written by:
photos by:
July 22, 2011
Originally published in Japan Style

Step inside Marimekko’s printing factory for a look at how its iconic textiles come to life.

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  Designers Maija Louekari's Lappuliisa fabric is cut and rolled into bolts. Follow us as we step inside Marimekko’s printing factory for a look at how its iconic textiles come to life.  Courtesy of 2011.
    Designers Maija Louekari's Lappuliisa fabric is cut and rolled into bolts. Follow us as we step inside Marimekko’s printing factory for a look at how its iconic textiles come to life. Courtesy of 2011.
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  Photographer Alex Subrizi visited the Marimekko factory in Helsinki in early 2011 to photograph the textiles being made. “I could not have asked for gloomier conditions,” he says, “so I was very grateful for the bright moods of my hosts and the brilliant color of their handicraft.”  Courtesy of 2011.
    Photographer Alex Subrizi visited the Marimekko factory in Helsinki in early 2011 to photograph the textiles being made. “I could not have asked for gloomier conditions,” he says, “so I was very grateful for the bright moods of my hosts and the brilliant color of their handicraft.” Courtesy of 2011.
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  The magic starts in the artwork studio. Studio members, many of them trained as designers, interpret drawings from contributing designers and artists and convert them into patterns.  Courtesy of 2011                                                  .
    The magic starts in the artwork studio. Studio members, many of them trained as designers, interpret drawings from contributing designers and artists and convert them into patterns. Courtesy of 2011 .
  • 
  Studio member Eri Shimatsuka (left) and studio manager Petri Juslin (right) compare a first fabric proof to the artist’s original drawing.  Courtesy of 2011                                                  .
    Studio member Eri Shimatsuka (left) and studio manager Petri Juslin (right) compare a first fabric proof to the artist’s original drawing. Courtesy of 2011 .
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  Juslin inspects a printout for a new printing screen.  Courtesy of 2011                                                  .
    Juslin inspects a printout for a new printing screen. Courtesy of 2011 .
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  Next, the screens are made, and the designer chooses the color tones. In a room next to the printing machines, a locker with narrow drawers holds numerous pieces of neatly stacked, colorful fabrics.  Courtesy of 2011.
    Next, the screens are made, and the designer chooses the color tones. In a room next to the printing machines, a locker with narrow drawers holds numerous pieces of neatly stacked, colorful fabrics. Courtesy of 2011.
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  In the color-selection room, Taina Tiilikainen thumbs through swatches to help designers pick the perfect combinations  Courtesy of 2011                                                  .
    In the color-selection room, Taina Tiilikainen thumbs through swatches to help designers pick the perfect combinations Courtesy of 2011 .
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  The recipe for each color is attached to its corresponding fabric swatch, and after the designer chooses the right combination, the recipes are sent to the color kitchen. Some colors, such as beige and gray tones, are more difficult to produce than others; turquoise is notorious for sticking poorly to fabrics. “We have our trade secrets that ensure that the colors work,” says Anu-Mari Salmi, the production manager.  Courtesy of 2011                                                  .
    The recipe for each color is attached to its corresponding fabric swatch, and after the designer chooses the right combination, the recipes are sent to the color kitchen. Some colors, such as beige and gray tones, are more difficult to produce than others; turquoise is notorious for sticking poorly to fabrics. “We have our trade secrets that ensure that the colors work,” says Anu-Mari Salmi, the production manager. Courtesy of 2011 .
  • 
  The color kitchen, where inks are made, is located in an open area as the inks are non-toxic and odorless.  Courtesy of 2011.
    The color kitchen, where inks are made, is located in an open area as the inks are non-toxic and odorless. Courtesy of 2011.
  • 
  The inks are stored in plastic wrap–covered buckets, which prevents a thick, top layer from forming. Each day, the color kitchen prepares hundreds of pounds of ink for the hues needed for the following day’s printing. “Thanks to having our own facilities, we can react quickly to sales,” Salmi says.  Courtesy of 2011                                                  .
    The inks are stored in plastic wrap–covered buckets, which prevents a thick, top layer from forming. Each day, the color kitchen prepares hundreds of pounds of ink for the hues needed for the following day’s printing. “Thanks to having our own facilities, we can react quickly to sales,” Salmi says. Courtesy of 2011 .
  • 
  Next, the textile printing machine is readied. Here, Jan Möller takes a ready screen for the iconic Unikko fabric to be placed on the machine.  Courtesy of 2011                                                  .
    Next, the textile printing machine is readied. Here, Jan Möller takes a ready screen for the iconic Unikko fabric to be placed on the machine. Courtesy of 2011 .
