Atelier knits

The University Museum’s craft science collection features several atelier-created evening gowns, but one stands out as exceptional: it is entirely made of knit fabric. The outfit includes a knitted evening gown, jacket and shawl as well as shoes dyed to match the gown. What is the history and background of this outfit? This has been the research focus of Docent Ritva Koskennurmi-Sivonen, whose articles have been used as references in this text.

Evening gown

A red, sleeveless evening dress with red pumps.
Photo: Anna Luhtala; Ritva Koskennurmi-Sivonen.

The outfit was made in the 1960s in Ulla Bergh’s atelier,  and was designed by the owner, Ulla Bergh-Snellman, herself.  The sleeveless knit evening gown is simple yet stylish. The knitted fabric is smooth and has been pressed flat. A thinner, pink wool yarn alternates in layers with a red yarn, seemingly a blend of linen and a synthetic material. The dress does not seem striped, however. Instead, it has a uniform, beautiful cerise colour. The original owner of the dress used a silver pin, pictured at the neckline, for a more formal look. This pin is not included in the collections of the University Museum. The donor and former owner of the dress was born in 1940 and is a journalist by profession. The outfit was donated to the University Museum in 2010.

The Museum’s collections also feature stiletto pumps bought in Stockholm to be worn with the dress. The shoes are Italian, but their silk cover was dyed in Stockholm to match the dress. The shoes were manufactured by Luparense, established by Rizzolo Carlo in 1965. A family business, the company continues to operate in the town of San Martino di Luparense in Italy.

Jacket and shawl worn with the dress

A red evening dress with a transparent shawl and a long jacket.
Photo: Ritva Koskennurmi-Sivonen.

The evening gown could be worn either with a long knit jacket or a shawl. The jacket is knit with an off-white buckle yarn and gold-coloured lurex, while the shawl uses white viscose and silver-coloured lurex. Both have a loose, mesh-like appearance created with a knitting machine technique known as racking. The texture is created by assigning a few stitches side by side on the top and bottom bed of the knitting machine, with empty pins in between. By switching the positions of the beds, the yarn is knit differently in each row. The open weave appearance is created by the long yarn floats in the places of the empty pins.

Knit fashions on the catwalk

Italian-born, self-taught fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli brought knits to the top of the fashion world in the 1920s. At the time, the technical development of knitting machines – which had been in existence since the 16th century – enabled the design of high fashion out of knitted fabrics. Fashion was taking a radical turn towards comfort and simplicity, particularly thanks to Coco Chanel, and corsets fell out of style. During the early decades of the 20th century, it was common for families to knit everyday clothes themselves, until the industrial mass production of knitted garments began in the 1950s.

A black.white photo about a fashion show where the model is walking on the catwalk surrounded by an audience.
Photo: A fashion show in 1949 presents knit outfits made by the company Taidekutomo. Muotikuva magazine 1/1949, source: Koskennurmi-Sivonen 2017.

Fashion salons

During the middle of the 20th century, Helsinki was home to several fashion ateliers which were part of the Salonkijaosto organisation and called themselves fashion salons. Parisian haute couture and its Finnish counterpart, salon fashion, were hand-made high fashion. The significance of such salons has since diminished, but not disappeared entirely. Fashion salons never operated at street level, and customers had to reserve an appointment in advance. This means that salon fashion was above streetwear both figuratively and literally. The customers who commissioned atelier outfits were usually wealthy, upper middle-class and educated professional women.

Ulla Bergh’s atelier

The history of the company that produced the outfit in question began in the 1920s, when Bergh’s mother, Inez Bucht, founded a small knitting company called Konststickeri, which later gained the unofficial Finnish moniker Taidekutomo. In the 1960s, the company’s official name became Ulla Bergh Neulottua Stickat.

Ulla Bergh took charge of the company in the 1930s when her mother planned to close it down. Inez Bucht had been a knitter who made modest everyday clothes, but her daughter Ulla did not knit herself. She was more drawn to fashion design and style. Ulla Bergh travelled to Paris for the latest fashions and inspiration. Each piece of clothing made in the atelier was unique, one of a kind. Taidekutomo was invited to join Salonkijaosto in the 1950s, which gave it the official status of a fashion salon.

