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Marjatta Metsovaara and the world of interior textiles

Marjatta Metsovaara was one of the most productive and creative textile artists of all time and recognised internationally. She was known for being bold and rich in ideas using new materials. As an experimenter, she was creating different new invented wefts in many different colours and in material implementations unseen before. Suomen Matto Oy (Finnish Carpet Ltd) was founded in Urjalankylä, Finland by her father Santeri Metsovaara in 1932. As a little girl, she accompanied her father to Helsinki to choose the carpet designs of Elsa Kallio. This made a big impression on her, as she was drawing carpet designs before she was 3 years old. At 10 she was handling carpet orders smoothly on the phone, was an avid reader, and played the violin. She went to the girl’s school in Tampere and dreamed to become a ceramic artist. Her father as well as Arttu Brummer saw in her a talent in textile design and sent her to the Art and Crafts Academy (now Aalto University) in Helsinki. Erik Bruun, Yki Nummi, Timo Sarpaneva, Nanny Still and Maija Isola were classmates. Tapio Wirkkala and Dora Jung were among her teachers.

The design and production of high-quality interior textiles started when she graduated from the Helsinki Art Academy in 1949 and then started Vennas Oy with Helin Vennas and Senja Laine-Ylijoki in Helsinki. Metsovaara Oy was founded Urjalankylä in 1954 at the premises of her father’s carpet factory which she took over the year before. Operations at Metsovaara expanded every single year. The first orders came from Artek, Asko, and Funktio.

During the 1960s her textiles were also produced by several Finnish textile factories. Large interior design projects, hotel projects worldwide, domestic and foreign exhibitions and the awards received made Marjatta Metsovaara world famous.

In 1962 came a big turning point when she created a modern spinning and weaving mill in Sint-Niklaas, Belgium. This new factory was as good as a textile research centre could be and on par with the possibilities the textile artist and brilliant textile designer had.

With her diversified productions of interior textiles, Marjatta Metsovaara wanted to satisfy the needs and desires of as many consumers as possible. The dynamic artist was a businesswoman meeting always the demands of the time. This is best seen when following her development of furniture and curtain fabrics to agree with the requirements from the 1950s until the end of the 1960s.

The curtains designed by Marjatta Metsovaara were marketed in the context of appreciating traditional curtain designs but making it easy for consumers to buy curtains made of new fibres that were considered strange. The advantage of man-made fibres was reliability and easy maintenance. The fabrics were also wool-like in appearance and highly translucent which was an ideal complement to the large window surfaces of modern houses. The curtains were the most extensive and the most varied in colours in the existing market and embody the credo of the arts and crafts movements with the right design view for the buildings in the 1960s. Metsovaara textiles are complete works of arts unifying the different fields of design.

The average consumer knew Marjatta Metsovaara’s home interior textiles such as carpets, furniture fabrics, curtains and printed fabrics. These printed fabrics could be produced in large quantities and procurement became affordable. Woven table textiles in impressive colour choices with matching monochrome napkins were also easily available. All these textile products were made by Tampella Oy in Finland for Metsovaara Oy.

The fast-paced aesthetics of printed fabrics are strongly reminiscent of both the 60s art trends and the colourful printed fabrics of Marimekko and Vuokko. In the 1960s and 1970s, Metsovaara’s woven and printed fabrics were the reference in modern textile design. Reactive dyes on the famous Lappi-satin cloth she invented in collaboration with the engineers at Tampella were a revolution.

The numbers of patterns Marjatta Metsovaara made is difficult to estimate. In a newspaper interview, she said she was doing approximately a hundred models a year and had only the time to implement a fraction of her ideas and designs.

When Marjatta Metsovaara had her first solo exhibition in 1957, she woke up interested in anticipation of what would follow in the future, and she was always exceeding the bravest expectations. The production of interior textiles was constantly expanding and new domestic and foreign factories were joining as manufacturers.

The Helsinki Art Hall solo exhibitions in 1963, 1966 and 1969 (or mostly remembered as Expo 63, Expo 66, and Expo 69) accustomed visitors to the exhibitions and were organised adventure tours rich in colours, surprising materials, and varied surfaces where the abundant world of extensive production of interior textiles was introduced in a technically spectacular setting. These were the biggest private exhibitions ever in Finnish history.

