Swedish Unit: Keeping the Swenson Family Together

In this post, I told the story of Swen, Thilda, and their children joining The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Now, we’re going to back up a little bit, to the time shortly before they were introduced to the church…

(Quoting from my Great-Grandfather, Dan’s history)

In the summer of 1888, misfortune struck the Swenson family.  Swen lost his teaching job.  Swen, Thilda, and their 6 living children (at the time), had to move out of the schoolhouse and into a tiny 3 room cottage.

“So with income and and expenses so closely balanced, the family was in a very poor condition to meet the sudden misfortune that engulfed us when Father lost his teaching job.  To us children and to our parents as well, it seemed at the time as though nothing worse could have happened to us, but as the years went by we were made to realize that this change in fortune turned out to be a blessing, for as a result, it led to the humility necessary to accept the Mormon doctrine after a period of many sore trials.

So it was that one week we lived happily in the comfort in the schoolhouse and the next week we had no home and no income.

I was too young at the time to realize the enormity of the situation, but many times later, I have marveled at how our parents (especially Mother) unflinchingly stood up under the trials.  It would be futile for me to try to express in words the bitter experiences that Mother went through.  Only an abiding faith in God could have given her strength to carry the burdens.

Our immediate refuge was at the home of Mother’s mother.  She was married to a man named Wiederkrantz, and while they had but a small house, they took care of us until we found a place to rent in a section of Osby parish named Hasslaröd, where we lived until we emigrated from Sweden to Zion.

 

While at Hasslaröd, our situation became most critical, but eventually it began to slowly improve.  When things got so bad that we had nothing to eat, the local authorities felt impelled to step up and see what could be done by way of assistance.  There was no poorhouse in the locality, at least no place where children could be cared for, so the only solution in such cases seemed to be to have a sort of auction to dispose of or provide for the children.

This was done by inviting the well-to-do farmers and others in the district, (who might have work around their homes that children could do) to estimate how much the district or parish would be asked to pay, in addition to what work they could expect to get out of any member of a family thus auctioned off.  Thus, any child young or old would be assigned to the lowest bidder, the one who would ask the least contribution from the community.

Needless to say, this arrangement was little short of slavery, for usually parties concerned would see to it that they did not lose anything financially by the deal, but would be sure to make their wards earn their keep and be satisfied with any unfair and rough treatment accorded to them.

When I think back on those days and the condition of the poor people in that land and other lands, this “land of the free” is a veritable Heaven to poor and rich alike, and I realize how much we fall short in appreciation and thanksgiving for the innumerable blessings that we enjoy.

I guess the greatest terror that ever struck my heart was hearing some talk of such plans being in the making by those in authority in the community.  The thoughts of the family being disintegrated, losing parents and brothers and sisters, and going to live with strangers, brought such terror to my heart, that it cannot be described with words.

However, such a terrible happening was not to be, for our dear Mother declared that it should never happen.  She would never accept it.  She would find some way out.

So, calling to mind the many things she had learned to do, when in her girlhood years she lived with the Baron Åkerhjelm family (among other things, art weaving) she decided to see what she could do in that direction.  She managed to get hold of a few crowns, a very few, but enough to buy some yarn, white for the warp and white and some bright colors for the woof, and with Father’s help, set up a loom and started weaving.

Father was a great help, for he was very handy with all such things.  He not only made much of the equipment for the work (in fact a complete loom, a warp and other things needed for weaving) but he worked out some intricate patterns which made the finished articles (aprons) very attractive.

So, with this limited amount of yarn (soft cotton yarn, about as thick as No. 40 sewing thread), Mother wove some fancy aprons.

There was only enough length of warp in this first setting-up to make six aprons, each about 32-34 inches long.  Then she sent my sister Marie (about 16 years old) out to try to sell them for one crown each.

One of the first places that Marie called at was the home of a well-to-do farmer (Trued Pehrson) close to where we lived.  Visiting at his home was a young lady named Bertha Hjorth, from the city of Malmö.

When she was shown the aprons, she exclaimed, “Where in the world did you get these?  Why they are beautiful!”  Marie explained, “My Mother made them.  She is trying to make a little money.  They are only one crown each.”