A photo of the grey-haired lady sitting behind a table with a glas of wine.
Photo: Ulla Bergh in the 1990s. Source: Koskennurmi-Sivonen 2017.

Ulla Bergh did not draw her designs. She would refine her idea for outfits through conversations with the customer, knitter and seamstress. The components of the clothes were cut from fabric made with a knitting machine and then sewn together with a sewing machine, meaning that the knit material was processed like any other fabric. The atelier had many satisfied, loyal customers who appreciated the comfort, style and timeless charm of the outfits. In the beginning of the 1970s, demand for atelier fashion declined as mass production gained more ground, and Bergh’s atelier slowly wound down its operations.

A black-white photo of the four ladies watching the dress on the torso.
Photo: Teaching dressmaking at the Helsinki institute for textile teacher education in the 1960s. Photo: Helsinki University Museum

Why do the University Museum’s collections feature high fashion dresses?

The collections include a total of 29 outfits or parts of outfits from Ulla Bergh’s atelier: skirts, jackets, belts, scarves, coats and this evening gown. They are a part of the craft science collection which was started in the 19th century at the Helsinki institute for textile teacher education. When craft teacher education was transferred to the University of Helsinki in the 1970s, the museum collections came with it. The extensive collection features various assignments completed by craft teacher students as well as clothes, other textiles and objects received as private donations to serve teaching and research in craft science, approximately 8,000 pieces in total. There are 72 evening gowns in the collection. The craft science collection has been used as source material for several studies, theses and dissertations.

Jaana Tegelberg
Head of Collections


References (in Finnish):

Hämäläinen, Helena 2016: Kolme näkökulmaa Helsingin yliopistomuseon käsityötieteen kokoelmaan. Master’s thesis.

Koskennurmi-Sivonen, Ritva: Esinetutkimus. Alkeita lyhyesti.

Koskennurmi-Sivonen, Ritva 2017: Neulottua Stickat. Ulla Berghin suunnittelemat neuleasut. Tekstiilikulttuuriseuran julkaisuja 8.

Koskennurmi-Sivonen, Ritva 2002: Salonkimuoti lehdistössä. Artefakta 12. Hamina: Akatiimi.

Salo-Mattila, Kirsti 2019: Käsityönopettajan koulutuksen historioita 1800-luvulta 2000-luvulle


Tower of the Winds from Sederholm’s scale model collection

At a time when long-distance travel was rare, faraway regions could be brought to people through the means of art and, later, photography. One way to examine culture and architecture was by studying scale models. They also afforded an opportunity to look into the past, especially in the case of historical locations that had not survived for posterity. As our object of the month for October, we present a scale model of the classical era Tower of the Winds from the Sederholm collection I catalogued last spring.

The scale model of the Tower of the Winds is light grey, octagonal building with red roof.
The scale model of the Tower of the Winds is 26 cm high. The weather vane in the shape of the god Triton that once adorned the rooftop has disappeared. Photo: Helsinki University Museum / Anna Luhtala.

A general’s passion

Lieutenant General Carl Robert Sederholm (1818–1903) was well versed in philosophy of religion, archaeology and history of architecture. In Finland, he is best known as a religious scholar. While working as a military engineer on the shores of the Black Sea, among other locations, he had seen many archaeological finds and had been deeply impressed. This keen interest led him to scale models in his retirement years. The collection he commissioned included over 50 scale models of buildings or groups of buildings, some of which still exist. One of them is the small octagonal Tower of the Winds from the classical era Roman Agora in Athens, one of the most significant forums of public power and trade in ancient Greece.

Sederholm’s models depict historically important buildings, such as churches, mosques and castles as well as Greek, Roman, Egyptian and Asian temples mostly on a scale of 1:150. Some of the models originally included magnificent painted panorama backgrounds, the whereabouts of which are currently unknown. The models were constructed by carpenters Svistunoff from Suomenlinna and Wirtanen from Helsinki. Ornament painter Josef Löf painted the models. There is no certainty over the painter of the panorama backgrounds, but it has been suggested that the painter could be the artist and officer Eugen Taube (1869–1913). Taube was married to General Sederholm’s second daughter.

