In October 1997, the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in London held the first exhibition of the works of famous artist Carl Larsson (1853–1919) and his wife, Karin, ever held outside of Sweden. The exhibit was entitled Carl and Karin Larsson: Creators of the Swedish Style. Lilla Hyttnäs, their extraordinary home in Sundborn, Dalarna, Sweden, was so integral to the Larsson’s legacy that the V&A exhibition contained five room sets, selected and transported with great care, composed of their original decor items and furnishings. The world may have been familiar with Carl’s paintings, particularly through the sales of early twentieth-century best-sellingbooks of his art, such as Ett Hem (A Home). But to all but the cognoscenti, Karin held a more ancillary role: keeper of an enviably cozy house, mother of eight flaxen-haired children, and collaborator in the Larssons’ idyllic lifestyle. The V&A’s decision to feature Karin’s tapestries and textiles, as well as her loom, cemented her role on an international level as a notable fiber artist.
Karin’s Work: Brush and Needle
Karin, although trained, did not seem to feel a passion to paint; in fact, in a letter to Carl she thanked him for their engagement, claiming it would end her obligation to paint. Pragmatic, thrifty, and with a trained eye, she channeled her creative spirit into textiles that warmed her home and dressed her family until her death in 1928.
She had an inauspicious start as needleworker. Her very decision to pursue rigorous formal higher education was not the norm for young bourgeois Swedish girls who trained to become skilled in domestic pursuits, such as sewing and stitchery. And, indeed, a close look at some of Karin’s work shows that she was unfettered by the concern to achieve technical prowess: her fulfilled desire was to express her vision through her craft.
Inspired by Karin, Pat created a knitted and embroidered bag. Photo by Matt Graves
Confidently garbed in signature romantic, flowing gowns created by her own hand, she herself presented an ageless figure that was not bound to a particular place or time. Her dresses were antithetical to the late-nineteenth century norm, which dictated that properly brought up Swedish ladies should be clothed in rigid, constricting clothing. But Karin’s distinctive wardrobe was eminently practical for a mother with small children living an active life in the country.
Karin loved creating tassels, pom-poms, and fringe, and she used these elements to embellish the pillows, walls, and ceilings in her home with equal measure. Her unique linen embroideries borrowed from the Leksand, Dalarna, tradition of red- or black-thread counted work on linen, but the designs are clearly her own. Table and bed covers at Lilla Hyttnäs feature stylized people, a geometric family tree, and simple pieces with luxuriant knotted edgings. Her exuberant gold sunflower wool embroidery daringly placed on the corners of a bright blue pillow has launched myriad copies.
Pom-pom detail on Pat’s bag. Photo by Matt Graves
Interested in learning more about Karin’s life? This article and the companion project can be found in the Spring 2021 issue of PieceWork.
Also, remember that if you are an active subscriber to PieceWork magazine, you have unlimited access to previous issues, including Spring 2021. See our help center for the step-by-step process on how to access them.
- Carl Larsson-gården, carllarsson.se/en/carl-and-karin
- Larsson, Carl. Ett hem [A Home]. Stockholm: Albert Bonniers Förlag, 1910.
- ---. De mina (My Loved Ones). Stockholm: Albert Bonniers Förlag, 1895.
- Snodin, Michael, and Elisabet Stavenow-Hidemark, eds. Carl and Karin Larsson: Creators of Swedish Style. London: V&A Publications, 1997.
- Thorell, Marge. Karin Bergöö Larsson and the Emergence of Swedish Design. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2018.
Pat Olski is the editor of PieceWork magazine.