On the other hand, Marjatta Metsovaara’s world in Belgium is not so much known in Finland, even though the products manufactured in Sint-Niklaas were the most advanced in the textile market and well represented in plenty of exhibitions. The fabrics designed and produced there are still the reference of today’s best standards and copied.

Marjatta Metsovaara’s success was partly based on her deep knowledge of fabrics. She designed and developed at her time fabrics that were weaves of best material construction, best strength and best flexibility. The fabric had to meet all the requirements for its intended use. The glorious appearance was always accompanied with absolute functionality and technical certainty which has always been Metsovaara’s business model. All outsourced fabrics were also developed by her and manufactured for her.

Colours were part of Marjatta Metsovaara’s designer image, and inseparable. Colour options for upholstery fabrics were matching each other and the same shade of orange could be repeated in the patterns of printed fabrics, fabric wallpapers and rugs. The same pattern could also repeat as a colour in different textiles. The creation of interior design entities was easy, even for a home decorator who was not familiar with the vast choice.

For Metsovaara’s interior textiles the characteristic colour scale is therefore impossible to describe because the textile artist thought no colour is ugly but the colour combination can be either good or bad. The colours favoured by the artist were exotic aniline red (fuchsia red) and green-green, which is greener than grass. She also liked ripe lemon yellow.

The audience never shied away from her novelties, be it the use of special materials for her special textiles or encouraging the use of Lappi cotton satin for her print collection. She was a true pioneer in woven fabrics and led the industrial breakthrough of woven interior fabrics in Finland. Her production is best known in the literature of the Finnish art industry (Juliana Balint and Erik Kruskopf). In Lesley Jackson’s book ‘The Sixties: Decade of Design Revolution’ Marjatta Metsovaara was mentioned as the reference in the production of colourful jacquard fabrics. Textile designer Jack Lenor Larsen in the US also had the highest mention on her in his books ‘Material Wealth’ and  ‘A Weaver’s Memoir’. We can easily say that Marjatta Metsovaara was the most interesting, inventive and innovative textile designer Finland ever had.

Back to history

Marjatta Metsovaara and the world of interior textiles

Marjatta Metsovaara was one of the most productive and creative textile artists of all time and recognised internationally. She was known for being bold and rich in ideas using new materials. As an experimenter, she was creating different new invented wefts in many different colours and in material implementations unseen before. Suomen Matto Oy (Finnish Carpet Ltd) was founded in Urjalankylä, Finland by her father Santeri Metsovaara in 1932. As a little girl, she accompanied her father to Helsinki to choose the carpet designs of Elsa Kallio. This made a big impression on her, as she was drawing carpet designs before she was 3 years old. At 10 she was handling carpet orders smoothly on the phone, was an avid reader, and played the violin. She went to the girl’s school in Tampere and dreamed to become a ceramic artist. Her father as well as Arttu Brummer saw in her a talent in textile design and sent her to the Art and Crafts Academy (now Aalto University) in Helsinki. Erik Bruun, Yki Nummi, Timo Sarpaneva, Nanny Still and Maija Isola were classmates. Tapio Wirkkala and Dora Jung were among her teachers.

The design and production of high-quality interior textiles started when she graduated from the Helsinki Art Academy in 1949 and then started Vennas Oy with Helin Vennas and Senja Laine-Ylijoki in Helsinki. Metsovaara Oy was founded Urjalankylä in 1954 at the premises of her father’s carpet factory which she took over the year before. Operations at Metsovaara expanded every single year. The first orders came from Artek, Asko, and Funktio.

During the 1960s her textiles were also produced by several Finnish textile factories. Large interior design projects, hotel projects worldwide, domestic and foreign exhibitions and the awards received made Marjatta Metsovaara world famous.

In 1962 came a big turning point when she created a modern spinning and weaving mill in Sint-Niklaas, Belgium. This new factory was as good as a textile research centre could be and on par with the possibilities the textile artist and brilliant textile designer had.

With her diversified productions of interior textiles, Marjatta Metsovaara wanted to satisfy the needs and desires of as many consumers as possible. The dynamic artist was a businesswoman meeting always the demands of the time. This is best seen when following her development of furniture and curtain fabrics to agree with the requirements from the 1950s until the end of the 1960s.

