Many, many years ago I spent a year in Sweden as an exchange student. During that time, my host mother and sister taught me to make clothes without using a store-bought pattern (a skirt, a halter top, and a dress), something I hadn’t done before even though I’d been sewing for many years. I haven’t tackled pattern-less construction since then, but occasionally I make alterations to patterns and I’m sure this earlier experience gave me some of the confidence to do so.
During the end of the long, dark Swedish winter and into the spring I spent a good deal of time in the batik studio of Ditte Ek. I met her through another exchange student who had managed to arrange an extended internship with her. I didn’t actually do the batik work of waxing and dyeing, but sometimes I would help with various minor tasks. Those were afternoons of a lot of laughter, delicious homemade soup, and probably the first insight that the rhythm of self-employed studio work was appealing.
For Swedish Midsummer my host family traveled to visit friends and relatives. A few days before the solstice we arrived at Great Aunt Mait’s rustic, charming, summer cottage. She was a lively, elderly woman and we had an immediate affinity. I remember spending a lot of time eating and sunbathing. Each evening we would lower the flag, even though the sun itself never seemed to really set.
A few months after I returned to the States, I received a small package from Aunt Mait. I was surprised, and delighted, to find these two tapestries she had made for me. Many years later I had them framed so they could be properly displayed.
And I still have the lovely note she wrote in response to my thank-you.
At a yard sale several years ago, I found some vintage Swedish prints featuring traditional costumes from various provinces. I knew that I wanted them although I had no clear plan as to what I’d do with them. After languishing in a box for the intervening years, this past fall I pulled them out and decided the time had come and started construction on a wall-hanging. I wanted to keep the piece simple so as not to detract too much from the actual prints. I was also still in the “use what I have in my stash” mode, so I didn’t want to shop for new fabrics. The red and yellow checked fabric seemed good for sashing, and the navy blue borders provide strong contrast. I only wish I had prints for all the provinces, but at least my “home” province of Vastmanland is here.
I’ll always have a little bit of Sweden in my psyche, and having textile pieces and reminders reinforces the bond and connection I feel with my second country.