Visit to Sweden September 2011

In September 2011 ten of us from the Northumbria Basketry Group went to Smaland in Southern Sweden and visited Caroline Johansson and her friends at her farm in Tuddabo. Caroline had kindly arranged excellent accommodation for us in a private hostel at Horda some 10 minutes drive from her home. Ing-Brith drove the minibus to take us around throughout our stay. The area is beautiful; it is very rural and the whole region is forested, mainly with conifers and birch trees. Ing-Brith was also the chief cook in charge of all the meals we ate at Caroline's. She fed us excellently on wonderful home-made soups, traditional cakes, evening meals and salads, and we never went hungry. Her recipes were much requested. We also sampled Fika (coffee and cake) at regular intervals during our stay. The warm welcome and hospitality we enjoyed throughout our stay was impressive and we felt thoroughly spoiled. Paula: You have too many trees in your country, but I'm definitely adopting the concept of Fika.
We met a number of traditional Swedish craft workers and enjoyed several workshops. On the first day Gran Ljunggren taught us to make traditional Swedish tinkers or vagabond wirework, making hooks and a flat bread pricker at Hemslojden House (handicraft house, or handicraft and coffee place as we were told that coffee was very important for creativity) in the grounds of the hospital in Jonkoping, a town on a long lake two hours north of Tuddabo. This craft organisation is supported by the local authority (commune). Hemslojden house contained a wealth of crafts made of wood, wire, and wool, including Bollkudde (bubble cushion) which looks like a woollen waffle. This visit was a good introduction to the variety and high quality of Swedish craft.
After lunch in the hospital restaurant Caroline took us to Konsthantverkare i Jonkoping, a craft cooperative shop in Jonkoping where we admired the beautiful items created in glass, ceramics, silver, wood, textiles and other materials. The shop was in an old building in the town, with an eighteenth-century painted ceiling. After a brief shopping break in the town we drove to Alvesta and met up with Annika to attend a late afternoon Skype conference between Leader Linne, Northumberland Uplands Local Action Group (NULAG) and a speaker from the University of Helsinki in Finland. This gave us an insight into how Leader is operating internationally and made clear the real good that it is doing in spite of an obvious frustration with growing bureaucracy. This was followed by a delicious meal in a Japanese-style restaurant in Alvesta with a number of the people from Leader Linne who had been at the conference with us. This gave us a wonderful opportunity to meet more local people and talk to them in a relaxed atmosphere.
Caroline's farm has been in her family since 1875. She has converted one of the barns into a workshop/classroom and on our second day we worked there, learning to make small woven birch bark baskets with Carin Bjork who had been working with birch bark for forty years. The inner bark is put outermost on both sides of the basket which is made with two layers. Caroline took us to see some birch trees in the forest near her farm from which bark was taken five years ago. The scars on the trunks were black and it will take another ten years for the bark to renew sufficiently to be harvested again. Large pieces of bark are removed from the complete girth of the tree but so long as only a thin layer is taken the tree will recover. If however the layer of bark is too thick the tree will not survive.
We visited Theresa at the local SV office in Varnamo where we had Fika while Theresa told us about SV. The full name of this organisation is Studieforbundet Vuxenskolan or study circle and it is a hundred years old. It arranges adult education classes throughout Sweden from local offices in each region. It was formed by the farmers association and two political parties and was called a circle recognising that teachers can learn from pupils in a two-way process. There is also an emphasis on traditional craft skills. Most SVs are in small villages close to the people because seventy percent of the people in Sweden live in the countryside. Caroline's classes are arranged by SV and publicised in their annual brochure. The SV staff also sell crafts to raise funds to support third world charities and have a team of ladies who knit baby clothes to send to a charity in Haiti. Mari Lennartsdotters shop and the SV office are almost next door to each other in the oldest building in the town, so Mari's was our next call. She sells textiles and sewing fabric including linen with beautiful designs both modern and traditional. Everyone enjoyed rummaging through Mari's basket of remnants as well as admiring her beautiful patchwork quilts and imaginatively designed smaller textile items. Helene's bead shop, Prlshopen Creativt, was our next stop, a short walk away in the centre of the town, and she taught us to make Macrame bracelets.
Before tea we went for a walk in the forest at dusk because Caroline said, Now you should be looking for elk, its a good time. We didn't see any that evening as it quickly became too dark but it was good to get into the forest. We did see elk footprints and droppings quite close to the willow patch in daylight. Caroline: "The elk have made a road through the purple willow" (meaning they had eaten it). Liz: "Well they need their five a day".
After tea we had a meeting around Caroline's kitchen table with Caroline, Ing-Brith, Helene and Mari to talk about setting up strong connections in future to support our work in both countries. Caroline: "In the group we have a lot that we can learn from each other". We agreed that we can exchange ideas without feeling in competition with each other. As well as being sociable we can develop economic opportunities for ourselves and support each other to grow each others business. It was agreed to set up a closed Facebook group to facilitate ongoing links between us all, and everyone wrote their names, contact details and skills and interests on a list which Caroline passed round.
