region that usually includes three countries in Northern Europe with a common cultural heritage: Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. Each of these places tend to have cold climates, long winters, and people who live in smaller homes in which neat and orderly interiors mean focus on design without clutter. They're also small countries with a love of nature and strong craftsmanship traditions using natural materials. But what does this mean for textiles?

First, let's define the term textile design. Textile design is the creating and planning of how fabrics look and feel. This includes what a textile's made of, whether it's knitted or woven, and what type of texture it has. It also includes ideas about designs or patterns on a fabric surface, and whether they are woven into it or printed or dyed on its surface.

Examples of Scandinavian Textile Design

Traditionally, textiles in Scandinavia were used for a range of household goods and designs were often geometric. This region has a long tradition of fabrics with blue or red stripes, sometimes incorporating stylized animal forms or foliate shapes like flowers. Many older Scandinavian fabrics had patterns with repeats or small identical designs in rows or grids to cover the whole fabric. Because of plentiful natural materials, substances like wool, linen and cottons were used for a range of goods.

Rolls of woven Swedish fabrics with geometric and nature-inspired patterns
rolls of Swedish fabrics

Here's an example. Ekelund Weavers is a Swedish company that has been around since 1692. For more than 400 years, this family owned business has produced woven fabrics of cotton and linen with traditional and contemporary patterns. Nature-inspired designs feature patterns with plants and animals that are clear and crisp, colorful forms against clean backgrounds that are not overly fussy or cluttered. All the textile items are practical things like towels, dishcloths, and table runners.

In the early 20th century, several Scandinavian women designers began to gain notice for their work. Among them was Marta Maas-Fjetterström (1873 - 1941), a Swedish weaver who became known for her rugs. She created designs that featured geometric and nature-inspired shapes with colors that reflected the light and hues of summer. Mass-Fjetterström started her own weaving workshop in 1919 and became highly collectible.

Woven rug designed by Marta Maas-Fjetterstrom
Fjetterstrom rug

After World War II, Scandinavian textile design, along with the large area of interior design, became popular throughout Europe and the United States. Designs became bolder and more contemporary, with brighter colors. But they stayed true to the Scandinavian elements of nature and clean stylized geometry with textiles made mostly of natural materials.

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