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Danish knitwear designer reinterprets old flower paintings
The knitwear designer Signe Emdal has delved into the archives at the SMK and fallen in love with a 17th century book of flower paintings.

COPENHAGEN.- The designer Signe Emdal specialises in knitwear designs and has worked with knitted textiles for brands and designers such as Henrik Vibskov. Now, in her recent collaboration with the Statens Museum for Kunst, she has embarked on producing scarves that tie in with the museum’s current exhibition "Flowers and World Views".

To prepare for her design process Emdal spent much of the winter hibernating in the museum’s Study Room. Here she pored over the museum’s delicate, 350-year-old book of flower paintings known as the Gottorfer Codex, a work which is presented to the public for the first time ever at the SMK’s current exhibition. Speaking of her encounter with the old books of flower paintings, the designer says:

"I was fascinated to find that I could actually feel the artist behind the flower paintings. Once I saw the books I couldn’t tear myself away from them. I fell in love with them. Literally. My pulse was elevated as it studied them – and my heart felt twice its usual size."

Signe Emdal is particularly fond of working with nature in a specific historical context. But this also entails a special set of challenges.

Selecting specific flower motifs, choosing them over others, feels like a transgression. When I do so I feel a tremendous responsibility for presenting and channelling the artist behind the flower paintings in a proper, dignified manner. I need to know for myself that he would be OK with what I do. That is important to me.

Out of the 1.180 flower paintings in the books the designer has chosen to work with images showing e.g. irises, tulips, and snake’s head fritillaries. But it was important for the designer that she should not simply transfer the paintings onto textiles. Rather, her mission was to design scarves that convey the essence of the old flower books.

Signe Emdal’s most important tool is an old German knitting machine. The machine takes up most of the factory setting in Copenhagen that serves as the home of her small four-man company. Made in 1984, the machine has long since been overtaken by new and faster digital models. However, the designer – a firm believer in the credo that “quality takes time” – makes it a point of honour to safeguard analogue textile production.

With its 2.000 needles the machine can manufacture 1.6 metres of floral textiles in an hour. That is nothing compared to what the machines at large-scale Asian manufacturers can produce, and indeed Signe Emdal’s factory is among the last textile factories left in Denmark.

The recent collaboration with the SMK has caused the machine to work overtime. Now, reinvented floral motifs pour slowly, but steadily out of the machine in a wealth of spring-like hues.

The exhibition "Flowers and World Views" (22 March – 20 October 2013) presents a lavish succession of flower paintings through two centuries. The exhibition offers a sensuous tour through the many-faceted world of flowers while also digging further down to demonstrate that a flower is not just a flower.

The Gottorfer Codex from 1649-1659 is one of the highlights of the exhibition. It is a collection of flower paintings bound in a book format – a so-called florilegium – which originally served as documentation of the plants grown in the famous Baroque garden at Gottorf Castle. The florilegium fell into Danish hands as spoils of war in 1713. Over the course of the last five years the work has undergone extensive restoration by the museum’s conservators, allowing it to be presented with its colours as vibrant and splendid as when it was originally created.

Born in 1979. Educated at the Kolding School of Design; owner of the company Emdal Colorknit since 2007. Emdal specialises in knitted textiles and has worked with knitwear designs for e.g. Henrik Vibskov.

The scarves in the ’SMK FLOWER SCARF’ series are all handmade and manufactured at Signe Emdals own textile factory. The fabric is made out of merino wool and Egyptian cotton.

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