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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.