Märts Måås-Fjetterström

Märta Måås-Fjetterström founded the studio that bears her name in 1919. Her sketches were – and still are – interpreted and crafted into hand-woven masterpieces by the skilled artisan weavers.


Märta Fjetterström was born 1873 in the small town of Kimstad in Östergötland, Sweden and grew up in a large family. Her father was a vicar and her mother was musical, cheerful and loved the flowers she cultivated in the vicarage’s garden. When Märta Fjetterström was 14 years old, the family moved to Vadstena and three years later she left home to study art and train as an illustrator and drawing teacher at the School of Industrial Arts in Stockholm.

When she had graduated and was ready to begin her career she adopted the name Märta Måås-Fjetterström. After a brief stint as a teacher, she was commissioned by Georg Karlin, founder of the Lund Museum of Cultural History (Kulturen) to paint her first textile sketches, so-called cartoons. To supervise the weaving of the gobeläng flat weaves, most of which had mythological fairy tale motifs, she moved to Lund.

After some years in the weaving studio at Kulturen, she suddenly resigned and was recruited to the Malmöhus County Handicraft Association as its first director when it opened in 1905. Four years later, in the Association’s section of the 1909 Stockholm Exhibition, she exhibited a large tapestry, Staffan Stalledräng, which bore no relation to the Scanian pattern tradition, and was promptly fired.

Shortly thereafter Märta Måås moved to Vittsjö in the beautiful Scanian countryside where she, in collaboration with Lilli Zickerman of the artisan collective Zickermännerna, directed a new weaving school. Finally she had the freedom to design her own patterns and began to develop qualities and techniques suitable for artistically produced Swedish rugs. She settled in quickly and was greatly inspired by the glorious countryside with its lakes and woods. All the rugs and tapestries were given titles and signed “MMF”.

Nature, old Scanian textiles and the Oriental knotted rugs she saw as a student at the 1897 Stockholm Exhibition, were her main sources of inspiration. At the 1914 Baltic Exhibition she exhibited several rugs and fabrics, including the knotted pile rug Hjorthagen, which was acquired by the engineer Ludvig Nobel for his new hotel Skånegården in Båstad. Nobel commissioned several rugs and textiles for his hotel, and would eventually convince Märta Måås-Fjetterström to move to Båstad and open her own weaving studio.

A studio of her own
In 1919, at the age of 46, she had her own company and a weaving studio which would come to employ over 20 professional weavers. The first women she hired were her former students from the Vittsjö weaving school.

They were soon joined by more weavers who became proud working women in the studio. They learned to interpret the many watercolour sketches and patterns Märta Måås-Fjetterström painted for knotted pile and rölakan flat weave rugs, for wall hangings and tapestries. These works were exhibited at the World’s Fairs and at the 1930 Stockholm Exhibition, where Sweden was introduced to modernism.

Internationally the Scandinavian style was called Swedish Grace and would later develop and become known as Swedish Modern. Märta Måås-Fjetterström’s textile art was constantly evolving, from detailed tapestries with pictorial motifs, to patterns of flowering gardens with tall trees, arranged in strict compositions veering towards abstraction. Her rugs and tapestries presented at the 1934 Liljevalchs Exhibition received overwhelmingly positive reviews.

Märta Måås-Fjetterström’s late works are characterised by paired-down compositions with precisely balanced simple lines and squares. She had her finger on the pulse and interpreted the times in her own way. She wrote: “The connection between technique and form must never be broken”. In the mid-1930s when monochrome and unpatterned was the height of fashion, she broke up the plain surface with architectural relief patterns, which charmed the critics who called her Sweden’s greatest textile artist of all time.

Her summers in Båstad were filled with work and customers who ordered rugs from the weaving studio on the sea in the fashionable seaside resort where high society and royalty congregated to play tennis and socialise. However, Märta Måås-Fjetterström didn’t settle down to a quiet life. When the summers were over she travelled the world exhibiting her rugs and wall hangings at major art and industrial exhibitions in Paris, London, New York and Chicago. Many of her works were acquired by leading museums and art collections. She also made study trips and met friends in Italy, France and England. In collaboration with Carl Malmsten, Märta Måås executed an interior design commission for the new Waldorf Astoria in New York and in 1928 composed several knotted pile rugs for the first class parlour of the Swedish American Line’s M/S Kungsholm. Märta Måås designed rugs for royal palaces, churches and companies and her painted designs were interpreted by the eminent art weavers in the weaving studio. She compared her work to music that withstands repeated listening. She was the composer, the weavers were the musicians and the people who trod the rugs were the listeners.

The last years
When she was at her busiest, life took an unexpected turn. Towards the end of 1940 she wrote to her friend Carl Malmsten: “But the road is long and instead of decreasing, the projects and sketches in my drawer accumulate, as if waiting to be realised. Before you can finish, life is over. I wish I could continue on another planet.” Märta Måås-Fjetterström died in 1941 due to complications from surgery, only 67 years old. On her work table in the studio in Båstad lay the sketch for an antependium that would never be woven.

The text on the antependium reads: “Be of good cheer” – an appropriate salutation to posterity that was tasked with administering the almost 700 patterns for rugs and fabrics that Märta Måås-Fjetterström created, complete with working drawings and yarn samples. She also left a yarn storage full of specially coloured yarns and, not least, an excellent team of professional weavers.

A new beginning
Neither Märta Måås-Fjetterström nor her siblings had any children. Her two surviving siblings closed the studio in 1941 and wanted to sell the sketch collection. Her friend and colleague Carl Malmsten stepped in to keep the unique collection in Sweden and the studio in Båstad. He explained that a Märta Måås rug had to be woven by the art weavers who had learned to interpret the sketches from their senior colleagues in the studio, who, in turn, had collaborated with Märta Måås-Fjetterström.

Carl Malmsten, King Gustav V of Sweden, Crown Prince Gustaf Adolf and the director of the Nationalmuseum Stockholm, Erik Wettergren, among others, set up a limited company and saved the collection and the studio. In 1942, the studio re-opened, now named Märta Måås-Fjetterström, Verkstaden för svenska mattor och vävnader AB. The signature that is woven into every rug from 1942 onwards reads “AB MMF”.

Barbro Nilsson was employed as the new artistic director and after a year of uncertainty the art weavers returned to work. In time they would have many more patterns to learn and continue to pass on the knowledge to new generations of weavers.