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  The Marimekko factory prints nearly 6,500 yards of fabric each day. The com­pany typically purchases its material, usually cotton, in 2,200- to 5,500-yard rolls or pallets from Germany, Peru, Turkey, and the Baltic nations. Flat screen–printing makes it possible to divide repeats in sections and create large-size patterns, from 24 inches to several yards long.  Courtesy of 2011                                                  .
    The Marimekko factory prints nearly 6,500 yards of fabric each day. The com­pany typically purchases its material, usually cotton, in 2,200- to 5,500-yard rolls or pallets from Germany, Peru, Turkey, and the Baltic nations. Flat screen–printing makes it possible to divide repeats in sections and create large-size patterns, from 24 inches to several yards long. Courtesy of 2011 .
  • 
  Each color is printed through its own color-specific, stencil-like plate.  Courtesy of 2011.
    Each color is printed through its own color-specific, stencil-like plate. Courtesy of 2011.
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  The printing machine moves fabric forward automatically, even though workers spread the inks across the plates by hand. No computers are needed to determine the right quantity.  Courtesy of 2011                                                  .
    The printing machine moves fabric forward automatically, even though workers spread the inks across the plates by hand. No computers are needed to determine the right quantity. Courtesy of 2011 .
  • 
  The more complex the design and the more colors used, the more plates—and hands (up to four professionals at a time)—are required to run the 80-foot-long printer.  Courtesy of 2011.
    The more complex the design and the more colors used, the more plates—and hands (up to four professionals at a time)—are required to run the 80-foot-long printer. Courtesy of 2011.
  • 
  After printing, the fabric is transferred to the steaming machine, where steam heated to 219 degrees Fahrenheit fastens the color to the fabric, ensuring durability and brightness. Next, the textiles go through washing in 203-degree water to shrink them down to their final sizes. A finishing machine applies any additional treatments, like softener, to the washed fabric. Here, the colors of Katsuji Wakisaka’s Green Green fabric are fastened to the cloth.  Courtesy of 2011                                                  .
    After printing, the fabric is transferred to the steaming machine, where steam heated to 219 degrees Fahrenheit fastens the color to the fabric, ensuring durability and brightness. Next, the textiles go through washing in 203-degree water to shrink them down to their final sizes. A finishing machine applies any additional treatments, like softener, to the washed fabric. Here, the colors of Katsuji Wakisaka’s Green Green fabric are fastened to the cloth. Courtesy of 2011 .
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  Next, Marimekko’s quality inspectors, some who have worked at the company for more than 30 years, hand-inspect and grade the fabric. Theirs is a meticulous task: There can be only four small errors over 16 yards of fabric.  Courtesy of 2011.
    Next, Marimekko’s quality inspectors, some who have worked at the company for more than 30 years, hand-inspect and grade the fabric. Theirs is a meticulous task: There can be only four small errors over 16 yards of fabric. Courtesy of 2011.
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  Here, another inspector checks a length of Pieni Unikko fabric.  Courtesy of 2011                                                  .
    Here, another inspector checks a length of Pieni Unikko fabric. Courtesy of 2011 .
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  If the fabric passes, it is cut and rolled into bolts, ready for displaying in stores or turning into garments, bags, cushions, tablecloths, and other Marimekko products.  Courtesy of 2011.
    If the fabric passes, it is cut and rolled into bolts, ready for displaying in stores or turning into garments, bags, cushions, tablecloths, and other Marimekko products. Courtesy of 2011.
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  Workers in the on-site sewing area prepare textiles to become linens, bags, and more.  Courtesy of 2011.
    Workers in the on-site sewing area prepare textiles to become linens, bags, and more. Courtesy of 2011.
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  These Global Hassocks by Marimekko designer Tuula Pöyhönen brighten a hallway of the Marimekko factory. Instructions on how to make these yourself can be found in Marimekko's new book Surrur, a project book featuring fabric crafts and ideas from seven Marimekko designers.  Courtesy of 2011.
    These Global Hassocks by Marimekko designer Tuula Pöyhönen brighten a hallway of the Marimekko factory. Instructions on how to make these yourself can be found in Marimekko's new book Surrur, a project book featuring fabric crafts and ideas from seven Marimekko designers. Courtesy of 2011.
  • 
  Finally, trucks are packed with yards of colorful fabrics. The trucks drive to shops and ports and eventually transport the textiles to customers around the world. Watch our slideshow of iconic and favorite Marimekko patterns.  Courtesy of 2011                                                  .
    Finally, trucks are packed with yards of colorful fabrics. The trucks drive to shops and ports and eventually transport the textiles to customers around the world. Watch our slideshow of iconic and favorite Marimekko patterns. Courtesy of 2011 .
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Marimekko factory interior in Helsinki, Finland
Designers Maija Louekari's Lappuliisa fabric is cut and rolled into bolts. Follow us as we step inside Marimekko’s printing factory for a look at how its iconic textiles come to life. Image courtesy of 2011.

