Frida Hansen’s Wool Transparency Technique and the Search for the Perfect Warp

Since I traveled to Norway on a fellowship from the Scandinavian-American Foundation in 2019, I have learned much about Frida Hansen’s open warp wool transparency technique. I continue to research her designs and those of her followers. I receive unsolicited photos from people who own pieces in the technique or run across them; they are much-appreciated gifts of information (or mysteries) in my e-mailbox.

When Frida Hansen patented her signature open warp wool transparency technique in 1897, she specified that the key to weaving was the use of a z-twisted warp and and s-twisted weft. When released from the loom, the warp and weft with opposite twists would serve to hold the design in place without slippage of the woven areas into the open areas.

Detail from “Peonies,” 1901, owned by the Stavanger Art Museum. Look at the beautiful variation in color in the warp.

There is a very interesting two-colored warp in this curtain, woven by a follower of Frida Hansen.

Curtains in private ownership

When I traveled to Norway in 2019 to teach myself the technique, I didn’t have access to z-twisted warp. So what were more recent weavers using for this type of transparency? There was a loom set up at the Frida Hansen Hus in Stavanger, with a partial piece in process. It was set up by the great-granddaughter of Frida Hansen, Lisa Levy. She was using Norwegian spelsau wool, Rauma åklegarn.

The pattern is called “Bluebells.”

Rauma åklegarn is firm and “toothy;” it holds the weft of the woven edges in place with little slipping and wandering. It has a heft that results in a lovely weight to the hanging–not flimsy or bouncy.

You want the wool weft to stay in place and create a crisp design

Here’s a short video showing the grippy quality of the åklegarn warp and the thinner prydvevgarn weft. A funny thing: if you listen to the video carefully, you can even hear the wool fibers catching each other.

The Rauma åklegarn worked well for me in the three wall pieces I have since woven.

So that’s all great, but there is now a fly in the ointment. Rauma has discontinued making åklegarn! Åklegarn is a strong, plied wool yarn made from the fleece of Norwegian spelsau sheep, known for their long guard hair. It has a hard finish and as I mentioned, “toothiness.” You wouldn’t want to wear a garment woven with the yarn next to your skin. It has 191 yards (175 meters) per 100 grams (3.53 ounces). that would be 866 yards/pound.

I need to find alternative yarn to experiment with. Should I try to have z-spun, plied wool spun to order? That might work, but would be expensive and take time. Spin my own? Well, that would take time as I don’t really know how. And I want to find a yarn that is easily available to others when I teach workshops in the future.

There is another spinnery in Norway that makes a yarn that is almost the same in weight/length as the Rauma åklegarn. Hillesvåg makes a tykt vevgarn [thick weaving yarn]. called Saga. It looks wonderfully appropriate, but unfortunately is not sold through an American distributor. (The other Hillesvåg yarn, tynt vevgarn [thin weaving yarn], called Frid, is sold in the U.S. by Norsk Fjord Fiber.)

Jaggerspun makes a wool warp. It only comes in white. But it is strong. I ordered samples from Lunatic Fringe Yarns, Inc., and loved the response–nice pieces of 3/3.6 and 4/4 wool warp on a hand-signed sheet from Kathy Luhring, “Generally Managing Lunatic.” I ordered a pound of the 3/3.6, which seemed closest to what I wanted. Now I wonder whether the 4/4 would have been better. Always second-guessing. But I am warping now to make a transparent wool tapestry piece with the Jaggerspun 3/3.6.

More about the new design soon. And I will continue my search for toothy transparency wool!