Porträttbild på Birgitta i vävsalen
Photo: Maja Carltoft

Birgitta Nordström wants to offer textiles that comfort during the worst of all tragedies


I met Birgitta Nordström in the weaving studio on Kristinelundsgatan the same week she was awarded the Iris Scholarship, an educational grant for women who are working to improve living conditions for other women. Birgitta’s art and research exemplify that description. Her funeral palls (textile casket covers) for infant coffins and her soft infant shrouds cannot restore life or erase a family’s trauma, but they offer a poignant gesture of caring for a little child now gone. These textiles are both shrouds, protective covers and closures.

Birgitta is not the only textile artist who works with funeral palls, but she may be alone in her unwavering commitment to the subject matter. The pall has been a common thread in her creative work for almost thirty years – ever since 1995, when she graduated from HDK-Valand with a master’s degree. Her interest in funeral palls was awakened while she was still a student, with inspiration from the textile art of the traditional burial rituals of ancient Egypt. People were embalmed to become mummies, wrapped in a large quantity of linen, and buried in sarcophagi. She was fascinated by the textiles’ meaning in this context and by the sense of care they conveyed.  

During this same period, one of Birgitta’s own relatives died, and she was struck by how certain parts of the funeral ritual were conducted with conspicuous carelessness – like the way the flowers were piled up next to the rubbish bins immediately after the ceremony. The experience sparked her first ideas about funeral palls – how they communicate through textile, companions to the mourning process and lasting visual and tactile reminders of it.

In preparation for her graduation exhibition, Birgitta created five palls, two of which were embroidered and three woven. 
“These palls opened up the world to me,” she recalls. “I started getting invited to show my work and take part in seminars.”

And the funeral palls from her graduation exhibition continued to open doors, as people who had seen Birgitta’s exhibitions contacted her to ask if they could use her covers in their own family funerals. 
“At first, this was an act of devotion, a free artistic endeavour, with no thought that my palls would ever be used. But other people changed that, and made me think again, because of course they should be used!” 

Birgitta worked for many years as a freelance artist, though funeral palls were never far from her mind, before returning to HDK-Valand in 2009 to be a lecturer in textile art. Sometime later, a doctor heard one of her lectures on the significance of tactile language in the grieving process, and from their conversation emerged an awareness of the need for much smaller casket covers. The doctor’s spontaneous reflections led Birgitta to pursue further study toward a licentiate degree (2013–2016) around the question: is there a need for a special blanket that maternity wards can give to parents who have lost a baby in childbirth?

“A pall is usually huge – about four metres of fabric. This was about making a much smaller blanket to give to parents whose babies have died, like a burial shroud. They’re not really for use in a funeral, but for wrapping around the dead baby and providing support through the trauma. Sometimes I think of these blankets as little vessels for the journey ahead.”  

Weaving with Others
After earning her licentiate degree, Birgitta continued her research, this time in a project from 2017 through 2019 in which she studied the need for infant shrouds on maternity wards.
“One of the participants in the study was a midwife who had changed jobs and begun working in the Gynaecology Clinic at Östra Hospital,” she says. “Thanks to her, the study expanded to cover gynaecological care as well. We realised there was a huge need for shrouds. They could be for a foetus that had been lost in the thirteenth week, and the industrially woven blankets we studied were too thick and had too much fabric for such little bodies.”

Birgitta decided at the same time to start a weaving research group to weave the very smallest blankets by hand. Each was unique and had its own design. The group was made up of ten people, students as well as co-workers, some of whom had been through the experience of losing a child. The work of this group, and the conversation that emerged through weaving together, became an artistic study in itself. The roles of lecturer, co-worker and student were dissolved in the group, and art was tangibly joined together with ethics in the act of weaving.
“It was a very special time,” Birgitta recalls. “You could just step away for a bit, weave some blankets and take part in a discussion of what it meant. The fact that two of the participants had personal experience of losing a baby became very important to all of us. They said these blankets were needed, and that gave us ground to stand on.” 

