Tanja Kirst | A Scandinavian textile designer at the beginning of her career

31 July, 2018

In 2017 Tanja Kirst did her internship at the product development weaving. Since this summer she may call herself Master of Fine Arts, with specialisation in Textile Design. On top of that, she works at the well known textile manufacturer Kvadrat. We interviewed her recently about her graduation project she developed in the TextielLab.

Tanja, last year you did your internship at the TextielLab. Afterwards you went to Italy for an internship at textile company Tessitura Stamperia Luigi Verga. What did you do there?

I designed and developed a series of fabrics for their interior and fashion collection. I started out with four different themes and presented my mood boards and ideas. One of the themes was an Art Deco inspired series of patterns and drawings that they loved. I then made a lot of sketches and patterns and presented my designs once a week to the owners of the company. Together we decided which design had to be developed further and go into production. It was a great experience to see my designs in a real production process and to learn more about how the textile industry works. The final collection includes around 15 of my designs that the company now have in their collection and archive.

Photo: Tanja working at 'Re: Thinking Hemp' in the TextielLab. Photo by: Cecilie Nicoline Rasmussen

Now you are graduated. Congratulations! You came back to the TextielLab for your masters project. What made you decide to come back to the TextielMuseum for your project?

Thank you! During my internship I got to know all the possibilities that you have at the TextielLab in terms of product development and production. Apart from that, I wanted my final result to be jacquard woven. Before I went to the TextielLab for my internship I had only experience with analogue weaving which I love but it’s very time consuming. For my master project I wanted to work on a bigger scale and be able to develop a series of different designs and experiments.

And of course I wanted to come back and meet all the great people at The Lab again. TextielMuseum/TextielLab is a very special place to me. My internship and the possibility to produce my master project at the Lab have made a big influence in terms of where I am now as a textile designer.

Can you tell a bit more about the project Re:Thinking Hemp?

My master project "Re: Thinking Hemp" takes it's starting point based on research from the project "Sustainable Hemp Textiles" at The Danish Technological Institute. The project aims to produce textile materials from Danish hemp. Hemp can be grown with low input of chemicals, and has a high yield potential. At the same time, the entire plant can be utilized, as seeds and leaves can be used for food and medical use. A serious alternative to the current cotton production could be to use hemp as a raw material for the production of sustainable textiles.

I think that today many people associate hemp textiles with a rough, matte and itchy quality. From an aesthetical point of view, my intention with my master project has been to create a textile quality made from hemp yarns that looks and feels more appealing and delicate. I chose to work with light as an inspiration source, both in the woven construction and in the overall visual experience of the collection.  My intention with my project is also to inspire both producers, designers and buyers to experience hemp in new ways and in that way create more interest in producing and using hemp in the textile industry.

Photo: samples from the weaving collection on the Dornier jacquard weaving machine in the TextielLab 

The final result I made at the Lab includes a large woven panel that can be used as a space divider and a series of smaller panels with different compositions and patterns. Each piece is designed with a positive and negative space, which makes the whole collection useable on both sides. The collection is designed and developed to tell a visual story about how hemp in a woven construction can create colour transition, gradation and shades.

I’ve also made a swatch collection that consists of a series of experiments on how hemp can be woven in different qualities. The swatches are designed and developed with a variation of texture, density, transparency and strength.

We now have an exhibition called ‘Simply Scandinavian | Nordic Design 1945-2018’. Is there a Scandinavian designer that inspires you? 

I don’t have one favourite designer but I do find the designs and textiles by Nanna Ditzel very inspiring.  Especially her furniture textile "Hallingdal" she designed for the Danish textile company Kvadrat.

Also, I find a lot of inspiration in the house of Finn Juhl. He constructed it in Ordrup in Denmark in 1942 and the house is now open to the public. The house represents Finn Juhl’s interplay between the interior design and the materials and colours and I always discover something new and inspiring every time I go for a visit.

Photo: presentation of the collection 'Re: Thinking Hemp' with various patterns and compositions. 


You come from Denmark. What do you think is characteristic for Scandinavia? What makes Scandinavia a homeland for such iconic designs/designers?

I think we live a simple and safe life up in the North and we do tend to be very reflective and a bit closed-minded. We enjoy being at home and live a bit isolated especially during the winter but when the sun is out we change a lot and you will find a lot of happy and open-minded Scandies out and about.

In relation to design I think that we are very good at making things look simple with a big complexity and a lot of details that you don’t immediately recognise. You need to interact, observe, live and use the design and experience all the functions and details over time. I think longevity is very characteristic for Scandinavian design.  

What does your interior look like? You probably have Scandinavian design of your own. Which one is your favourite? 

Well, actually I don’t own a lot of things.  A few years ago, I owned a fully furnished apartment in Copenhagen and it was great, but I also felt a bit stuck and bored in Copenhagen; I had a big desire to go abroad and travel, so I decided to sell my place and furniture.  Since then I have lived and studied abroad in Scotland, Paris, Japan, Holland and Italy.  I really enjoy the freedom of not owning a lot of things.  I guess that is also a bit Scandinavian to live light, simple and minimalistic.  

You work now for Kvadrat, a Scandinavian home textile brand, also featured in our exhibition. What is it that you do? 

I work at Kvadrat in Copenhagen where I advise and help the customers of Kvadrat. When I started the job they gave me textile training to get to know their collections. This was very inspiring and interesting in relation to my own practice. I feel very lucky to work there and it is a good way for me to keep learning and to gain more knowledge.

Photo: woven panel from the collection 'Re: Thinking Hemp'