swedish textile artist
Brite Ålin (1934-2014) grew up watching her mother weave rugs on a
home loom and helping her father in his tailor shop in the city of Borås,
a center for the textile industry in south-central Sweden. The youngest
of three children, she took her first weaving class at the age of twenty.
After marrying and moving to Long Island, New York, in the early sixties,
she no longer had access to a loom and didn’t resume weaving until her
late thirties, when she and her family lived for several years in the Swedish
port city of Göteborg. While there, she began to experiment with open
weave designs on a floor loom in a local vävstuga (weaving cottage).
In Brite’s early works, circular shapes woven from cotton rag strips alternate with expanses of exposed warp to create large free-flowing wall hangings. The colorful Fireworks (1973) and more muted, earthen-toned Cosmos (1974) are examples of her interest in using warp and open space as an integral design element in her weavings. While living in Göteborg she also took a tapestry weaving course and wove Ship (1974), her first work using wool yarns. After another hiatus in her weaving while again living on Long Island for a few years, she resumed weaving freeform wall hangings during a second extended stay in Sweden in the late seventies and early eighties. Oasis (1979) and Cluster (1980) reveal her continued interest in exploring the interplay of forms within her weavings, and her growing preference for shapes and shades inspired by the natural world. These and other wall hangings were hung from wooden rods, either with woven strips or with the braided upper warp threaded through holes in the rods. The lower warp was gathered into bunches and tied into knots, or threaded through wooden balls, and left to dangle toward the floor.
In the early eighties, Brite increasingly began to weave with wool yarns and to transition from open weave designs to more representational images within a confined frame. She wove Cypress Tree (1982) on a homemade tapestry loom on Long Island. A few years later she wove the tapestry Gull (1985) while living for three years in an inherited cottage on the Swedish west coast, where gulls nested on rocky islets along a bay where she took daily walks. While living in Sweden, she also took a class in dyeing wools with local plants and started to dye and spin her own yarns. As in her earlier works, in her tapestries she strove for a “feeling of movement,” both in the intrinsic design of the weaving and in the combination of colors, textures, and weave techniques.
Over the years, Brite continued to take inspiration from Sweden’s natural landscape and weaving traditions. Yet by the late eighties, she had settled for good in the United States, where her grown daughters lived. In another evolution in her artistic development, she began to weave a series of larger works on floor and tapestry looms that she imported from Sweden. Landscape (1989) was woven from wool from Swedish Gotland sheep and uses weft loops made with variously sized dowels to create variations in texture. Works such as the eight-by-five-foot Lincoln Fleece Rug (1991) and Fleece Rug I (1991) were woven with unspun tufts of mostly gray, black, and brown fleece and were intended to either hang from the wall or be used as rugs. Their designs originated as small pencil sketches two to three years before the actual weaving process began. Fleeces were then gradually carded and spun, or used unspun, to achieve the desired textures for the final weaving. In these works, Brite sought, as she described it, to use subtle variations in tone and texture to create interest and flow within a mostly monotone scale.
Alongside these larger works, Brite also wove smaller works featuring abstract designs in both cotton rag and wool yarns. These works include the tapestry Waterfall (1987), Fleece Arrow (1992), and Stripes (1992). Some of these were woven during annual visits to the Swedish cottage, where she had a smaller floor loom and a portable tapestry loom. Over the years, she also produced tablecloths, runners, shawls, and bags, many inspired by Scandinavian weave techniques and designs. She continued to expand her creative vision and knowledge of weave, spin, and dye techniques through coursework, and amassed a sizable collection of weaving books in both Swedish and English. Weaving connected her to her home country, as well as to a growing community of handweavers and spinners in the United States. She was an active member of the Paumanok Weavers Guild and the Spinning Study Group of Long Island. Her earlier work was exhibited at the Church of Sweden in New York City in 1982 and Winter Memories at the Urban Textures Juried Exhibit at the American Craft Museum in 1998.
In a final evolution in her creative style, in the late nineties Brite focused on smaller and more refined tapestries that emphasized irregular shapes woven from cream, brown, and lightly colored cotton and wool yarns of various texture and thickness. The patterns created by the bare tree branches that inspired Winter Memories (1997) and the delicately hued trail of receding ice floes in Ice Wake (2000) represent this final phase of her work.
The wall hangings and tapestries on the following pages are intended to display the range of Brite’s experimentation with varied weave techniques, materials, and designs across three decades of work, and her creative vision as a textile artist.