Review of “Samisk husflid i Finnmark”

This review was originally written for The Braid Society mailing list braids_and_bands on September 29, 2012. I have not changed the contents of the emailed text except for correcting a name and adding photos and a postscriptum with a bit of additional information.  You should keep in mind that the text is written to people who are interested in and understand braiding and weaving, it is not a completely impartial review in that sense.

 

[Me, by email, on September 29, 2012:] I picked up my copy [of Samisk husflid], ordered from AdLibris, at the post office yesterday, so I’ll give it [writing a review] a try…

As stated before [on the email list], this printing is a facsimile of a book from 1987, printed this time in China. I have no complaints about the print job, it does not look like a facsimile and the colours are bright and sharp. I paid 42.10 euros for mine and if I compare that with similar Finnish multicolour craft hardbacks, the price is pretty average. I know it seems high if you are used to books in English, but things are different when the reader potential is just a few million people as is for Norwegian Bokmål.

The full name of the book, “Samisk husflid i Finnmark. Drakt, belter och bånd, flettinger, votter, greneveving” tells pretty exactly what it is about: Sami textile crafts in the Finnmark area (=Northern Norway, bordering on Sweden and Finland up north); dress, belts and bands, braiding, mittens, (two shaft?) weaving”.

Good news is that you can get quite much out of this book without any knowledge of Norwegian – and even more, if we can come up with a very short glossary. As I haven’t done much on Sami clothing before, many of the terms referring the the use of the bands were unknown to me. But that sorted itself out very easily as those pieces like the Sami cradle komse are shown in the first part of the book. Once I’d seen the photo, I had no problems figuring out, what a “komsebånd” was used for, it is very obvious.

If you only do narrow wares and not costume history, you may find that part of the book a bit boring, there are a lot of schematics on pattern pieces and just a few photos on how bands were used. To me that part adds to the value of the book and I was intrigued by the fact that some of the older jackets/tunics (“kofte”) are put together very much like the 14th century gowns found in the Norse cemetery on Greenland.

 

A spread from the dress section.

The band weaving patterns start from page 69 and there are lots of them. For maybe half of the bands there’s both a photo of the band and a grid pattern for weaving and a simple threading chart, for the rest there’s just the grid pattern and threading, but no photo. These Sami bands all have a white base of either cotton or wool and then a pickup pattern with additional warp in red and blue or green (rarely yellow) wool. One of the narrowest is a “Smal bånd for barn”, “a narrow ribbon for a child”, a noughts-and-crosses pattern on p. 95, that has 8 white and 14 red threads in the middle and two green on each side as borders. The widest bands are a lot wider than I’m used to, with up to 70 warp threads altogether.

The first batch of weaving patterns is so-called ‘old patterns’, originating from mid-19th century; some only state ‘1850ies’, some state both the origin of the pattern and when it was collected and from whom. On the whole stuff in this book often has a date of collection and the name of the weaver or family it came from, and then the area it comes from, e.g Kautokeino or Sor-Varanger. And as I mentioned before, the title on each mentions the use, so there’s “Belter fra Tana” (belts from Tana) and “Skallebånd for mann, Karasjok” (a winter shoe band for a man, Karasjok).

A spread with weaving patterns. Koftekant till kvinnekofte = edging for a woman’s jacket

 

The following part of the book is “Flettinger”, (open-end) braiding. I do not like at all the way the drawings are made, somehow they seem very messy and unnecessarily complicated. However, every braid comes with a clear photo, so if you are at all used to open-end braiding, recreating these shouldn’t be a problem. There are a few that differ from the Finnish tradition I’m familiar with, so I may well braid some samples, but I think I’ll go by the photos. Again, your mileage varies, and if you’ve learned your braiding from Speiser’s “Manual of Braiding”, this one will look familiar to you. None of these braids are terribly complicated, they only have 4-12 elements, i.e. a quite manageable amount.

The instruction page for braiding a standard round four-element braid, also known as whipcord. This style of graphing the process just doesn’t talk to for some reason, but the photo revealed that this is the bread-and-butter whipcord I’m very familiar with.

The last big chunk of the book belongs to “votter”, mittens, and in this case it means knitted mittens; it is colour knitting with 1-3 colours (a bit like e.g. Fair Isle), most mittens have a decorative band of colour between the rib and the thumb, otherwise they are white. If you knit, you’ll like to look at this part of the book. If you don’t knit, you should still take a good look because of the patterns on the mittens, they very much echo the ones in the band weaving sections. As the patterns for both weaving and knitting are gridded, it would be very easy to adapt them for e.g. bead weaving or cross stitch or mosaic or knit-and-purl patterning instead of colour knitting.

Knitted mittens. Many spreads only have the graph and a photo, but the pattern for the mittens seems to be about to same always and it is given a few times early in the section, like this one here.

In the end of the book there’s a short section about setting up a weaving warp with a rigid heddle band, but this part is a bit obscure, doesn’t open to me without really settling down and reading the Norwegian text – although I recognise the woollen wall hanging that’s the result, my grandmother from Häme in southern Finland has woven something very similar on two-shaft loom. The Finns used these wall hangings to cover walls and benches and beds, the Sami apparently used them to line their winter accommodations.