C. R. Sederholm displayed his beloved scale model collection in his home in Kruununhaka, Helsinki. At the time of his death in 1903 some of the models were being exhibited in the Ateneum Art Museum. What happened to the models subsequently is a bit unclear. Somehow they eventually ended up in the possession of the discipline of art history at the University of Helsinki and, from there, they were moved to the Helsinki University Museum in spring 2019. Over the years, some models and parts of models have unfortunately disappeared but the remaining ones continue to fascinate people. The University Museum collection also includes photographs of the models from the early 1900s. The photographs show them in all their glory.

A black-and-white photograph of the group of scale model buildings.
The group of scale model buildings comprising the Agora in Athens in all its original glory. The Tower of the Winds is in the front on the left. Photo: Helsinki University Museum.

Tower of the Winds

The classical Agora scale model ensemble included a base, a simple background painting and several buildings: Temple of Hephaestus, Tower of the Winds, a stoa portico, a round tholos temple, another temple building behind that, three staircases and some figurines.

The actual Tower of the Winds was built in Athens in the 1st century BCE. It functioned as a weather vane, a sundial and a water clock. The top of the building features a frieze depicting the eight wind deities, Anemoi, of Greek mythology. The tower depicts four of them as males: the north wind Boreas, the northeast wind Kaikias, the east wind Eurus and the northwest wind Skiron. The remaining four are female characters: the southeast wind Apeliotes, the south wind Notos, the southwest wind Lips and the west wind Zephyrus.

The majority of the historical Agora in contemporary Athens is in ruins, so Sederholm used the publications and other research sources available at the time in the reconstruction of the scale model ensemble. More recent research and archaeological excavations have provided a more exact understanding of the ancient form of the area, so this collection of models does not quite reflect actual reality. It includes conjecture and artistic licence. However, the Tower of the Winds is well preserved and continues to be a popular tourist attraction.

On the trail of the building scale models

The archive material related to Sederholm’s scale models in the University Museum sheds some light on the past of the models. It reveals that Sederholm bequeathed the collection to the Finnish Art Society. Some models were in fact exhibited in the Ateneum, which at the time was home to the Finnish Art Society and the Finnish Society of Crafts and Design. However, for an unknown reason, the models were moved from the Ateneum to the attic of Villa Hakasalmi possibly as early as 1912 or in the 1920s. At the time, Villa Hakasalmi was owned by the Design Museum. Later, in conjunction with the renovation of Villa Hakasalmi that had come into the ownership of the Helsinki City Museum in 1952, the models were donated by the Finnish Society of Crafts and Design to the department of art history at the University of Helsinki. Some of the models were kept for educational purposes in the Main Building of the University, while others were placed in storage.

When the comprehensive renovation of the Main Building of the University of Helsinki was planned this spring, the models came into the possession of the University Museum in conjunction with the relocation of the discipline of art history. Quite an adventure over the last hundred years or so, wouldn’t you say!

A black-and-white photograph of a scale model exhibition with models on the table and on wall-mounted stands.
General Sederholm’s scale model collection exhibited in the early 20th century. Photo: Helsinki University Museum.

The models that were displayed in the Main Building have already been catalogued in the University Museum collections, as have the old photographs and archive material. Examine the model collection on Finna.

Anna Luhtala, Curator


Sederholm’s scale model building collection, archive material, Helsinki University Museum

Sederholm, Carl Robert. Suomalaiset kenraalit ja amiraalit Venäjän sotavoimissa 1809–1917 (‘Finnish generals and admirals in Russian armed forces 1809–1917’), online publication. Studia Biographica 7. Helsinki: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura (Finnish Literature Society) 2006 – (accessed 12 August 2019) Permanent identifier of the publication: URN:NBN:fi-fe2018111948426; permanent identifier of the article:

The “pear” that survived the Great Fire of Turku

Some physics instruments can be quite captivating due to, for instance, their peculiar shape or material. Take this pear-shaped object known as Nicholson’s hydrometer, for example. With the anniversary of the Great Fire of Turku of 1827 taking place on 4 September, we decided to select as the object of the month one of the treasures that survived the blaze and now features in our collection. What is this pear-shaped, streamlined, metallic object known variously as an areometer, a gravimeter, a densimeter and a hydrometer? The names tell us very little about the object itself, so let’s find out more.

Nicholson’s hydrometer, a device for measuring specific gravity.
Nicholson’s hydrometer, a device for measuring specific gravity, 1814. Helsinki University Museum.

