Pelle’s Back to Back Wool Odyssey

Some you might remember me posting about a wee children’s picture book called Pelle’s New Suit last year.  Our family has read that story many, many times since then and in honour of Wovember, that special month of wool appreciation, I think it is time to revisit dear old Pelle.

IMG_0413Pelle’s New Suit tells the story of a small boy, an outgrown suit and the undertaking of a textile odyssey from sheep’s back, through all the stages of fibre processing to a brand new suit. It was written by the celebrated Swedish children’s author, Elsa Beskow in 1912. 

IMG_0405Luckily, Pelle has a pet sheep to help him on his journey, a lamb that has grown into its first fleece.  We can see him here shearing his sheep with hand shears.  I am guessing the sheep is a Swedish Finewool Sheep (Svenskt finullsfår).  Of Finnish origin, this breed features short tails, polled ewes and rams and very pretty faces.

IMG_0406Pelle takes the fleece to his grandmother and in exchange for weeding her carrots, she cards the fleece with hand carders.  You can see the basketful of lofty, fat rolags in this next illustration.

IMG_0407Elsa had studied art education at the Tekniska Skolan, an Arts, Crafts and Design college in Stockholm and her knowledge of textile production is evident in the small details of her illustrations.

IMG_0408Pelle’s other grandmother spins the rolags into yarn whilst he tends her cows. Her wheel is typical of the Scandinavian style: three legged, sloping bench, double drive, bobbin led and a narrow rimmed drive wheel.  In front of the maidens, you can see an upright and sidebar where a distaff could be placed, presumably for spinning flax.

IMG_0409Pelle now dyes the yarn in a simmering pot with a sack of blue dye he bought at the store. You can see the hanks drying on the line behind him.  I think it is likely that this would be synthetic indigo.  Synthetic indigo had been developed in Germany in the late nineteenth century and by the end of the first decade of the new century had largely replaced the Indian indigo industry.

IMG_0410Pelle’s mother then weaves the blue yarn into cloth on her floor loom whilst Pelle’s feeds and cares for his baby sister.  Again, Beskow has included many loom details in this illustration.  You can see the foot treadles, the heddle frame, the shuttle, the back beam holding the warp threads and the cloth roll take up.

IMG_0411Pelle now has a bolt of fine cloth to take to the tailor who makes the handsome little suit we met earlier.

IMG_0412One of the things I enjoy most about this story, is the depiction of the range of skills involved in the journey from fleece to garment.

Pelle doesn’t have all of these skills.  Instead he exchanges his labour, for the skilled labour of others.  Whilst this model of exchange will never satisfy the bank or pay the electricity bill, it does provide a model for micro exchange which can potentially provide a more valuable recompense for artisinal skills than a monetary amount determined by mass production.

Pelle’s New Suit maybe the sweetest manifesto that ever featured a small boy and his sheep.

13. November 2013 by Rebecca
Categories: look | Tags: , , | 12 comments

Comments (12)

  1. This is just lovely: the story, the pictures, your remarks

  2. What a beautiful, fascinating book! Thanks for including more information about it.

  3. What a wonderful book – both story and illustration! Thank you for sharing this.

  4. What a delightful story. The illustrations are wonderful, I love all the little details.

  5. that’s a beautiful story, and such gorgeous illustrations – a little gem 🙂

  6. dear rebecca,

    i’ve loved this book for many many years, LOVE elsa beskow (as have my children), but never have i seen it in this light, the incredible way you’ve explained and enlightened us with your knowledge. i would say i love it, but you show us why. it is always such a pleasure to visit with you.

    p.s. your bag went to my favorite coffee shop yesterday, i think it’s very happy here.

  7. Oh, I loved Pelle as a little girl. My mum used to read it to me all the time. I recently bought and gave it to a little girl for her birthday, and hope it’ll be as special to her as it was for me. Thanks for this lovely post!

  8. Lovely story!
    We like to read “Charlie needs a cloak” on a similar theme, only he has a whole herd of sheep!

  9. So nice to read your writing about this book. Me my children and all kids in Sweden since the last 80 – 90 years have grown up with Elsa Beskov books. And this one was my favourite!

  10. How lovely that this process is documented in such a beautiful and thoughtful way. I really enjoyed your post, interesting and insightful!

  11. I am so thrilled to see you writing about my favourite children’s book of all! I love how empowered Pelle, the boy in the story, becomes throughout the book. I love reading it to my children in the hope they see and feel the genuine worthiness and usefulness of every person in the story.
    Thank you so much for highlighting the details in the illustrations.

  12. Thank you for sharing this story! The illustrations are marvelously detailed and beautiful. I can’t wait to share this with my children. My husband is a chiropractor and we have been exchanging skills for years and years, it’s a wonderful option for families who can’t spend actual dollars on care….it’s worth asking if a professional is willing to do this!

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