Närbild på filttyg och hand som pekar
Birgitta shows the stitching on an earlier blanket prototype.
Photo: Maja Carltoft

A New Phase of Weaving
The research project came to an end, but demand for small infant shrouds from Östra Hospital suggested that the need persists. Of the three hundred metres of fabric that were industrially woven for the project, only a little is left today, and the blankets will continue to be delivered to Östra Hospital until the fabric is gone. The blankets are never reused; instead, they are given to the parents and either accompany the child through cremation or are saved by parents as mementos.

In 2022, Birgitta was accepted into the doctoral programme to complete the work begun in her licentiate degree, and the two-year project got off to a fast start when she was contacted by Spädbarnsfonden (the Infant Foundation), an organisation for parents who have lost children. Spädbarnsfonden had taken note of her research on the need for small burial shrouds and wanted to collaborate to provide her with an opportunity to design a new blanket fabric and to put it into production on a lasting basis. The goal is for maternity care facilities throughout Sweden to be able to offer parents a burial shroud.

“During the Christmas holiday, I was promised access to a digital loom that I could use here in the weaving studio for a period of one month while the students’ were on academic break. The work started on 22 December with making some test weavings and constructing weaving files that would be compatible with industrial, digital production.”  

Birgitta had a limited amount of time, because a production meeting was scheduled for just a month later with Ludvig Svensson AB, a company that had expressed interest in supporting her research. The company, which is based in Kinna, typically works with solar screening for greenhouses and fabrics for commercial interiors.

“They offered me a chance to work freely with the factory’s standard yarns. It was a challenge to try to transform hard-twined woollen yarns that were designed for upholstery fabrics into a soft blanket. A so-called ‘double weave technique’ makes it possible. For the most part, it’s about making use of yarns that are going out of stock and would otherwise have been discarded, and about a smart way of using remnants from warps that are already set up so that no material goes to waste.” 

Detaljbild hand som rör vid tyg
Detail of woven fabric from previous production
Photo: Birgitta Nordström

The day she gave this interview, Birgitta received a delivery with the first bolt of finished blanket fabric from Ludvig Svensson. And later that same day she brought the fabric with her to Yalla Hjällbo, a work integration social enterprise in Angered where women from Syria work as seamstresses. Birgitta found Yalla Hjällbo through an article in Göteborgsposten, a local newspaper, and believes it’s very important for the manufacture of the blankets to create meaningful work throughout the chain of production. Because they are hand-sewn, each blanket is given a look of its own and invested with its own measure of care. The blankets are now being made in two sizes to be useful both for full-term babies and for still-born delivered in about the thirtieth week. The idea is for Yalla Hjällbo to be engaged in long-term production, but so far there has been no estimate of manufacturing costs; the next step is to determine how much the blankets could be sold for and what public administrations would be willing to pay.  

In conjunction with her collaboration with Spädbarnsfonden, Birgitta also began writing a blog for the foundation’s website, an endeavour that began in January of this year and will run through June. 
“The blog is an attempt to write something that appeals directly to parents who have lost a child. I write from the perspective of weaving, such as what it feels like to weave a little burial shroud and to have a little coffin next to the loom in my home studio. It’s not easy – it’s something that shouldn’t be there. It’s an object you’d rather didn’t exist at all.”


Spädbarnsfonden (the Infant Foundation) works to support research aimed at preventing sudden infant death syndrome and reducing the incidence of death during childbirth, but also to support parents and siblings who have lost loved ones. 
Read Birgitta’s blog on the Spädbarnsfonden website: 

Funeral Pall 
A funeral pall (bårtäcke) or casket cover is a large piece of fabric that is draped over a coffin during a funeral service. In Sweden, palls have been used traditionally since the Middle Ages, and today nearly every funeral chapel has one they lend out for ceremonies. Covering the casket with a beautiful pall makes it possible for even the simplest and most affordable coffin to be beautifully adorned during the funeral. But the most expensive coffins are sometimes embellished with palls as well.