Edna Martin - Swedish Textile Designer

As the VE Team textile officiando, I thought I would write a bit about one of my very favourite designers, who you may not have heard of.

Let me introduce you to Edna Martin (1908-2003) . Martin was one of the leading designers and a dedicated reformer of Swedish textile arts in the mid-twentieth century. She was also Director of Svensk Hemslöjd between 1945 and 1951, Artistic Director of Handarbetes Vänner from 1951 to 1977 and senior professor of art at the Royal College of Art from 1957 to 1969.

Specialising in weaving and embroidery, her designs were colourful, graphic and wonderful. Often very large in scale, her weaving embraced  modernist design while showing respect to traditional techniques and traditions, some of which date back to the middle ages. She is probably most well-known for her wonderful cushion designs which can be found in the collections of the  V&A Museum and the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum to name just a couple. Martin used brilliant colours and patterns which really do epitomise Scandinavian design from 40s to the 60s. Martin believed that traditional craft could work in harmony with industrial production rather than trying to compete with it and many textile artists, led by Martin, found a way to counterbalance the starkness of Modernism.

In Scandinavia, textiles had always traditionally been a way for women to express themselves creatively and keep crafts alive. The Nordic countries were relatively late to embrace industrialisation compared the rest of Europe and so this resulted in many of the craft practices being preserved far longer. One of the reasons why Martin was so successful at a time when Modernism was in vogue was because she understood how 'traditional' textiles would work with modern styles and in modern architectural settings.  She was commissioned to make work for many public spaces including the United Nations Building in New York.  The brilliant colours and soft materials that she used would bring a warmth to the airy spaces typified by modern buildings.

In July 1959, the American magazine “House Beautiful” ran a feature entitled “The Scandinavian Look in US Homes.” Inside was a two-page colour spread which gave several Swedish needlework patterns.  Four of them were designed by Edna Martin. At that time Martin was Manager and Artistic Director of the Association of the Friends of Textile Art/Handicrafts in Sweden, and her job included designing all kinds of textile products to be woven or embroidered and then sold.

Her designs have now found a revived following  with the resurgence in interest in hand crafting and also in Scandinavian crafts and textiles as a whole.  In particular her designs lend themselves brilliantly to projects that suit modern interiors. Their graphic qualities make them a perfect compliment to the Mid-century Modern style. Using skills that are now enjoying popularity again such as embroidery and applique, these are a great inspiration to craftspeople and designers.

Textiles made by Martin herself are now extremely sought after, especially rugs, and some examples can easily fetch tens of thousands of pounds in sales and auctions. Her rugs are also graphic but soft like this beautiful  'Vintergarten' rug from 1949. This recently fetched over £24,000 in an auction in Stockholm.

In 2014, Boras Museum in Sweden published 'Borderier Från 50-och 60-Talen' which contains fantastic images and instructions for creating your own Edna Martin masterpiece (in Swedish but you can still follow the patterns). It's also an excellent reference guide to a great textile designer.


Image from 1959 House Beautiful magazine.

Image from 1959 House Beautiful magazine.

1949 Vintergarten Rug sold recently for £24,000.

1956 Rug by Edna Martin approximately $20,000

1956 Rug by Edna Martin approximately $20,000



Woo Gilchrist