A distinctive hydrometer

A guide to the Helsinki University Museum from 1982 explains that the Royal Academy of Turku had established its Cabinet of Physics as early as the 18th century by collecting various instruments used for observation and teaching. A particularly significant contribution was made by Gustaf Hällström, professor of physics, who acquired a number of devices for the Academy in the early 19th century. Now, that name rings a bell! There is a street named after him at Kumpula Campus. And come to think of it, it was thanks to Hällström’s laudable lobbying efforts that the Royal Academy of Turku built an observatory, designed by Carl Ludvig Engel, in 1819.

But back to the hydrometer: what was it used to measure again? Hydrometers are instruments used to measure the specific gravity (or relative density) of a liquid in relation to water. Nicholson’s hydrometers differ from similar instruments in that they are completely immersed in water when used. 

But who was William Nicholson?

And why is his surname associated with the name of our object? William Nicholson (1753–1815) was a chemist, translator, publisher, scientist, inventor and civil engineer, who in 1797 established the Journal of Natural Philosophy, Chemistry and the Arts, generally known as Nicholson’s Journal. And most importantly, he developed the hydrometer.

Portrait of William Nicholson.
William Nicholson, ca 1811. Engraving by Thomas Blood. Wikimedia Commons.

Bought in London

The hydrometer included in the University Museum’s collection was bought in 1814 from John Newman in London. At the time, a new, impressive Academy building was being completed in Turku next to the local cathedral, and new acquisitions were being made for the Cabinet of Physics. The Academy also made other purchases, such as a new robe for the rector, bronze bust of Alexander I of Russia as well as a pedestal and silver case for the Academy charter (1817). John Frederick Newman (1783–1860) was a maker of mathematical, optical and nautical instruments, whose meteorological devices were acquired by observation stations throughout the British Empire. He was also instrument maker by appointment to the Royal Institution, in Albemarle Street, London.

When searching for images of Nicholson’s hydrometer online, you quickly discover that they were mostly of a cylindrical shape. Such hydrometers are included in the collections of several universities, but the pear-shaped hydrometer at the Helsinki University Museum appears to be a more uncommon type. Professor Gustaf Hällström determined the temperature corresponding to the maximum density of water more precisely than anyone before him. The hydrometer was probably also connected to his research.

The Great Fire of Turku devastated the Cabinet of Physics

More objects were added to the Cabinet of Physics after the Academy moved to Helsinki and was renamed the Imperial Alexander University. The objects were displayed not only in the Main Building, designed by Carl Ludvig Engel, but also in a separate department building for physics, completed in 1911 at Siltavuorenpenger. The collection remained open to the public for a few hours a week until the mid-1900s. Today, objects from the Cabinet of Physics are on display in the Helsinki University Museum’s permanent exhibition.

Turku after the fire. Gustaf Finnberg’s coloured lithograph (‘Ruins of Turku’).
Turku after the fire. Gustaf Finnberg’s coloured lithograph (‘Ruins of Turku’), 1827, Ateneum Art Museum. Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen.

Unfortunately, most of the devices used in the Academy’s physics teaching were destroyed in the Great Fire of Turku in 1827. But why did some survive? Were they kept in a different location? The answer can be found in the article Physics by Peter Holmberg, late professor of physics, in a guide to the Arppeanum building published in 2003. In his article, Holmberg cites the University’s list of acquisitions from 1827, which states that all of the instruments in the Cabinet of Physics were completely destroyed, with the exception of those pieces of equipment that were out on loan at the time of the fire. Similarly, some of the University Library’s books survived because they had been lent out to professors, who had taken them to their country residences. Only four items from the Cabinet of Physics were rescued: the hydrometer, a Gregorian telescope, the Magdeburg hemispheres and an electric cannon. All these objects are currently on display in the Helsinki University Museum’s permanent exhibition, The Power of Thought, in the University’s Main Building.

Pia Vuorikoski, Head of Exhibitions


Peter Holmberg: Physics. Helsinki University Museum – Research, Art, History. Helsinki 2003.

Renja Suominen-Kokkonen (ed.): Helsingin yliopiston museo. Helsinki 1982. Suominen-Kokkonen (ed.): Helsingin yliopiston museo. Helsinki 1982.