Patterns from Design Gunnar P have made their mark on many a Norwegian house and cottage, although few are not aware of the origins of these patterns. Many of these patterns found their way abroad, too, particularly their many sets of folk art-inspired pillowcases, wall hangings and bell pulls in straight gobelin stitches and woolen yarn.
During the early years, Gunnar Pedersen sold embroideries under different brand names, but was most known for the brands Laila and St. Georg. Here at Norsk Trikotasjemuseum (The Norwegian Knitting Industry Museum), we have preserved a lot of these early patterns for sets of decorative kitchen towels, runners, doilies and tablecloths, as well as other patterns from Design Gunnar P.
Decorative Arts vs. amateur crafts
In the 1930s, functionalist architecture and design had reached Norway, and key members of Foreningen Brukskunst (Association for Decorative Arts, founded 1918), Jakob Tostrup Prytz and Thor Bendz Kielland, worked through the media and industrial mass-production to argue for the adoption of this new, modern style. In 1932, Kielland targeted the women’s weeklies, and this is where his path indirectly crosses that of Gunnar Pedersen, as a representative for the pattern makers for the weekly magazines. Kielland claimed that the magazines had good intentions, but they nevertheless continued to ruin the Norwegian people’s sense of taste and quality through their hobby- and pattern pages. They distributed materials that were, in most cases, of such poor artistic quality that the distributors ought to be jailed for allowing it to be published, he claimed. Kielland was not one to mince words, and characterized the pattern pages of the weeklies as a taste-ruining ‘poison’ that invaded every tenth Norwegian home.
Fighting the Dragon
In 1932, Kielland arranged an exhibition and a campaign under the slogan “Kampen mot dragen” (Fighting the Dragon), in cooperation with the newspaper Aftenposten and Kunstindustrimuseet (Museum of Decorative Arts and Design) in Oslo. Here, they displayed both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ pattern examples for the ‘education’ of the audience. After the exhibition, the Norwegian weeklies Hjemmet and Allers Familie-Journal announced competitions to bring forth new patterns, as did Gunnar Pedersen A/S. The year after, Aftenposten announced the great success of his St. Georg-competition – named after one of Pedersens brand names, which featured precisely, a dragon. The results of the competition were prize submissions containing simple shapes, stylized figures and geometrical figures. These were sold through Pedersen’s company, but according to his son, Gunnar Christian, the modern patterns sold rather poorly.
The characteristic Norwegian home
The tensions between the Norwegian Association of Decorative Arts (Foreningen Brukskunst) and an embroidery company such as Gunnar Pedersen A/S are multi-layered. For the former, what became most important was establishing a modern design, and following current ideas about discarding old styles in favour of the new – a style based on mechanical and ‘rational’ production. Gunnar Pedersen A/S was – as the Association of Decorative Arts had been – interested in creating a distinct Norwegian style, but emphasized that this should be firmly rooted in Norwegian traditions in pattern design. Working to preserve these traditions was even embedded in the company preamble.
When Gunnar Christian took over the company in the 1960s, some people urged him to follow the Danes stylistically, as the detailed cross stitch-embroideries of Clara Wæver/Eva Rosenstand were very popular. Pedersen, however, wanted to create a Norwegian embroidery style, one that appealed to ordinary women. It could be modern, but not to the extent that the customers would not accept the patterns. In 1971, Pedersen stated – in an interview with the newspaper Nationen – that the company aimed at following the stylistic characteristics of the Norwegian home.
Folk Art Inspiration
In hindsight, perhaps the most prominent heritage from Design Gunnar P are the countless patterns for wall hangings or “åkle”, pillowcases and bell pulls, worked in straight gobelin stitches or «klostersøm» on canvas with woolen yarn. Pedersen Jr. mentions the abundance of pine furniture and wooden wall paneling in Norwegian houses at the time, as a natural frame of reference for the creation of these traditionally inspired patterns. Patterns named after Norwegian towns with a ring of tradition to them, such as “Skjåk” and “Gudvangen” would go on to become customer favourites.
«Klostersøm» is worked in straight gobelin stitches, that is, in horizontal rows of stitches of equal length, that are repeated over a certain number of canvas threads to produce rectangular, star-shaped and «staircase» patterns. This simple stitch is also known as «klostersøm» in Norwegian. Partly due to their simplicity, they were used extensively in the company’s production of patterns for wall hangings, bell pulls and pillow covers. In the 1970s, Pedersen’s designers started using a variation of this that they called ‘billedsøm’ (‘picture seam’, similar to satin stitch worked on canvas), using gobelin stitches of unequal length. This allowed the pattern designers to be far more leeway when creating patterns.
‘Surrealism’ and Designers’ Rights
But Gunnar Pedersen A/S produced far more than wall hangings and bell pulls in woolen, traditional patterns – they did aim at following ebbs and flows of textile and craft fashion. In the newspaper Arbeiderbladet, March 4th 1970, the head of the design department, Laila Simonsen, talked about the success of the «surreal» patterns they had released the previous fall.
–There has been a revolutionary change in people’s attitude to embroidery design these past few years. (…) Color combinations that would have been tabo some time ago, are quite normal today, she said, and mentioned that composing patterns solely in green/blue og red/orange would be inconceivable only a few years earlier. She went on to mention that her department would now deliver 300 complete patterns to the sales department each year. In 1970, they also reached another milestone – from then onwards, the designers had landed an agreement that ensured that the designer’s name would appear on the pattern along with the brand name.
Another example of how Design Gunnar P adapted to changing times, was the release of what was called Freestyle embroideries in the 1980s, using new kinds of knitting yarn to sew patterns on plastic mesh. In the end, this kind of embroidery proved hard to deliver materials for, as the new ‘fashion’ knitting yarns changed almost by the season.