Finnish Craft & Design

Marthas at the fair: history of women's equality and independence

News  04.10.2017

This year the themes of the Finnish Craft & Design Fair highlight domestic production, small businesses and the centenary of Finland’s independence. Finnish women, who achieved independence reasonably early on, from a global perspective, have had a remarkable role in the development and shaping of society into what it is today. The Martha organisation, a long-time exhibitor at the fair, has a strong link to the history of women’s independence and many of the fair’s themes. Also, craft skills have had a significant role in women’s independence and the development of equality.

The Marthas’ message to 100-year-old independent Finland

Spreading of skills has always been at the core of the Martha activities and the organisation’s message on the centenary of Finland’s independence highlights doing things together and sharing one’s skills.

“The Martha organisation’s gift to the 100-year-old Finland is the sharing of skills to the next generation. The Martha activities are based on skills and a strong awareness of traditions, but our organisation also keeps up with the modern world and is constantly evolving,” says Executive Director Marianne Heikkilä of the Martha Association.

At the Marthas’ stand you will learn about the history of women’s equality and independence

The Martha activities are linked to the theme of small-scale entrepreneurship in a surprising way. In the early 1900s, Finns were still partly self-sufficient and families did not spend much money – women often had none. The Martha organisation’s opinion was that women should also have their own money and one way to achieve this was to teach women a new trade, in this case raising chickens. Model hen houses were built in the areas of local Martha clubs, giving women a chance to learn about raising chickens. The raising of chickens and selling of eggs did become one of the main sources of income for women.

During the early years, sewing nights for “country women and factory girls” were another important part of the organisation’s activities in towns and villages. The sewing nights included talks, singing and discussions based on the introductions. Introductions were not only given by advisors and those actively involved in the organisation but also by regular women. This is how the organisation implemented the idea of women learning from each other.

“The Marthas have supported women since the beginning. In current development cooperation projects, chickens still have the same role as they once had in Finland. This year the Marthas’ stand will feature felted, real-looking chickens as a reminder of the organisation’s history,” Marianne Heikkilä says.

At the Marthas’ stand, visitors can also have their picture taken at a delightful photo wall, make nostalgic button spinners and buy a facsimile of Saimi Latonen’s book Pula-ajan ruokaohjeita (“Recipes for times of food shortage”) from 1946. In addition, visitors can sit down for a moment and take part in a sewing circle.

Sewing circles are back – disappearing skills are being learned together

This year the Martha organisation’s handicrafts activities focus on the Hetki on käsillä (“the moment is at hand”) sewing circles, in which fair visitors can also take part at the Marthas’ stand. Since the beginning of the year, local Martha clubs have organised old-style sewing circles. The events have given people an opportunity learn basic tasks such as darning, sewing buttons, shortening pants, knitting and crocheting. Marthas have also held sessions in schools where they have taught children basic skills, such as button sewing, and created button trees together with them. The underlying idea is to make sewing circles also visible in public spaces and therefore events have been held, for example, at libraries. At the fair, the Marthas’ sewing circles will of course be open to all visitors.
The organisation’s Kässämartta (“Handicrafts Martha”) activities also promote the joy of doing things together. For example, the handicrafts group launched in the Pirkanmaa region at the beginning of the year has brought together dozens of people interested in handicrafts and learning new skills. There are groups in different parts of the country and those who are interested can contact their local Marthas for more information. A group of like-minded people offers an easy way to learn and experience new things together.
Raising chickens and other sources of income: (in Finnish)
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