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Rediscovering the Bauhaus’s lost dorm room blankets (and the woman who designed them)

A blanket designed by Gunta Stölzl highlights the complex gender dynamics of the movement.

If you visited one of the Bauhaus dormitories in Dessau in the late 1920s, you would have noticed a blanket that was simple, beautiful, and functional, in keeping with the principles of the Bauhaus movement. These Prellerhaus blankets, named for one of the dormitories in the Bauhaus Dessau campus, featured a graphic pattern of stripes in various shades of brown that would give a bedroom a modern, orderly look. They were originally crafted out of rayon, a plastic-based fiber that was considered cutting edge at the time because it was more durable than organic fibers like wool or cotton.

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Gunta Stölzl [Photo: courtesy Wallace Sewell]
The blankets were designed by Gunta Stölzl, the head of the Bauhaus weaving workshop, in 1926. More than 100 blankets were handwoven at the time by students in the workshop, but all of them have since been lost. To mark the 100th anniversary of the Bauhaus’s founding, a London design studio called Wallace Sewell, founded by artists Harriett Wallace-Jones and Emma Sewell, is bringing these blankets back to life with the help of Stölzl’s own daughter, Monica Stadler.

According to Dezeen, the team re-created the original design by carefully studying archival drawings, photographs, swatches, and a copy of the blanket produced for a 1996 exhibition. Given that plastic-based fibers are now considered less sustainable, Wallace Sewell chose to make these blankets out of wool, and created two new colorways in addition to the brown one. The fabrics are then manufactured in factories in Lancashire and Yorkshire in the U.K. The new blankets will be featured on dormitory beds when the Bauhaus Dessau building reopens in September. (For now, they will not be available to the public to purchase.)

[Photo: courtesy Wallace Sewell]
In the midst of the many celebrations of the Bauhaus’s centennial, these blankets allow us to remember Stölzl’s legacy, and by extension, the many contributions of the women who were part of the Bauhaus movement. The Bauhaus was made up of many workshops devoted to particular crafts, from architecture to photography. Each workshop had a leader known as a “master.” Stölzl stands out for being the only female master of a workshop, but she had to fight hard to receive the title, the pay, and the recognition she deserved–a fight that continues in today’s workplaces.

[Photo: courtesy Wallace Sewell]
Stölzl’s skill as a weaver allowed her to rise up within the weaving workshop to become a technical director in Dessau. At the time, the workshop’s master was Georg Muche, but it was clear that it was Stölzl who was singlehandedly managing the organization. When Muche left the Bauhaus in 1929, Stölzl was nominated to be master by her students, rather than the faculty. She famously crossed out the word “student” on her identification card and replaced it with the word Meister rather than the feminine word Meisterin.

Elizabeth Otto, the author of a new book called Bauhaus Women and an art history professor at the University of Buffalo, says that Stölzl experienced a gender pay gap that is now a common topic of conversation, but was a new idea at the time.

“Muche continued to get paid even though Stölzl was doing the work of the master,” Otto says. “Then, when the school refused to pay her as much as Muche, she had to threaten to quit before they would compensate her fairly.”

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[Photo: courtesy Wallace Sewell]
Otto has found that women were sprinkled throughout the Bauhaus workshops, including architecture and metalwork, but they tended to be concentrated in fields that were considered traditionally feminine forms of work, like weaving. But within this world, women like Stölzl pushed the craft in new directions. For instance, she incorporated new synthetic materials, like cellophane, into traditional methods of weaving, like handlooms. In her hands, weaving was more than a way to create pretty home goods. It was part of the broader work of modern art and industrial design.

Otto, along with many Bauhaus scholars, believes that the Bauhaus movement was actually ahead of its time when it came to gender equality. Walter Gropius, the architect who founded the Bauhaus in 1919, invited women to join the school, which gave them the opportunity to learn new crafts. But Otto says that for all of this idealism, the men and women within the Bauhaus movement found themselves wrestling with gender norms of the the time. Women were subtly–and at times, explicitly–encouraged into workshops associated with the inside of the home, like textiles and interior design, rather than architecture, painting, and advertising. But at every turn, women like Stölzl fought against these stereotypical ideas about the role of men and women in society.

Stölzl’s blankets, brought to life again thanks to Wallace Sewell, serve as a reminder of the struggle for gender equality within the Bauhaus movement, and also, perhaps, how little things have changed since that time. After all, a century after the Bauhaus’s founding, women still struggle to be promoted into leadership positions and continue to fight to receive the same wages as their male counterparts.

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About the author

Elizabeth Segran, Ph.D., is a staff writer at Fast Company. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts

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