I made special friends with a Frida Hansen transparency at the public library in Sølvberget, the Stavanger Cultural Center–I visited three times. The mermaids hang in an alcove near the main entrance, somewhat tucked in. You see it straight on when standing between stacks of current novels. People at nearby tables hunched over laptops, and groups of teens chatted in easy chairs nearby. No one else seemed to notice “Havfruer” (Mermaids), which was woven in 1916 by a student of Frida Hansen, Mimi Bull. Also, no one took notice of me pulling up a chair and standing on it to observe the tapestry closely and take photos.
The design woven by Mimi Bull has the same mermaids as the piece in the Stavanger Art Museum, but with a more elaborate floral left-hand border. The upper part, where the top mermaid stretches, also differs in the two pieces.
Look at the beautiful irises and daisies.
Look at the hand of the bottom mermaid. The weaving of this graceful detail is really so simple, some narrow spaces to delineate the fingers.
Before I started my examination of Frida Hansen’s transparencies, I thought I would determine exactly which currently-available Scandinavian yarn most closely matched Frida Hansen’s transparency weft and warp. I made several test pieces on a small copper pipe loom, and learned a great deal. But a major take-away from my close study was that the weft varied a great deal, and she used thinner and thicker yarns within the same piece.
You can see here that she combined a thicker plied blue yarn with a single strand of beige yarn. I counted, and there are 12 shots of the blue to 19 of the beige.
She used a metallic yarn, thin and quite densely packed.
Frida Hansen patented her transparency technique, partly because she encountered copyright problems with Den Norske Husfliden over her tapestry designs in the past. But she also felt she had a unique technique, which depended partly on the use of z-twisted plied yarn for the warp, and s-twisted yarn for the weft. Clearly that worked well, because a century later, almost all of the weft outlines retain their crisp shape. It was unusual for find even a single sagging thread. I found one…..
The warp in “Havfruer” is a beautiful blue. Frida Hansen used a wide range of colors in her transparency warps, including red, green, and beige, but shades of blue were her most frequent choice.
I am enormously thankful to the American Scandinavian Foundation for support for this trip. I certainly filled my goal of inspiration and study. I have shared Frida Hansen’s work widely online and spoke at the Textile History Seminar at Den Gamle By in Aarhus, Denmark. Many of the 60+ attendees from Denmark, Sweden, and Norway thanked me for my talk and said they hadn’t known much about Frida Hansen and her work–even a Norwegian. I’ll continue my Frida Hansen evangelism in the U.S.!