Next morning as we set off from the hostel again to spend the first of two days in Caroline's workshop the mist slowly burned off the forest, revealing more autumnal colour, with the red wooden houses set in small fields beside the road. On the whole we enjoyed beautiful sunny weather with bright blue skies until the day before we left.
Kennet Ericsson, who has fifty-five years of experience of making kitchen utensils from Juniper and other woods, taught us to carve a simple butter-knife from a blank. We finished our butter-knives with sandpaper and then wire wool with some soap in it. Kennet brought various spatulas and knives, as well as beautiful wooden carved animals and pendants, which we enthusiastically bought as souvenirs. We also bought more blanks to continue working on back at Hepple.
At lunchtime we looked at the living plaited trees and hearts which Caroline grows and which make good bridal gifts. We discussed a wide variety of topics such as teaching beginners and sharpening knives. Jackie: "I just put my hand up, I dont know what it was but I want one". Caroline: "You just bought the farm". (ordering diamond sharpeners). In the afternoon we started making willow bird feeders using a round wooden base. Various shapes and sizes of wooden bases can be used to make a basket quickly with beginners. Caroline has developed this method to enable beginners to complete a basket with a reasonable appearance in a day which is very difficult if they have to weave a basket base. She is however continuing an ancient method of making baskets in Sweden, as archaeologists have found the remains of drilled wooden bases. Caroline: "Its only the imagination that will ruin a basket with a wooden base". We learned to count ourselves in and out of the minibus in Swedish - etta, tvo, tre, fyra, fem, sex, sju, otta, nio, tio, elva, tolv. Some Swedish words sound similar to Geordie, such as ootgang for way out (gan oot). We decided not to teach Geordie however. We also tried to explain what Scottish Haggis is. It is only when you go abroad that you realise how much there is to explain about commonplace things, both for you and your hosts. Because the workshop overran we missed one trip to see some of Caroline's living willow structures, but we did see some of her work in the grounds of a beautiful old house at Tagel. We tried and failed to see any traditional Swedish cows however, other than in a painting. On the way back we stopped to look at an ancient Rune stone at a cross roads which made Paula very happy, before finishing our bird feeders back in the workshop. At the end of that evening Mari and Ing-Brith showed us how to use fabric strips and scraps to make cloth coil baskets and scented hearts. Paula: "Can I come and make soup for you for a week and learn to make wonderful things with you; I am in heaven". On day four Caroline taught us how to make a lovely basket, again using a wooden base, and adding a handle of willow or juniper wood. It was simple, without an obvious border but very attractive as well as functional. During the morning we taught Caroline how to make a willow angel. Jackie: "You could only say that in a basketry group: my bottoms really messy inside". Paula: "I didnt think angels had those". "What?" " Bottoms". That afternoon we visited Alfred Kulling, a chocolatier, whose shop and workshop were in an attractive little wooden building which felt as if it was in the middle of nowhere. Later, when we had finished our baskets we also made roses from five rolled Maple leaves in descending sizes wrapped with florists tape around a wire, as well as willow lanterns and more willow hearts. During the Sunday morning workshop we were each given a wonderful Swedish massage from Eva-Karins on our hands and shoulders to loosen up our aching muscles. That evening we took photographs of all our work from the past four days. Unfortunately Liz was ill with a temperature and missed all of that days activities. When packing our bags after dinner we had bird feeders sticking out, filled with juniper blanks and all sorts. Siobahn: "You don't want to know whats in my feeder." For our final dinner we visited the amazing Timjan Restaurant which is owned and run by Christina Lindberg and her husband Vincent. Christina is a member of Leader Linne Local Action Group. Vincent welcomed us when we arrived but we did not see Christina for a while. When Alan asked about her Vincent said she was busy in the kitchen preparing our meal. The restaurant is housed in a former barn which had been moved to its current situation and used as a farm building again before being turned into the restaurant. Its decor was simple but striking with its original structure retained and a boat floating in its own tank in one corner. The food was outstanding and it was really good to meet Christina and Vincent and enjoy their wonderful hospitality. On the final morning before we caught the train from Alvesta station Siv taught us to make a Hair Moss (Haircap Moss) garland bound with hand-dyed wool and a little Hair Moss brush. Siv showed us a garland that had been decorated with tansy flowers and rowan berries. Sivs husband had come along to help give out the bundles of moss. This was followed by our final proper Fika with coffee, French rolls and cheese. We found a lovely shop not far from the railway station which sold linen thread and real wool. There was a loom, and beautiful hand-woven linen tablemats and cloths of traditional design. Then it was back to Malmo, over the bridge and through the tunnel to Copenhagen and our flight to Edinburgh and our various routes home. We all carried bags full of handmade items and were bursting with enthusiasm to practice and pass on our newly-learned skills, and our minds were full of happy memories of a wonderful visit, beautiful crafts, glorious countryside and the warmest of hospitality.

NBThis visit is a part of the transnational collaboration between Leader Linne in Sweden and the Northumberland Uplands Local Action Group. It was part funded by NULAG with a further contribution from Leader Linne.

Ruth Thompson, Sheila Walton & Alan Winlow 8th October 2011

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