The curtains designed by Marjatta Metsovaara were marketed in the context of appreciating traditional curtain designs but making it easy for consumers to buy curtains made of new fibres that were considered strange. The advantage of man-made fibres was reliability and easy maintenance. The fabrics were also wool-like in appearance and highly translucent which was an ideal complement to the large window surfaces of modern houses. The curtains were the most extensive and the most varied in colours in the existing market and embody the credo of the arts and crafts movements with the right design view for the buildings in the 1960s. Metsovaara textiles are complete works of arts unifying the different fields of design.

The average consumer knew Marjatta Metsovaara’s home interior textiles such as carpets, furniture fabrics, curtains and printed fabrics. These printed fabrics could be produced in large quantities and procurement became affordable. Woven table textiles in impressive colour choices with matching monochrome napkins were also easily available. All these textile products were made by Tampella Oy in Finland for Metsovaara Oy.

The fast-paced aesthetics of printed fabrics are strongly reminiscent of both the 60s art trends and the colourful printed fabrics of Marimekko and Vuokko. In the 1960s and 1970s, Metsovaara’s woven and printed fabrics were the reference in modern textile design. Reactive dyes on the famous Lappi-satin cloth she invented in collaboration with the engineers at Tampella were a revolution.

The numbers of patterns Marjatta Metsovaara made is difficult to estimate. In a newspaper interview, she said she was doing approximately a hundred models a year and had only the time to implement a fraction of her ideas and designs.

When Marjatta Metsovaara had her first solo exhibition in 1957, she woke up interested in anticipation of what would follow in the future, and she was always exceeding the bravest expectations. The production of interior textiles was constantly expanding and new domestic and foreign factories were joining as manufacturers.

The Helsinki Art Hall solo exhibitions in 1963, 1966 and 1969 (or mostly remembered as Expo 63, Expo 66, and Expo 69) accustomed visitors to the exhibitions and were organised adventure tours rich in colours, surprising materials, and varied surfaces where the abundant world of extensive production of interior textiles was introduced in a technically spectacular setting. These were the biggest private exhibitions ever in Finnish history.

On the other hand, Marjatta Metsovaara’s world in Belgium is not so much known in Finland, even though the products manufactured in Sint-Niklaas were the most advanced in the textile market and well represented in plenty of exhibitions. The fabrics designed and produced there are still the reference of today’s best standards and copied.

Marjatta Metsovaara’s success was partly based on her deep knowledge of fabrics. She designed and developed at her time fabrics that were weaves of best material construction, best strength and best flexibility. The fabric had to meet all the requirements for its intended use. The glorious appearance was always accompanied with absolute functionality and technical certainty which has always been Metsovaara’s business model. All outsourced fabrics were also developed by her and manufactured for her.

Colours were part of Marjatta Metsovaara’s designer image, and inseparable. Colour options for upholstery fabrics were matching each other and the same shade of orange could be repeated in the patterns of printed fabrics, fabric wallpapers and rugs. The same pattern could also repeat as a colour in different textiles. The creation of interior design entities was easy, even for a home decorator who was not familiar with the vast choice.

For Metsovaara’s interior textiles the characteristic colour scale is therefore impossible to describe because the textile artist thought no colour is ugly but the colour combination can be either good or bad. The colours favoured by the artist were exotic aniline red (fuchsia red) and green-green, which is greener than grass. She also liked ripe lemon yellow.

The audience never shied away from her novelties, be it the use of special materials for her special textiles or encouraging the use of Lappi cotton satin for her print collection. She was a true pioneer in woven fabrics and led the industrial breakthrough of woven interior fabrics in Finland. Her production is best known in the literature of the Finnish art industry (Juliana Balint and Erik Kruskopf). In Lesley Jackson’s book ‘The Sixties: Decade of Design Revolution’ Marjatta Metsovaara was mentioned as the reference in the production of colourful jacquard fabrics. Textile designer Jack Lenor Larsen in the US also had the highest mention on her in his books ‘Material Wealth’ and  ‘A Weaver’s Memoir’. We can easily say that Marjatta Metsovaara was the most interesting, inventive and innovative textile designer Finland ever had.

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