Notes from Sweden: Jenny Hellström

6 February 2014


The first time I heard the name: Jenny Hellström; the park I was in, emptied.

On that day, the cute and friendly mother, who had been swinging her baby next to me, abruptly leaned in and said “it’s time for Jenny’s,” with the look of a conspirator. In that same moment, all swings stopped, lattes were discarded, babies were snuggled into their prams and I could almost hear the hustle … to Jenny’s atelier. Jenny Hellström, clothing designer, had opened her doors for a sale.

Today, I’m so happy to share an interview with Jenny, as a part of my Swedish Creatives series! I love the opportunity to extend the circle of creativity that surrounds me. I also enjoyed learning more about Jenny (including the discovery that her husband is American, too!)  Although I am left with more questions for her, such as: do you still have those trousers of 84 colors? When making your pizza and substituting oat flour for regular flour, are the flour measurements the same? However, I want to share her with you, today. Jenny wants you to sew, today. So, these questions will have to wait.  Just click below to learn more about this creative, Swedish, mother and clothing designer ….

At the time that our oldest son arrived,  Jenny had a small atelier in Stockholm’s creative, trendy, corner, Södermalm, where she ran her label for 12 years. Jenny continues to consult, create and has a third book that’s just come out, Sy! Från hood till skjortklänning. (Sew: Urban Collection) with Natur och Kulur– more below. Hot off the press. With this new book, she aims to inspire others to express themselves, stand up for what they like and pay tribute to the creativity in all of us.  It gave me inspiration for a quick and easy Valentine’s present, I’m sewing for our daughter. “Tack så mycket, Jenny!”* 
Now, my interview with Jenny:
1. What kind of creations did you make do as a kid?
Wow, that’s a lovely question! I remember I was constantly drawing, but I had to call my dad to be able to remember it all.  He said that from an early age I was constantly starting new projects and that I never really needed many toys since I made new ones to myself constantly.  I remember making furniture and clothing for my dolls. My parents assisted me as much as they could. I asked my dad if they ever told me something was impossible and he said, laughing “all of the time;” but. I was nuttily stubborn and very driven to find solutions to make everything possible —  always proving him wrong.

2 As you were growing up, did your parents or school or environment encourage your growth as an artist? 

I have always felt an enormous support when it comes to my creativity. Even though I had two really hard working parents who prioritized my school results above many other things, I must say that even today they stand by my decisions to try new things and be who I have the need to be; even though my decisions might not be traditional.  It is a contradiction in many ways, since I find them very traditional but, where love is to be found, one can also always find many other wonderful qualities.

When it comes to school I think I felt rather trapped in a “mold” and was constantly trying to express who I really was. Especially when I was a teenage,  it became very handy to have sewing skills, which I had learned from my mother and grandmother. At that age, I could differentiate myself through these skills and from the crowd a little bit, by wearing things like my own tailored flower power trousers in 84 colors or wear a print that I had made myself. Today, I certainly realize that I had been a lonely little soul in many ways during my childhood, but, this did not show when I was among my friends. After school I rushed home and painted, took singing and dance lessons, played the piano and the drums and also expressed myself through these creative outlets. I just loved the freedom that creativity brought because it touched my soul like nothing else.

3. Do you use your work in your home? or Do you dress you (+ your family) in your designs? 
I wear my own design almost every, single,  day. I have so many clothes from my years as a designer that I honestly, just don’t know what to do with it all.  I try to wear everything, but often end up in comfy hoodies and baggy pants — my own of course! My family are the sweetest little support group and are usually very happy if they get something that I’ve made.

4. Where does your inspiration come from?
I cannot live without music. I think music is the most important form of art. I love to watch music videos and listen to the lyrics of a song. I think inspiration is to be found in almost anything. It can be a meeting with a stranger on the street or going to a museum, traveling and spotting an old bus ticket on the train tracks or just reading. I often go to bed very tired at night and just the second I am falling asleep, I get a wonderful idea that forces me to turn on the light and write something down. I find it to be a very annoying habit, but, at the same time a wonderful blessing. I sometimes hear my husband laugh at me from the other side of the bed when I have been too tired to turn on the light and are trying to find my paper and pen and write something in the dark.5. Do you have a favorite snack/or food or one that you like to make with or for the girls?
I love to make pizza with my family! I do not eat wheat and the girls like us all to eat the same thing (they are very sweet to their mother) so we make the best oat – pizza with homemade tomato sause, veggies and just fill it with as much good stuff it can bare. It is also so great to make homemade pizza salad, so fresh!6. You know that I have to ask this one: 
what kind of project do you create with your girls or would you suggest for someone to do with a child ?
I think more than anything it is important to create the foundation of creativity in a home. By that I mean that I really try to have all drawing and painting materials easily accessible so the kids can sit down whenever they want. Everything should be easy to start up with and easy to put away. A few years ago, I had all of our art materials in one closed cupboard, but I eventually realized that 1.) they never saw these art supplies, 2) they did not get inspired to start, and 3) getting out supplies and putting them away became such a mess that the supplies just never went back into that cupboard again!So when I finally placed it all in sight for the girls it was like day and night! Absolutely amazing!

I find it really lovely when I myself sit down and start drawing. Within about 5 seconds, the kids have sat down beside me and making something themselves. This gesture can be all that it takes — a tiny push and then, the ball rolls all by itself.

When it comes to sewing, I think it is really good to be side-by-side, throughout the whole process when kids are small beginners, since the frustration over things like, messy thread, can spoil all of the fun. With time, they learn how it works and eventually, learn patience and flexibility.  On the other hand, hand sewing is perfect to start with.  A great simple project can be a little doll without arms or legs  — just a round body and head.  After this, kids can then draw the face on the doll themselves with textile pens and add hair of fake fur or yarn, etc. Clothing can be added or they can just make the body in a printed fabric from the start. It’s important that everything should just be fun — no pressure of making anything perfect! That is one of the most important things that I both write and talk about: one must allow mistakes and see them as a part of the creative journey. A crooked seam is really only a beautiful thing and an opportunity to be creative. It whispers personality, love and courage. One should  be proud of what one creates at whatever level — this is foundational for both children and adults.  All journeys can be a little crooked in the beginning until one finds the right track. It is just life.

Thank you, Jenny!
If you’d like to know more about Jenny, click here for more: Jenny Hellström. You can get her new book, here. 
Two images from Jenny’s new book. There’s something for every one there.
(*Tack så mycket means thank you very much, in Swedish)
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