I have just come back from a very special summer holiday. No, it wasn’t a luxury holiday to some exotic location, it was a trip back home to Finland. What makes it special was the fact that I have not been back home for five years, which is a pretty long time considering I used to go back 3-4 times a year.
It’s not that I haven’t wanted to go back, but I have been too ill with my M.E. (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) since 2007 to travel long distances. It was wonderful to finally be able go back home and see my family, friends and relatives. It was also great to notice that I really am gradually getting better (even if the progress feels way too slow a lot of the time) and able to do things I have not been able to do for a long time.
In addition to all the socialising, I did manage to squeeze various arty and crafty activities to my holiday. Hugh and I spent 5 days in Helsinki, the capital of Finland by the Baltic sea, enjoying the summery vibe of the city. The weather was great and we spent a lot of time sitting in parks and cafe terraces, watching the world go by.
The absolute highlight for me was an exhibition of art by Helene Schjerfbeck, one of my all time favourite artists. This year is the 150th anniversary of her birth, and the Ateneum art museum in Helsinki had put together a large exhibition of her work.
Although there were many good female artists painting at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th (the “Golden Age” of Finnish painting), at the time their work was was often overshadowed by the work by their male colleagues’ such as Albert Edelfelt and Akseli Gallen-Kallela. Despite this, Helene Schjerfbeck developed her own unique style, and these days her work sells for huge amounts of money at places like the Christie’s. She also suffered from poor health and fatigue, which often meant she could not paint as much as she wanted to, a feeling I can definitely identify with. I highly recommend this exhibition, if any of you just happen to be in Helsinki this autumn.
And if you are interested in Finnish/Scandinavian mid century design, particularly in glass and textiles, make sure to visit the Design museum which has an exhibition on about Finnish design 1947-1965.
The second half of the holiday was a more rural one, spent at my mum and dad’s summer cottage in Tammela, near the town of Forssa. There were boat trips across the lake to pick some wild blueberries (one of my favourite activities that I always miss here in the UK), barbeques and baking sausages and pan cakes by the camp fire in the evenings.
We also visited the wonderful craft fair “Hakkapeliittamarkkinat”. It’s a very popular local fair, which commemorates the 30-year war in the 17th century and the light cavelry men from Tammela who went away to fight for the King of Sweden Gustav Adolf (Finland was part of Sweden at the time).
In addition to the historical re-enactment, there were lots and lots of craftspeople selling their products like naturally dyed yarns, hand-woven blankets and tablecloths, pottery and woodwork, handmade soap and many other things.
I was particularly interested to see the stallholders who were doing spinning demonstrations or just spinning to pass the time between selling.
I found myself a new knitting basket made of birch bark (a very traditional material as we have a lot of birch trees) and a hand-woven linen table cloth and a linen towel. Hugh bought a couple of beautiful wooden bowls which, we think, are made of “visakoivu”, a sub-species of birch which has a particularly strong patterning in the wood.
Now I hear you say “never mind what you got up to during your summer holidays, enough of that, all we want to know is what were you knitting?” But I think this post is getting far too long already, I promise I will write about the holiday knitting in my next post.
Meanwhile, here are a few more photos of hand-made Finnish things…