Friday, 22 July 2016

Textile Travels in Finland

Picture for you Jean!

The warp and weft of those few days in Finland were woven together with the threads of my past students and their families and life experiences and pride in their country. The egalitarian nature of the country keeps the selvedges even. Like the Finns themselves, the traditional textiles mind their own business and smile gently.

Ilkka Saarikoski spent two months earlier this year at my place in Fujino working with indigo dyeing techniques and sewing Japanese jackets as an internship from his studies at the technical school here in Jyvaskyla. 

His prodigious work output is now on display at Jyvaskyla's premier coffee shop.
It was heart warming to see Ilkka's work he laboriously made in Japan appreciated in public here in Finland. The quality of the work certainly deserves recognition!

Henri Hyvarinen and Ilkka know each other from textile school. Henri spent two months at my place three years ago.  A weaver, a felter, a dog sled driver, a lumberjack and massage therapist, and a part time Viking...I love you Henri.

Ilkka and Henri and Rauno, Henri's ten-month-old-uber-enthusiastic-Finnish-bear-hunting-dog-cross-Dutch-Shepard and I spent a wonderful day together.

The four of us walked down the street to the coffee shop and Rauno met several white-fluffy-four-legged-dog-breath-mints along the way.

Rauno sniffed and wanted to play with the mints.

I braced myself for the bloody worse each time. 

Coffeed up and ready to go we drove though the Finnish countryside to Henri's maternal grandparents farm. 


The Finnish countryside is peaceful and gentle. For thousands of kilometers it looks much the same. Rolling hills of pine and fir and birch trees and lakes with reeds flittering in a soft breeze. Many shades of subdued blue lupine and lilac line the roadside. The entire landscape evenly peppered with red iron oxide painted houses with white window trim.

The door of the farmhouse opened and the long forgotten smell of cooking rhubarb from 45 years ago triggered memories. We sat and had tea and homemade doughnuts (monks) and tried unsuccessfully to take the Finnish challenge of eating them without licking ones lips.

 The conversation turned to dogs. 'Rauno has a good disposition and his only quirk is to relocate clothing lying around.' Grandpa Lauri chuckled and recalled a dog he had as a boy.

"We were swimming down at the lake and while we were in the water the dog carried our clothes all back to the house and we had to walk back home red-faced and bare-assed the whole way."

Grandma Kaisa is a weaver and I was delighted to see she owns the same Finnish loom that I have back in Japan. She had it warped for rag weave carpets. I could see her prodigious output throughout the house....with Rauno skidding through the house and messing up the lay of the carpets. He is easily forgiven with those gentle playful eyes. 

Back on the road we drove to a sheep farm in Henri's hometown where he buys fleece to felt.
( To the side of the majestic unassuming manor house, amongst the "curly birch variety" copse there was the obligatory old iron oxide red cottage.  Inside there was an unpretentious (the adjective pretentious doesn't seem to exist in Finland) wool shop selling yarn and roving and needle felted roving for felting. 

I could have spent months there but followed the rules for visiting a studio. Be quiet....words are heavy. Be enthusiastic. Be respectful. Shop fast and leave promptly and politely. 

I did make some purchases. I know farmers are always busy and made my way to the car.

Eeva, the woman of the farm asked if we would like to look at the sheep and her carding and dyeing studio. We sheepishly said yes and followed along like sheep to look at our brethren. 

We drove on towards Henri's house. His family and ancestors seem to own the whole town and we chided him about being part of the family mafia. Every field and shop and house and lake seemed to hold some special significance to Henri. 

My face ached in three directions. From smiling at his adorable enthusiasm for his hometown and country. From gritting my teeth in terror of his maniacal back road speedstering and from the pure pleasure of dog licks on my face and ears. 

I suspect face muscles are made to express one emotion at a time. Three at a time just invites wrinkles.

We made it to Henri's parents place....a Finnish lakeside humorous variety show of magical old buildings, barrel saunas, docks and boats and dozens of huskies snoozing in the forest dreaming of winter. They are waiting for the snow to pull sleds through the white landscape and over the frozen lakes.

I got to meet the legendary "Harmo" the half-wolf half-husky. His mother would make a bee-line for the forest when free and came back pregnant....with wolf puppies.  

A great feast of salmon chowder and home made moose sausages and assorted breads and rhubarb juice was on the table waiting for us. I shook my head in disbelief at their full-hearted generosity and good will.

There were some old Finnish tapestries on the wall from the 18th and 19th century. It was clear that the Finns had a form of indigo and madder root available.

This particular piece was stitch embellished on a hand woven hand-spun background. 

This second piece was hooked on a handwoven background.

I was travelling with my red security blanket and Henri's Mom checked out my selvedges to see if they were clean. (not)

A moose suddenly poked his head in an open window to check out the weave structure....

Henri's mother is a Finnish traditional clothing historian who has researched and woven traditional clothing and made reproductions for a museum.

The book she showed me about the different regional variations in traditional Finnish costumes was amazing.
Between bites of moose sausage and spoonfuls of salmon chowder and sips of "yellow wine" I tried to keep a polite conversation going while being engrossed in the book.


  1. thank you,love the stove and both rugs under and on the comfy chair,all one needs is a good book. marvelous stories/memories/textiles. btw, how is the blanket weaving doing - too hot?

  2. Wonderful post, thank you for the virtual trip to Finland.

  3. i am so enjoying this trip of yours! there seems to be a plethora of smiling people enjoying all this fiberwork! and dogs!

  4. I love your writing Bryan san - so funny and clever and heartfelt. I too love Finland and have a good friend in Helsinki. I notice a fair smattering of modern Marimekko mixing joyously with the handcrafts. Modern and traditional, a very fine balance I think.

  5. A magical place , such wonderful hospitality. I , too , noticed the Marimekko- well, they would have to have some- it's theirs! And how perfect it looks there. How gently you slipped into their world and noticed everything along the way.

  6. Great reportage, Bryan, you should travel more often!

  7. wonderful! i love the country and its people.

  8. What a wonderful trip. Fabulous places to explore and wonderful people.