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Finnish Weaving

March 19, 2005

Bianca Haglich

Sister Bianca Haglich Photo by Terry Henley

Sister Bianca Haglich presented slides of and ample samples of Finnish weaving, and explained in a warm and lively manner, the place of weaving in Finnish culture. Bianca came to weaving in a roundabout way, having gone to Finland to study ceramics, but while there crossed over to a greater appreciation of the structures, the textures and colors of weaving. Some years later, including twelve summers spent in Finland, she is now an inspirational weaving teacher and artist at the Center for the Fiber Arts at Marymount College in Tarrytown New York.

Of the large woven piece shown in the March New York Threads, she says that it was a labor of love, and very satisfying. Preparing and weaving it entirely herself, and concerned at times that it was too complicated, she noted "The best part was when I saw it completed, and hanging full length" Bianca wove a similarly challenging and fulfilling piece for Blessed Sacrament Church in Valley Stream.

About Finland, Bianca's observation is "What I always find important is the place. Bordered by Russia on the east, and the other Scandinavian countries on the west, it is full of lakes, nearly surrounded by lakes. Finland is cold in winter, but wonderful in spring, summer, and fall." She credits the landscape and the environmental conditions of great sun in the summer, and little sun and great cold in the winter, the colorless winter landscapes, and the culture of the Finns with informing and inspiring their marvelous textiles. Examples of Finnish culture include a profound respect for and love of nature, so much so that roads are detoured around large rocks, and Finns will stop their car while driving in the country to admire the orchids growing along the side of the road, and having done that, leaving the flowers admired but untouched when the journey begins again.

The arts are so valued in Finland that even in very small towns, you will find a post office, a food store, a bank, and a museum. The art and craft of weaving are still very much a part of Finnish life, so much so that a bride will traditionally weave the fabric for her own wedding gown, and for the wedding shirt of her groom. Traditional handwoven clothing is worn for formal occasions and celebrations. Contemporary Finnish fashions are seen to echo traditional costume, and handwoven and finely designed commercial linens are used extensively in the home.

Art and music, glass, pottery, ceramics, paintings, architecture, are all valued, and weaving is part of that culture. "Finland is unique in terms of design and weaving… a new country." "I think what you'll notice is how very simple and direct they are in how they handle fibers, using very simple forms, often very abstract." Bianca noted a similarity between many Finnish weavings and the art of Mark Rothko with its dominant squared forms, showing a photo one such weaving with double squared sets from the 1700s. They do have flower patterns, but these are generally more abstract. Rya rugs used to be bedcovers, then wall covers, then floor covers. Today, many fine rya works are done only for wall display. Great care is taken in the design, often using very subtle colors. The rya knots often contain four to five pieces of yarn, permitting very fine color blending. Another often used woven structure for display and to let the sun shine through a window covering is the transparency.

Bianca says "what's interesting about their sunsets is that they last forever." And "you can see in their woven art the beauty of the people of Finland, and the effects of water, light, nature in natural fibers" Fibers used include quarter bleached, half bleached, and unbleached linen, wools, rag, and the popular poppanna, a woven cotton weft cut into long strips on the bias, developed by a Finnish home economics teacher turned artist.

One Finnish textile company of world renown is Marimekko. Marimekko stands for the Finnish words "Mari" for "girl" and "mekko" for "little girl's dress". While the Marimekko textiles were used for clothing, these bright and bold patterns also made their mark in decorative fabrics, and continue influential in the marketplace today. Annika Rimala and Maija Isola produced many of Marimekko's marvelous designs. Another notable Finn artist designer was Dora Jung, whom Bianca called "the weaver of Finland." She produced many textile art pieces, and constructed a new technique, woven, not tapestry, and was really a master of this technique. She worked for Tampella, a big Finnish textile mill.

--Angela Ferber


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