Marimekko employee packaging up printed fabrics
Finally, trucks are packed with yards of colorful fabrics. The trucks drive to shops and ports and eventually transport the textiles to customers around the world. Watch our slideshow of iconic and favorite Marimekko patterns. Image courtesy of 2011 .

As Finland continued its slow ­recovery from World War II in the early 1950s, textile designer Armi Ratia seized the opportunity to bring hope and optimism to the country–—in the form of brightly colored and boldly patterned fabrics and clothing. From the remnants of her husband Viljo’s oilcloth company, the couple launched Marimekko in 1951. Less than a decade later, Jackie Kennedy graced a December 1960 cover of Sports Illustrated in a pink Marimekko dress, and the company took off, gaining renown for its bright, modern, fashion-forward textiles and clothing.

Today, a visit to Marimekko’s 43,000-square-foot factory in Helsinki reveals that its printing process and emphasis on big, bold patterns–—which continue to bring the company great success–—have changed little over the years. “Screen printing is a tried-and-true old technology, and printing large, six-foot-long patterns is rare these days,” says Petri Juslin, manager of Marimekko’s artwork studio. “This, however, is what we are known and loved for and what we excel at.” While many of its competitors are outsourcing their manufacturing, Marimekko continues to keep its production right at home and at the heart of its business, printing more than a million yards of fabric each year.

1. Design

Design team comparing proofs at the Marimekko factory
Studio member Eri Shimatsuka (left) and studio manager Petri Juslin (right) compare a first fabric proof to the artist’s original drawing. Image courtesy of 2011 .
The magic starts in Marimekko’s artwork studio, a simple room dominated by a large table surrounded by six skilled employees–—many trained as designers. These workers interpret drawings from contributing designers and convert them into patterns. Marimekko gives contributors carte blanche on how to present their ideas to the artwork team: Some paint, some draw, some design on computers.
“One designer, Erja Hirvi, even came in with real branches she had attached to a piece of paper with tape,” Juslin says. The result was Lumimarja, which became one of the company’s best-selling textiles.

Once a design is approved, the art­work studio team determines the necessary number of colors. Marimekko designs can have up to 12 colors, though overprinting layers of ink can create additional shades. More colors means more work–—though pricing is based on material and possible treatments and not on the color quantities. “We don’t charge more for more-expensive-to-produce fabrics,” Juslin says. The most difficult pattern to date is Vattenblank, designed by Astrid Sylwan for Marimekko’s Fall 2011 collection. The textile resembles a contemporary painting and is a tour-de-force of the company’s printing know-how. Its gradient effects, overlapping colors, and the sheer size of the repeat make it more a work of art than an industrially produced product.