 

Then a word of warning which might partly explain bad reviews: this book is not a good beginner book, it is not a how-to!
You have to know the basics of each technique to really understand what the book is about, especially if you don’t read Norwegian. There’s a short section on setting up the rigid heddle weaving warp, but it is mostly text and just a few not-so-great drawings. The open-end braiding might be a bit easier even for a newcomer, but the knitting section won’t work if you haven’t knitted any mittens before. My practical experience of about 3 pairs of mittens combined with the ability to read the language is enough that I could knit any pair of mittens in this book, but I’d probably end up unraveling the work more than once before getting there. And I’d better keep my mouth shut of the very last category, weaving wall hangings, I’m not really qualified to say anything else than that I don’t have enough skill and knowledge for that.

To me, this book was well worth the money and I probably would have coughed up 10-20 euros more for it – but to me it is a lot more than just a bandweaving school: it is language practice, it is historical costuming, it is inspiration – and although it is nominally about Finnmark, the borders have never been that clear and what is true in Kautokeino is true in some parts of Finland as well. I have no Sami in my heritage, but I’m eager to know as much as possible about the crafts in my own country, this book fills a gap in that knowledge.

Is it worth it for you? If you are an avid inkle/rigid heddle/backstrap weaver and want to learn new patterns and get new insipiration, it probably is. Or if you have any interest in the Sami culture, then of course. If you are just vaguely interested in the patterns or if you are looking for a good beginner book, don’t get this one, there are cheaper and more suitable options around. As I probably mentioned before, I’m willing to help with the language. I won’t translate the whole book, but I can answer questions and maybe summarize a paragraph or two. I don’t have time for it just now, but a bit later I should be able to come up with a 20-30 word glossary to cover the basic things like colours, materials and band categories – that’ll about take care of all the weaving pattern pages, they are so much about graphics and so little about text.

 

Postscriptum

On postage price:
Well, it IS heavy, being a good-quality hardback. The book alone weighs 960 grams, which means that packing it into max. 1000 grams (=one kilogram) is tricky. It does count as a letter, which helps, but still:

[Rates as of August 1, 2012 by Posti for private customers:]

1000 g (=thinly packed) from Finland to the rest of EU: 8.20 / 6,80 euros (priority/economy)
2000 g (=well packaged) from Finland to the rest of EU: 15.00 / 13.00 euros.

1000 g from Finland to the rest of the world: 19.00 / 8.50 euros
2000 g from Finland to the rest of the world: 34.00 / 17.00 euros

And that really is *euros*, not USD. I agree that our postages are high, and I think the Swedish and Norwegian ones are comparable; considering this the total of 42.10 euros for the boos was very reasonable. (Even if I sent the book as domestic mail here, the properly packaged 2 kg version would cost at least 7 euros to post.)

 

Where to get the book

If you live in Sweden, Denmark, Norway or Finland, you can get it via Adlibris of your own country:

Samisk husflid on Adlibris Sweden (in Swedish): http://www.adlibris.com/se/product.aspx?isbn=8252933645
Samisk husflid on Adlibris Norge (in Norwegian): http://www.adlibris.com/no/product.aspx?isbn=8252933645
Samish husflid on Adlibris Denmark (in Danish): http://www.adlibris.com/dk/product.aspx?isbn=8252933645
Samisk husflid on Adlibris Finland (in Finnish):  http://www.adlibris.com/fi/product.aspx?isbn=8252933645 

Unfortunately it seems that  all of these only deliver within their own country, even though all books ship from their logistics centre near Stockholm in Sweden.

I’m looking for sources outside of Scandinavia, this far with meagre success…

Where to get the tools

Once upon a time I tried to get a bone Sámi rigid heddle and a shuttle, but couldn’t find anything in Rovaniemi or online in Finland, so I gave up. However, at Braids 2012 I learned about a Swedish/Sámi company called Stoorstålka that make these tools in lightweight (laser cut?) plastic. It may look and sound less traditional, but their rigid heddles are lightweight and do not snag threads like wooden ones may do as new. Personally I think that tools can and should renew and in many ways bone was the medieval “plastic” that could be cut and molded.

I ordered two heddles and a gehpa, Sámi shuttle, from Stoorståla in the beginning of October and two days from the order they were in my mailbox! Not cheap, this batch cost me about 100 euros, but very lightweight and pleasing to the eye. So lightweight that I missed the red one while unpacking and had to go over the packaging for a second time to find it taped down in one of the folds!

I know that the Stoorstålka tools are fairly pricey. Having seen those for the first time at Braids, I think they are worth the investment because they are lightweight, functional, pretty and well finished. Another reason why I’m willing to pay the price is that Stoorstålka is owned by Sámi and makes things used by today’s Sámi. In a way I’m also looking forward to jolting other crafters out of the usual paths by showing off with a traditional Sámi warp on a modern bright red Sámi heddle!

One Comment

  1. Thanks for a very comprehensive and interesting review. The book can be ordered from http://www.haugenbok.no — at least I think it can; I believe I just ordered one for 399 kroner or about $79 Canadian; don’t know how much the postage will be yet but they reserved 1000 kroner! I sincerely hope it won’t cost THAT much!

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