Ia Torgersen: A Norwegian textile designer’s adventure
By Alyssa Nilsen | Photos: Ia Torgersen Tekstiler
When people think of textiles, the first thing that comes to mind is often curtains, blankets and table cloths. But in addition to being decorative and insulating, textiles can transform a room from sterile and impersonal to calming, soothing and harmonious.
Ia Torgersen was still a child when she was first introduced to the art of fabric print. A visit to a textile artist, performing what seemed like magic with paint, frames and stencils, left a lasting impression both on the fabric and on Ia. The smell of the cotton, wet paint and the transformation of the fabric stayed with her, shaping her road ahead.
Having finished her broad education in textiles in Oslo, Ia got accepted onto a four-year programme to study industrial textile design at the College of Textile Design in Sweden. The same month, she met her soon-to-be sculptor husband. Five months later, they married, putting an abrupt end to Ia’s plans of moving to Sweden. Curious by nature and eager to learn more, Ia dove head-first in at the deep end. She went to the Oslo offices of iconic Norwegian textile factory, Høie Fabrikker, with no appointment scheduled, to try her luck.
“I told them I had a vision that they could start printing patterns on their bed linen,” she says. “They laughed at first, but I persisted and told them that I could draw up some patterns, which I felt could be successful and could be produced right here in Norway.”
The laughter silenced when a half-shut door opened and the sales manager of Høie came in and said, “give her 14 days”. “The thing is,” Ia laughs, “if you make promises, you have to stay true to your word and deliver what you claimed you could.”
Ia kept her word and presented finished sketches. Høie decided to launch one of her patterns and hired her as a freelance designer. The first printed bed linens designed by Ia were a huge success. She spent the next few years learning the industrial printing trade at the Høie factory hands on.
Production eventually moved abroad, and Høie Factories closed. Ia decided to step away and start her own company, Ia Torgersen Tekstiler, producing beautiful fabrics that shield and
Ia and her husband moved to an old 600-square-metre school building in a mountain village, setting up studios and a small outlet. Combining industrial design and hand printing, Ia got more and more assignments. Eventually, the couple moved to a small farm near Oslo, where they built studios, a storehouse and a head office. They also bought a house by the sea in Lofoten.
Battling visual noise using fabrics
Where curtains were once the norm when insulating and decorating a room, current Scandinavian industrial trends, with a minimal look primarily consisting of glass and concrete, leave spaces bare, noisy and cold. Pleated curtains, horizontal or vertical blinds and window film are commonly used. But while they shield from view and sunlight, they do nothing for the acoustics, environment and temperature of a room.
“I’ve created a term,” says Ia, “‘Visual noise’. The eye, shaped like an orb, takes in much more than we realise. Everything that happens in our peripheral vision triggers warning signs in our brain and tells us to pay attention in case of danger. It’s a visual disturbance, which in open-plan office spaces is a constant. As soon as someone moves or walks through the room, that’s visual noise. This can cause health issues like migraines.”
To counteract this, Ia produces flame retardant curtains and window panels, background panels for video conferences, acoustics solutions, and curtains – which divide rooms into office landscapes. Whether thick fabrics or sheer, see-through panels, they help the brain to separate the impressions throughout the day.
“Textiles should never be just pretty to look at, but should also have a function,” says Ia. “The quality should also be high, and each type of fabric suitable for its purpose. We aim to make it easy for customers to find exactly the type of fabric they need.”
She adds: “Creation has always fascinated and impressed me. Nature is uniquely inspiring and constantly gives me ideas for new designs.”
A certified Eco-Lighthouse company with eight employees, Ia Torgersen Tekstiler also produces theatre drapes, curtains and bed linen. Inspired by nature, the fabrics’ colours and patterns reflect wind, water, places and seasons. In 2021, they celebrated 40 years as a company, with a collection inspired by Lofoten and the light and colours of northern Norway. One of the curtain textiles, Himmellys (‘sky light’), has sheer panels with varying shades of grey reflecting the sky and coast of Lofoten – ever-changing, depending on how they’re drawn. Another, Morgensol (‘morning sun’), has golden shades reflecting the first rays of the sun, while Blåtimen (‘the blue hour’) has shades of frosty blues, mimicking the hour just after sunset.
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