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Täkänä Research Trip | PART THREE | Learning to weave with Ritva : Inside the Finnish Craft Museum's archives

April 20, 2017

Tuesday 21st March

Today involved more travelling and learning...this time to a small village north-east of Jyväskylä called Hankasalmi. A chance introduction with a lovely textile designer called Anna-Kaisa whilst doing some solo exploring in Finland last summer led me to this exciting part of my trip. I'd been trying to find someone who still weaves täkänä through the other contacts I have but it was proving difficult. Täkänä is no longer a popular form of weaving in Finland and has disappeared significantly off the weaving landscape in the past thirty years. However, it turned out Anna-Kaisa's aunt Irma was part of a weaving community in Hankasalmi and the lady that teaches in this centre, Ritva Hänninen, kindly offered to give me a lesson in this complicated technique, but first I had to find the location. Under a new restaurant in the centre of the village (offering meat pie and 10 beers for 65 euros) was this discreet door...

the entrance to the community weaving centre in Hankasalmi

Behind the door was an amazing room packed full with looms all in use by various people from the local community with their individual projects on the go.

just some of the looms in the packed room (this was the one I was using on the left)

Ritva was an incredibly patient teacher. Täkänä is complicated, very complicated, especially when you're at home behind a print table and not a weaving loom (I studied graphic design not textiles incase you were wondering why this is so alien to me!). However, Ritva spent a couple of hours showing me the technique on a work in progress piece that Irma had kindly began in preparation of my visit. 

Ritva patiently explaining the täkänä method to me


Täkänä is literally translated as double cloth (I think I mentioned this before in my first post about my trip here) and uses a special technique where you pick up one colour of thread (using a pair of special wooden rods) whilst hiding the other colour of thread according to the pattern. Therefore you get the exact opposite (in terms of colour and pattern) on the reverse with a hollow space left in between. It is said to have been around for almost 1000 years and I read that it first appeared in Finland during the 1400 and 1500s in churches before beginning to appear in castles and upper-class homes from the 1500s onwards. They used to be fairly large in size and were often made to be used as quilts or wall-hangings to provide much needed warmth in cold, drafty spaces.

The täkänä I was working on was only about 15cm wide and maybe around 10cm so far in length with a very basic pattern, but it was enough for me!

 the täkänä I was working on with Ritva's own plant-dyed wool

I had six pedals underneath the loom that my feet operated and different pedals were used for the different colours - 1 & 2 were in use for the light green threads and 3 & 4 for the dark green threads. I also had two big wooden double weaving rods to separate the threads, plus the weaving shuttle (shown in the photo above) to pass through the threads on every row.  

Ritva demonstrating the technique

preparing to insert one of the rods for the next row - with Ritva's non-stop guidance!


It's a demanding technique but I can imagine once mastered, also very relaxing. There's something so nice about the pace and rhythm of weaving that almost feels a bit meditative...


Wednesday 22nd March

my desk for the day at the Craft Museum's archives

Today I was back at the Craft Museum of Finland in Jyväskyla, this time in their archives at the main museum in Jyväskylä town centre. The staff had kindly pulled out their collection of original Täkänä designs and drawings which all seemed to be from the more modern Täkänäs - modern Täkänäs seem to be classified as any dating from 1900 onwards, but these were all from around the 1950s/60s. They were all kept in brown paper or boxes and of course had to be handled with gloves like the Täkänäs themselves on Monday.

'Saatto' / 'procession' drawing in black ink

I was surprised how small in size some of the original designs were, maybe only A5? It seemed like some of them were done very quickly, instinctively, a small sketch coloured in and you could sometimes vaguely see a pencil grid drawn in the background. Many were drawn in black and white too, with colour only added later.

One of Maija Kolsi-Mäkëlä's original drawings - 'Kenno' / 'Cell'


 Detail of one of Maija Kolsi-Mäkëlä's original sketches from 1956 

It was fascinating to see these sketches then translated onto graph paper and scaled up to create workable instructions for whoever was going to weave the cloth. Many had written notes on the bottom and that beautiful ‘Täkänä ‘ handwriting always caught my eye. It was as though everyone tried to write it in the same block style. 

'Viisaat Kanat' / 'Wise Hens' 

I loved the small samples of wool that were punched onto the side of many of the designs, referring to the correct colours that should be used when weaving up the piece. It reminded me of how I like to figure out my colours for a collection, carefully mixing and playing around with different ideas physically rather on the computer screen. I think mixing colours and figuring out the correct combination for a design is one of my favourite things. It really excites me how colours interact with each other and different pairings of colours can completely change how we see a colour.

Another one of Maija Kolsi-Mäkëlä's original sketches with wool from 1966-67

It was great to see so many of Maija Kolsi-Mäkëla’s drawings and graph sketches in the flesh. It was her work that first caught my eye in the Täkänä catalogue I found whilst on residency at Arteles during 2015. The craft museum had a huge collection of her work and some of Maija-Lisa Forss-Heinonen’s whose work I was first introduced to last Friday in the archives at the Design Museum in Helsinki.

After a full day in the archives gathering photos, information and notes , I was heading to my friend Anna-Kaisa's for the night. Anna-Kaisa lives back in Hankasalmi, not in the village though, about a further 20 minutes away in the middle of a forest with her family and animals. That night was my introduction to a Finnish mode of transport called Potkukelkkaan.

my 'potkukelkkaan' for the evening

Potkukelkkaan is literally translated as ‘kick sledge’ and that's exactly what it is. A small seat, a set of handle bars and two metal bars that glide across the ice as you kick your way along. We headed from the house down to the nearby lake, but some of the ice/snow was starting to melt so part of the path was more mud, but it was still amazing fun and when we got to the lake the reward was incredible! The sun was just setting over the trees on the other side of the lake and we sledged out onto the icy lake to get a better look. I can't explain how magical it feels standing in the icy cold watching the sun go down on a frozen lake. My vocabulary doesn't seem to do it justice, but standing there in silence, listening to the wind and feeling like you're really on a date with nature is just overwhelming. It's part of the reason I love Finland so much, the connection to nature feels so much stronger than anywhere else I've experienced and people seem to work with it, respecting the cold and embracing it as a time of year to slow down, stay inside and really take full advantage of the hours that the sun is up for.


sunset at the lake


More to follow...

* This project has been kindly supported by Creative Scotland's Open Project Funding.

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