Posts Tagged ‘Finnish Weaving’

Exciting Discovery

August 30, 2021

After the special event at the Hanka Homestead on August 21, Mr. Ernst and I made a detour so we could visit the Oulu Cultural & Heritage Center in northern Wisconsin.

When our guides took us into the tool shed, I spotted an old handmade loom reed hanging on the wall.

In the 11th Chloe Ellefson mystery, The Weaver’s Revenge, Chloe finds just such a reed in the Hanka family’s trash dump. Look at the craftsmanship!

Here’s the scene:

Chloe was about to turn away when something snagged her attention. She shoved some loose barrel staves with a foot to get a better look…and caught her breath. “Oh!” She was looking at a loom’s reed, the wide tool with evenly spaced gaps weavers used to keep warp thread spread consistently. It was filthy, the teeth caked with dried mud, but she pulled it free and regarded it with wonder. Someone in the Hanka family had been a weaver.

Chloe thought about one of those Hanka women weaving rugs for the family in that once-cozy home. She thought of her own Lake Superior rug, which she’d locked inside the Pinto that morning for safekeeping. And she thought about the immigrant women who’d brought their weaving experience with them from Finland—whatever their grandmothers had taught them about weft preparation and warp tension, about color and balance and design. Had they known that the tradition, unlike so many domestic arts, would persist through coming generations?

I used the reed in the story because of what it could suggest or reveal about the person who once used it. I wasn’t able to view one while writing the book, so this made my day.

The Center also owns a fabulous loom made entirely from a single tree. (Learn more about tree looms/root looms here and here.) It’s a thing of beauty, and educators are using it to teach the art to weaving students.

I’ll do a full blog post about the Oulu Cultural & Heritage Center later, but I hope you enjoyed a glimpse of these artifacts as much as I did!

Anna’s Loom

April 29, 2021

Thanks to reader Robyn S., I have another loom to show you—and this one comes with a story!

Robyn, who is half Finnish, weaves on this loom at the Antique Gas and Steam Engine Museum in Vista, CA. (Robyn refers to this as a Finnish Tree Loom, a perfect descriptor for what are also called root looms.)

Anna’s loom.

This story begins shortly after World War II, when many people in Finland were struggling with poverty. Finnish immigrant Matt Rihinen, a dairy farmer in Negaunee, MI, began collecting clothing donations on his dairy route to send back to those in need in Old Country.

Some of the donations were too worn to be included in the care packages. Matt’s wife Anna asked him to build her a loom so she could put the scraps to good use. Matt began work in 1944, and finished in 1945. Anna wove rugs on this loom for the rest of her life.

Eventually the farm, and the loom, passed on to Anna and Matt’s only child, Johanna Pohjala. Johanna became a celebrated weaver herself, who wove and sold enough rugs to finance three trips to Finland! When the heavy overhead beater became too difficult for her to handle, her husband reconfigured it for her.

The loom was inherited by her daughter Christine Simonen, who donated it to the museum. Christine also donated a large warp chain prepared by Johanna before her death.

Johanna’s warp being wound onto the loom by Robyn and two other museum volunteers.
Weaving in process.
Completed rug.
Here’s another rug Robyn wove on the same warp. What a difference weft choices make!

Robyn and other museum volunteers keep all sorts of textile traditions alive. If you’re ever in the area, be sure to stop by the Antique Gas and Steam Engine Museum.

And to gain more insight into the social history of Finnish rag weaving, check out The Weaver’s Revenge: A Chloe Ellefson Mystery!

Root Looms – Part 1

March 18, 2021

Chloe was transfixed by the unique weaving apparatus dominating the space. “I love your loom!” she breathed.  Unlike other antique looms she’d seen, all crafted with straight and soulless support beams, this one gloried in knotholes and grain and flowing curves.  (From the 11th Chloe Ellefson Mystery, The Weaver’s Revenge.)

For centuries, woodworkers in Finland created what they needed with what they could acquire from local forests. Clever craftsmen considered even crooked trees, or those with deformities in roots or branches. These curves and angles were ideal for many elements of plows, boats…and weaving looms.

Kaarina Passila, weaver (Finnish Heritage Agency)

When Finnish immigrants began settling in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, the tradition of making “root looms” continued.

