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Studio Visit: The Iris Hantverk Workshop in Stockholm, Sweden

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Studio Visit: The Iris Hantverk Workshop in Stockholm, Sweden

February 20, 2018

When we first posted on the handmade brushes from Swedish company Iris Hantverk, it was 2008, and the brushes were hard to find in the US. Today it seems every small design shop carries them (Iris Hantverk now sells to 890 stores worldwide), and they’ve become a common thread among design-minded friends. (Each of us at Remodelista, for example, has at least three Iris Hantverk brushes at home.) What we like about the brushes is their enduring design, traditional construction (hand-wired, not glued), and the story (the production of each Iris Hantverk brush provides meaningful work to visually impaired artisans).

Iris Hantverk was started in Stockholm in 1870 as a collective of visually impaired brush makers who, together, could source material at a subsidized rate from the Swedish government. The company continued on for a century until, in 2012, Socialdepartementet withdrew aid disbursement. So when Iris Hantverk was put up for sale, the company’s production manager Richard Sparrenhök and purchase manager Sara Edhäll borrowed against their own mortgages to buy Iris Hantverk and keep it from moving oversees. They moved the workshop to Sandsborgsvägen, Enskede, a 10-minute drive outside Stockholm, and partnered with the Estonian Federation of the Blind to share production. Recently, our friends Jonathan Hökklo and Ashley Helvey visited the Sandsborgsvägen workshop for a look at how each brush is made according to traditional methods.

Photography by Jonathan Hökklo for Remodelista; production by Ashley Helvey.

The Iris Hantverk name combines Iris, a reference to the anatomy of the eye, with Hantverk, Swedish for &#8
Above: The Iris Hantverk name combines Iris, a reference to the anatomy of the eye, with Hantverk, Swedish for “craft.”
A collection of brushes made over the years. The brushes are designed by a team of Scandinavian designers, including Lovisa Wattman, who has designed more than 0 Iris Hantverk pieces in the past  years.
Above: A collection of brushes made over the years. The brushes are designed by a team of Scandinavian designers, including Lovisa Wattman, who has designed more than 100 Iris Hantverk pieces in the past 20 years.
In the Iris Hantverk workshop, Åke Falk and his Labrador retriever sit to the left; Åke has worked with Iris Hantverk for  years. To the right is Turgut Demir Kiran, who has worked with the company for  years.
Above: In the Iris Hantverk workshop, Åke Falk and his Labrador retriever sit to the left; Åke has worked with Iris Hantverk for 28 years. To the right is Turgut Demir Kiran, who has worked with the company for 17 years.

Iris Hantverk Frame Animation Jonathan Hokklo

The Pastry Brush is made with oil-treated birch and horsehair. Iris Hantverk brushes are made of oak, beech, and birch, primarily sourced in Sweden, and finished with Swedish linseed oil.
Above: The Pastry Brush is made with oil-treated birch and horsehair. Iris Hantverk brushes are made of oak, beech, and birch, primarily sourced in Sweden, and finished with Swedish linseed oil.
A stock of horsehair for making brushes such as the pastry brush. The company sources horsehair sustainably from the manes and tails of living horses. Workers then wash, comb, boil, dry, and dye the hair, in preparation.
Above: A stock of horsehair for making brushes such as the pastry brush. The company sources horsehair sustainably from the manes and tails of living horses. Workers then wash, comb, boil, dry, and dye the hair, in preparation.
Brushes are made with Sir Lankan bassine, coconut fiber, goat hair, artificial fibers, African piassava, cereal root, horsehair, and tampico fiber.
Above: Brushes are made with Sir Lankan bassine, coconut fiber, goat hair, artificial fibers, African piassava, cereal root, horsehair, and tampico fiber.
Craftsman Negassi Tekeleab has worked with Iris Hantverk for  years. The brush-making machines in the workshop are all from the 50s.
Above: Craftsman Negassi Tekeleab has worked with Iris Hantverk for 14 years. The brush-making machines in the workshop are all from the 1950s.

On the windowsill, a trio of Soft Concrete Grey Bowls designed for the bathroom.
Above: On the windowsill, a trio of Soft Concrete Grey Bowls designed for the bathroom.
 Next to the concrete bowls is the Pan Brush and a prototype of a cork and tampico fiber dish brush.
Above: Next to the concrete bowls is the Pan Brush and a prototype of a cork and tampico fiber dish brush.

Craftsman Åke and his Labrador named Gucci take a walk.
Above: Craftsman Åke and his Labrador named Gucci take a walk.
A pair of new brooms designed with black bristles for the Swedish railway company. The brooms are industrial strength and feature an icebreaker on top of the handle for breaking up snow between railway switches.
Above: A pair of new brooms designed with black bristles for the Swedish railway company. The brooms are industrial strength and feature an icebreaker on top of the handle for breaking up snow between railway switches.
Co-owner and managing director Richard Sparrenhök, outside the Enskede workshop. If you&#8
Above: Co-owner and managing director Richard Sparrenhök, outside the Enskede workshop. If you’re in Stockholm, you can visit the brush-packed Iris Hantverk retail stores at Kungsgatan 55 and Västerlånggatan 24.

For more Stockholm destinations, see our posts:

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