This is historical Norwegian bed clothing, long before sheets and duvets with down, feathers or synthetic fillings protected by covers in printed cotton fabrics were available. A rug of several sheepskins sewn together, the skin side covered with a woven fabric called Åkle. The word åkle stems from the norse word åklædi, which meant bed cover. The term åklædi appears in written sources during the 14th century.

Sheep skin fur with weaving. Produced in 1926 by Ole Lien Larsen in Tolga. Owned by Norsk Folkemuseum, photo under Creative commons license.

Sheep pelt bed clothingSheep fur with åkle from the county of Vest-Agder, probably between 1920 and 50. Photo by Anna Grostøl, in the collections of Norsk Folkemuseum. Creative commons license.
In 2016 I  applied for and received the Norwegian folk art grant.  I wished to create new textiles inspired by åkle patterns in the museums. There were not many museums with åkle on display, but I was so lucky to be admitted to the museum archives in Sverresborg, Helgeland museum and Selbu bygdemuseum. I was completely overwhelmed ty the variations in patterns, bindings and colors. 

Have a look at my previous blog post about my visit to Helgeland museum and more details about some of the textiles in this post.

Wrapped textile in the archive of Helgeland museum in Mosjøen
Archive at SverresborgStored textiles in Trøndelag folkemuseum at Sverresborg
Young people would get their own fur and åkle to take with them when they moved out of their childhood home. Sometimes they would sleep under the same åkle their entire life. On big farms the owners family had åkle with rich patterns, while the serving people had simple åkle with stripes only. In some parts of Norway furs and åkle were in use as bed clothing upto 1960.
Traditional Norwegian weavings Overshot pattern from Helgeland museum
Skilbragd Selbu bygdemuseumSkilbragd at Selbu bygdemuseum
Traditional Noprwegian weaving eaving VefsnTraditional Norwegian weaving from Vefsn, carefully mended with almost matching patches
The oldest åkle had linen warp, while newer ones had cotton warps. Many had homespun and plant-dyed, 1-thread weft. The looms were narrow in order to fint into crowded small farm houses. Therefore an åkle was alway woven in two identic length and sewn together to form a whole piece of textile with matching pattern.
Skilbragd SverresborgSkilbragd åkle with linen warp, Sverresborg
Åkle from Helgeland museum, used as as door mat.
Traditional Norwegian weaving detail

Detail – wear and tear

The åkle had a long life. When the fur was worn out, the åkle was taken off and sewn on the new fur. When the åkle was not pretty anymore and there appeared threadbare patches, the whole fur and åkle could be used in the horsewagon to shield the passengers from the cold. Or the åkle was taken off and used as a door mat, a horse blanket or under cargo in the horse drawn cart. at the very end it might be used for insulating the walls of the home.
Meticulous mendingMeticulous mending with almost matching patch
Coarse mending

Coarse and hasty meding

I became increasingly fascinated by the secondary pattern the marks of long use, wear and tear left upon the original weaving pattern. The randomly faded and abrased places made the textile even more beautiful in my eyes.
If you would like to know more about åkle and perhaps would like to weave one, take a look at this beautiful book by Anne-Grete Sandstad: Åklær – å kle ei seng, å veve et åkle. Åkletradisjonen i Sør-Trøndelag av Anne Grete Sandstad.

Some of the patterns and textiles I designed during the time I had the folk art grant, are now available as a booklet with weaving projects featuring pillows, throws and shawls. The English translation is on it’s way.