2. Color Selection

Taina Tiilikainen thumbing through Marimekko swatches
In the color-selection room, Taina Tiilikainen thumbs through swatches to help designers pick the perfect combinations Image courtesy of 2011 .
Next, the screens are made, and the designer chooses the color tones. In a room next to the printing machines, a locker with narrow drawers holds numerous pieces of neatly stacked, colorful fabrics. “For many designers, this room is a real source of inspiration,” says Anna-Kaisa Jaaksola, who guides artists in the selection process. “Even though designers can work via email and send in Pantone codes these days, many prefer to choose the colors from real samples.”
The recipe for each color is attached to its corresponding fabric swatch, and after the designer chooses the right combination, the recipes are sent to the color kitchen. Some colors, such as beige and gray tones, are more difficult to produce than others; turquoise is notorious for sticking poorly to fabrics. “We have our trade secrets that ensure that the colors work,” says Anu-Mari Salmi, the production manager.

The inks are stored in plastic wrap–covered buckets, which prevents a thick, top layer from forming. Each day, the color kitchen prepares hundreds of pounds of ink for the hues needed for the following day’s printing. “Thanks to having our own facilities, we can react quickly to sales,” Salmi says.

3. Printing

Assembly line at the Marimekko factory in Helsinki, Finland
The Marimekko factory prints nearly 6,500 yards of fabric each day. The com­pany typically purchases its material, usually cotton, in 2,200- to 5,500-yard rolls or pallets from Germany, Peru, Turkey, and the Baltic nations. Flat screen–printing makes it possible to divide repeats in sections and create large-size patterns, from 24 inches to several yards long. Image courtesy of 2011 .
The Marimekko factory prints nearly 6,500 yards of fabric each day. The com­pany typically purchases its material, usually cotton, in 2,200- to 5,500-yard rolls or pallets from Germany, Peru, Turkey, and the Baltic nations. Flat screen–printing makes it possible to divide repeats in sections and create large-size patterns, from 24 inches to several yards long. With new patterns, the team produces a small, 16-to-33-foot test run before the real printingbegins. If the test is successful, employ-ees bring in the 63-inch-wide, 24-to-63-inch-long silk-screening plates and place them on the main printing machine. Each color is printed through its own color-specific, stencil-like plate. The more complex the design and the more colors used, the more plates –—and hands (up to four professionals at a time) –— are required to run the 80-foot-long printer.

With the screen-printing plates in place, workers spread the inks across the plates by hand. No computers are needed to determine the right quantity. “We trust our professionals,” Salmi says. “They have the know-how in their hands.” A metal rod guided by magnets, which can be adjusted for speed and weight according to the thickness of the fabric, presses the ink through the screen into the fabric. Once the ink is applied and the plate removed, the fabric moves forward automatically, and the next color is added through the next plate.

4. Finishing and Shipping

Katsuji Wakisaka’s Green Green fabric fastening to cloth
After printing, the fabric is transferred to the steaming machine, where steam heated to 219 degrees Fahrenheit fastens the color to the fabric, ensuring durability and brightness. Next, the textiles go through washing in 203-degree water to shrink them down to their final sizes. A finishing machine applies any additional treatments, like softener, to the washed fabric. Here, the colors of Katsuji Wakisaka’s Green Green fabric are fastened to the cloth. Image courtesy of 2011 .
After printing, the fabric is transferred to the steaming machine, where steam heated to 219 degrees Fahrenheit fastens the color to the fabric, ensuring durability and brightness. Next, the textiles go through washing in 203-degree water to shrink them down to their final sizes. A finishing machine applies any additional treatments, like softener, to the washed fabric.

Then, Marimekko’s quality inspec-tors, some who have worked at the company for more than 30 years, hand-inspect and grade the fabric. Theirs is a meticulous task: There can be only four small errors over 16 yards of fabric. If the fabric passes, it is cut and rolled into bolts, ready for displaying in stores or turning into garments, bags, cushions, tablecloths, and other Marimekko products.
Finally, trucks are packed with yards of colorful fabrics–—from the iconic Unikko print to those like the blossomed Keisarinna. The trucks drive to shops and ports and eventually transport the textiles to customers around the world.

Watch our slideshow of iconic and favorite Marimekko patterns.

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