I was invited to the weavers group meeting at Svithun Husflidslag on the day I arrived in Stavanger. I had few expectations for the meeting, other than the fact that it would be challenging to follow many people speaking Norwegian at once, and I would be tired after the meeting. (I was right.) Ragnhild Wathne, the leader of the group, picked me up a bit early, to have a tour before the meeting. Everything was amazing! There are 17 looms in action, on three floors. Looms are crammed in rooms; it felt like a surprise at every turn. This is not a teaching organization, where looms sit ready for students; it is a working organization, where all the looms are continuously warped for group projects.
Marit, a weaver who was instrumental in setting up the group 40 years ago, was weaving a linen tablecloth. The last person had just finished, and left a label.
What brands of looms do you favor, I asked. Most were not brand names; Ragnhild explained that they were looms given to the Husflidslag over time—good, sturdy, large looms.
They have about 40-50 active weavers, and around 200 members of the Husflidslag in all. Many don’t have looms at home. Ragnhild has two looms at home, but weaves more often at the Husflidslag. “I don’t like to weave alone so much,” she explained. A single project can go more than a year from conception to taking it off the loom.
The weavers are the strong core of the Husflidslag, but there are other handcrafts as well. Knitters are strong; they meet each Tuesday morning. Woodcarvers meet another day, as do quilters.
In a small attic room, up narrow, steep stairs, Anne Marie was weaving with yarn from the Lerdaal Rug Studio (read about the studio here), a sturdy rug with wool-wrapped hemp. It is probably the last piece woven in that room because the fire marshall recently told them they could no longer weave there. Anne Marie was finishing up the warp when I saw her, and then just a short while later I saw the bundle of rugs sitting downstairs. So fast, I commented. “Å ja, jeg er Speedy Gonzales,” Anne Marie responded. (I don’t think that needs translation.)
Also in the attic was a room full of siv, a kind of straw that grows in fresh water, a fiber used to make shoes.
Here are shelves full of forms around which the shoes are woven.
Down steep stairs to the basement are rooms for other activities, wrought iron making and glass fusing. Ragnhild noted that it is going to be difficult to find another space that will be suited to the various activities under one roof.
The Svithun Husflidslag is housed in an old, charming, but also dilapidated house owned by Stavanger Kommune (the local government). It is located close outside the city center, along a main thoroughfare. Along the stretch, it is the only house among several office buildings. The area, which must be prime land due to its proximity to the city center, is scheduled for redevelopment, and the house will likely be razed. (Even though the house itself is so interesting, and probably historically important, if you just look at the surrounding buildings, it seems unlikely the government would choose to keep it.) They are working with the local administration to find a suitable replacement. Recently Ragnhild presented the issue at a meeting of the Stavanger kommune; it was billed as a half-hour presentation with no questions. She was surprised that people were so interested; they had questions and ideas right off the bat. Something will happen in the next two-thee years.
The storerooms had so much yarn! Each time they begin a project, they buy the yarn needed, and the leftovers go in the storerooms. Sometimes they use up leftovers in smaller projects, like weft for towels.
They begin projects by putting a pattern and a sign-up sheet in a large binder, the “Wish Book.” (Lots of projects seem to come from Väv Magazine.) If you are interested in weaving on a project you add your name and how much you want to weave. They generally need 5-6 people to get started; they don’t want to wind a warp less than 15-18 meters. (Recently when our Scandinavian Weavers Study Group wove our monks belt project, we worried about whether we would be able to handle a 13 meter warp. We have to up our game.)
If you are one of the first couple of people to sign up, you are responsible for managing the project, so many times people will wait to sign up. There are a few members who are especially skilled at winding warps, so that task tends to fall to them. That’s not always such a good thing, Ragnhild noted, because others don’t learn to do it well. Before a project gets underway, there is a “last call” at the monthly meeting, to see if there are others who want in.
There is not a formal education program; occasionally a class may be taught, sometimes by a visiting instructor. I asked how new weavers can become involved. Ragnhild said that if a new weaver is interested, there are always weavers who will help individuals get going on one of their projects. Plus, while many weave structures are complex, many are not. Some towels and runners are easy to weave, especially if someone else has set up the loom.
At each monthly meeting they go over the 17 or so projects underway. Each sheet is consulted, and they say things like, “we need to contact so-and-so to weave, so we can get this finished.” After that phase of the meeting is complete, there is brief discussion of a few projects in the wish book, and whether one or another will be appropriate for a loom that will soon be free. At the end of the meeting, the large rolls of weavings, just off the looms, are cut apart.
Most members are older, often retired—people with time to weave. They understand that the organization will only be vital to the local government if they reach out to a wider audience, and to that end they offer children’s activities and work for community involvement.
The group is fairly informal in membership and leadership, which can be hard to keep going. It’s easier in a workplace situation with clear lines of leadership and responsibility, Ragnhild said. But it is easy to feel the high level of camaraderie and generosity among the weavers; it is clearly a group keeping important traditional weaving skills vibrant and alive, with members committed to sharing their knowledge.
And for those of you who aren’t lucky enough to stop by Svithun Husflidslag, here are a couple of other weavings on display.
Hi Robbie – your Norwegian visit is very inspiring!
Nearly 40 years ago I visited my boyfriend in Stavanger where his father worked in the oil industry. I wonder if I could have visited then? Sadly, I think they lived in a bit of an ex-pat, oil industry bubble, and I don’t recall seeing much of Norwegian life.
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