The fancy young lady said, “I will buy all six and tell your mother to make more of them.  They will sell like hotcakes in the city.”  When Marie brought home the news, it let in a ray of sunshine into our poverty-stricken home.

This word of praise and encouragement ushered in a new era, a very busy era, in our lives, and changed the outlook of gloom and despair to hope and determination to overcome all obstacles.  Our humble home became a veritable hive of industry and effort, each member of the family being assigned certain parts to perform in the process of art weaving.

With six crowns received from the first lot of aprons sold, Mother bought more yarn and a longer stretch of warp was prepared and wound onto the rollers of the loom, and each thread of the warp was threaded through the mechanism devised to make the parting, through which the shuttle would pass in forming the various patterns in the finished product.

If I were recording these operations in the Swedish language, I could describe every step in setting up a loom and doing the weaving, using the right name of each part of the equipment used, and every move required from start to finish.

In fact, it is all so simple and clear to me that, through my experience in woodworking, I could construct and assemble each part of a loom, together with all the other equipment required, even to the comb and the metal-tipped shuttle, and get everything in readiness for not only plain weaving, but for art weaving.  To this day, I remember every piece of equipment used and every move required in the art of weaving as practiced in many of the Swedish homes three quarters of a century ago.

Father was of greatest help in forwarding this exacting and ingenuity-testing industry in our home.  Pooling and directing the ideas and suggestions of Mother and Marie he planed, on paper, intricate designs and pleasing color combinations for borders of the aprons that were shortly being produced by the dozens (yes by the gross) for distribution to delighted customers.

One design, that I so well remember and that appeared time and again on different lots as they came off the loom roller – underneath and in front of the treadles – pictured a row of dolls in blue, hand in hand across the bottom of the apron, as a border.  The light blue color of the dolls, set off with slender lines of pink at top and bottom, made a very fetching design.

The many different duties or jobs pertaining to the new venture were portioned out to the members of the family.  Mother operated the loom, which was the main job, but before long, this work fell to Marie in order that Mother could be free to do the selling, which took her away from home most of the time.  Marie became expert at weaving, though so young, only seventeen years old.

At the beginning of the weaving enterprise my Mother did the weaving, but she soon taught my sister, Marie, to operate the loom, and Marie became very adept at this work.  This arrangement left Mother free to do the selling, which, after all, was the most important, and by far the most trying and tiring part of it all.

My little hard-working and determined and self-sacrificing Mother would load up with as many aprons as she could carry and canvass, first the territory close to home.

Then she would travel by train to the different cities such as Kristianstad, Lund, Malmö, and all the towns in between, and offer the beautiful aprons at one crown each.

Most of the time she met with success, but oh, how she walked and walked hundreds of miles, as long as her strength would hold out, sparing no effort, ignoring personal comfort entirely, just to be able to return home and report nearly every time (with a smile and a thankful heart) “I sold them all.”  Then there was money to buy more yarn, to buy goods and clothes, and later on, to pay tithing.

No one knows today as well as I do, what a super-human effort my mother put forth continually to keep the family together and provide for our wants.  She was away in the city selling aprons, up and down the steep stairways in the city houses, less than a week before my brother, Ren, was to be born.”

 

This is a long story, but I love how it tells me about how amazing Thilda, especially, was.  She got creative and worked super hard to save her family from being torn apart.  And the whole family worked together to make this successful.

 

To bring this to life for my kids, we are combining it with another piece of Swen and Thilda’s life.  This comes before Swen lost his job…

“Mother sowed flax seeds in her garden and when the plants were matured she prepared the hemp (by separating the fibers from the husks) and spun it into linen thread; did the warping on a warp that Father had made; set up the loom (also of Father’s making) and wove countless yards of the finest napkin and table-cloth material with intricate and beautiful in-woven designs.”

So, to combine these to stories, I decided to teach the kids about flax and linen.

First, we watched a couple of videos about the process of flax being turned into linen.

 

I got some flax fibers from Etsy and I have been spinning it (using the drop spindle) into linen yarn.  With that yarn, we started weaving an apron.

 

 

Leave a Reply