Reflecting on Swedish Folk Art

Using a mangle board and roller to press linen.

By Foto: Norsk Folkemuseum, via Wikimedia Commons

We’ve recently acquired another small collection of mangle boards, and our research has led us to give thought to the hands that carved them.  When the nights were dark and the snow lay deep on the fields, the Swedish farmer had little outdoor work to do. The family would gather in the evening around the open hearth, but no one sat idle.  The women would weave and sew, and the master and his men  would bring out their pocket knives and planes to carve and decorate the everyday objects necessary to their rural lives.

With four and five month winters, these men could take their time adding their own interpretations of the decorative styles current in their districts.  They seemed to put extra efforts into the tools that their women would use in the manufacture and care of cloth – spinning wheels and looms, scutching knives, and of course mangle boards.

The mangelbräde was one half of a pair of tools, the other half being a roller or kavel.  Before the advent of the flat iron, linen would be wound around the roller which was then rolled back and forth over a table with the mangle board in order to smooth the cloth.  Every time the housewife used this most mundane object, she would be reminded of her husband’s patient devotion.

Sten Granlund explains better than we could the other purpose of the mangle board and roller when he says:

When a young man fell in love with a lass he set to work to sloyd [craft] a present for her.  If she accepted it, it was a sign that she was favourable to him, and then he could take stops for pressing his suit in real earnest.  The  twists and turns on the scutching-knife or mangling-board are, therefore, emblematic of the tortuous dreamland ways along which the lover’s thoughts wandered while he plied his knife, and the chips fell fast to the floor.

Take a look at our new mangle boards at our Swedish Folk Art page.  Our new collection includes an early Norwegian example with deep rococo carving, an apprentice’s board, and a very unusual one from Dalarna Province.