Root loom on display at Finlandia University’s Finnish American Heritage Center. This loom was made in the Jacobsville, MI area over a century ago.

Here’s how a loom maker describes his work in The Weaver’s Revenge:

I do appreciate a good tree. A bad carpenter works against the tree. Just cuts the dang thing down and wants everything to look like it came off an assembly line. What I do is look for roots and trunks and branches that bend a certain way. Something others might see as a deformity, I see as the structure of a loom. 

Root loom on display at Finlandia University’s Finnish American Heritage Center.

Root looms are big and heavy and featured beaters hanging from an overhead frame. The size and weight make it possible for weavers to create firm, durable rugs. In the photo above, the loom’s reed (middle of the photo), which keeps warp threads evenly spaced, is made of actual reed material. (Later looms featured metal reeds.) Weavers grasped the horizontal wooden bar on top of the reed to bang every strip of cloth tight.

In The Weaver’s Revenge, a weaver helps Chloe understand why Finnish rugs are special:

Chloe touched the iron rod affixed to the beater bar. “What’s this for?”

Betty slid onto the bench. “Chloe, I want to show you why Finnish weavers are known for the quality of their rugs. After every shuttle pass I beat four times, twice with my hands at the edges of the bar, twice with them in the center.” She demonstrated, banging hard enough to make the loom shudder. “The iron rod adds extra weight.” 

“I’ve never seen that technique.”

Betty looked pleased. “Some gift shops sell rugs you could poke a finger through. Our rugs are tight. That’s why these big heavy root looms are so important. You can’t beat hard enough with one of those flimsy modern looms.”

Historians note that, in general, Finnish rag rugs are beaten so tightly that the warp threads virtually disappear, as in the example below.

(Finnish Heritage Society)

Root looms were an important element of the Finnish rug weaving tradition. It was fun to spotlight these looms—and their makers—in The Weaver’s Revenge. Coming in May!

Finnish Rag Rugs

March 11, 2021

Most Chloe Ellefson mysteries celebrate a folk art relevant for the featured ethnic group. When I chose to focus on Finnish immigrants in the 11th book, The Weaver’s Revenge, I wanted to spotlight the tradition of weaving rag rugs.

Practical weavers collected worn clothing, cut the fabric into strips, sewed the strips together, and used them as weft. Although this craft was widely practiced by people of different origins, scholars note that Finns have been most successful at maintaining the tradition.

Some “hit and miss” rag rugs reveal a largely random approach, with irregular pinstripes.

(The National Museum of Finland)

Historically, most American rugs were created this way. However, the skills Finnish weavers brought to the New World included color and design. The two examples below show controlled stripes and gorgeous palettes.

(The National Museum of Finland)
(The National Museum of Finland)

Many traditional weavers went further by creating more complicated designs, such as twill, rosepath, and tabby.

Rag rugs for sale in Puutori in Turku, Finland, 1955. (Finnish Heritage Agency)

The photo below provides a closer look at a spectacular rug.

(The National Museum of Finland)

In Chloe’s time—the 1980s—some scholars considered rag rugs too commonplace to warrant study. When I learned that, Chloe’s boss Ralph Petty popped to mind. In The Weaver’s Revenge, when Chloe wants to research both patterns and the social implications of Finnish American rag rug weaving in the Upper Midwest, Petty is not impressed:

“I told you not to waste time on that ridiculous proposal, did I not?”

“You did,” Chloe allowed, “but I still want to help the Rankinen interpreters by learning more about–”

“What’s there to learn? Rags were made into rugs. End of story.”

There was, of course, much more to the story. Finnish American immigrants wove rugs that were practical and beautiful. Weaving helped women cope—sometimes financially, sometimes emotionally. The practice was and remains an important aspect of cultural identity.

Loom at The Hanka Homestead Finnish Museum

Most old rugs received hard use, so few have survived. The tradition, however, endures. Here are two recent prize-winning examples from Finnish country in northern Wisconsin.

And if you visit a site devoted Finnish heritage, it’s easy to imagine how much cheer these works of art brought to log homes.

Rug on display at Little Finland, Hurley, WI.

You can gain much more insight into the Finnish rug weaving tradition by reading the 11th Chloe Ellefson Mystery, The Weaver’s Revenge. Coming soon!