Aina Cederblom was an adventurer, an aid worker, a weaving instructor, and a textile artist. During her 90-year long life she explored a range of activities from solo-sailing and writing to philanthropy, which entailed setting up weaving schools in the poorer areas within the Faroes and in Brazil.
Aina Cederblom was born in Stockholm in 1896. She was the daughter of Hedvig Elisabet and Harald Cederblom. She was the niece of the sexologist Elin Cederblom and the ethnologist Gerda Cederblom, and Professor Johan Erik Cederblom was her paternal grandfather.
Aina Cederblom attended Nya Elementarskolan in Stockholm, which was a state-run experimental school where new teaching methods were tested. Aina Cederblom gained good marks in most of her school subjects – apart from languages. She continued her education at Tekniska skolan (now Konstfack, school of arts, crafts and design), and then spent some time working as a drawing instructor. She did not adapt well to the constrictions of fixed-time lessons in primary school and thus she gave up that career in order to teach weaving and one of her teaching premises was Nääs slöjdseminarium (crafts training programme).
During the 1930s Aina Cederblom went on three lengthy solo-sailing trips in Europe, the Antarctic and in Asia. The three small vessels she sailed were named Rospiggen 1, 2 and 3 respectively. They were open boats, supplied with outboard motors and oars. The smallest of the three, Rospiggen 1, was 4.5 metres long. When her motors broke down or she ran out of petrol she relied on the oars. These sailing trips were typically fired by curiosity, fearlessness, little in the way of food supplies, engine problems during bad weather, a lack of funds, and oftentimes simply enormous amounts of luck.
Aina Cederblom’s first trip occurred in the summer of 1931 when she took Rospiggen 1 and headed for Vienna. There a job as a weaving instructor awaited her for the winter months. She sailed from Stockholm across the Baltic to Germany. Upon arrival in Vienna Aina Cederblom taught weaving classes until May when it was time to put Rospiggen back into the water. She then continued her travels, along the Danube towards the Black Sea. She crossed the Bosporus straits towards the Mediterranean Sea and her halfway destination of Nice. Her travels were covered by both the Swedish and Italian press, the latter taking great interest in “La sola Svedese”. Aina Cederblom then sailed home from Nice through France, at times having to place Rospiggen on the train for certain stretches.
This trip through Europe only fuelled her thirst for travel and by the spring of 1933, just six months after returning from the Mediterranean, Aina Cederblom headed out to sea again. This time she sailed in the somewhat larger Rospiggen 2, destination Greenland or North America. On reaching the halfway point of the Faroes Aina Cederblom accepted a lift on a fishing boat called the Stella Maria, taking her on a seven-week journey to Baffin Bay, between Canada and the western coast of Greenland. At this time it was difficult to get permission from the Danish authorities to disembark on Greenland, leading the impatient Aina Cederblom to illicitly make landfall as a member of the Stella Maria crew. She had cut her hair short and was dressed as a man in order to avoid unwelcome attention. Rospiggen 2 then set sail in the waters just beyond Baffin Bay, with Aina Cederblom intending to land in west-coast Canada in a few days’ time. However, Rospiggen hit an iceberg on day two of the journey, destroying the motor. In the cold and fog Aina Cederblom, who only had enough provisions to last a week, had to endure a seventeen day wait for the weather to improve enough to allow her to fix the motor. She then set sail for Greenland again where she hoped to get help from the Stella Maria.
On route back to Greenland Aina Cederblom called in at the Faroes again where she bumped into a friend from Nääs, who was now married to a Faroese. She promised her friend that she would return the next year and set up a weaving school for the poor women in the area. Aina Cederblom then spent a couple of years in the Faroes establishing the Klasvik weaving school. This school, which still exists today, was the first of several similar schools to be founded in three different areas of the world, all aiming to teach poor people how to weave so that they could support themselves. Aina Cederblom devoted a lot of her time and energy gathering building materials, tools, gear, food and funds for each of these projects. Aina Cederblom – reflecting the solo-sailor aspect to her character - never relied on an organisation to support her, retaining sole responsibility for all the necessary work and transport.
In 1936 Aina Cederblom headed off on Rospiggen 3 on what would be her third and longest sailing trip. Her destination was India where a job as a weaving-instructor near Calcutta awaited her. She travelled from Sweden to Colombo with Rospiggen 3 loaded on board MS Ceylon. Following her usual habit she selected a spot from which to set sail that was an acceptable distance from her desired destination. Her journey crossed open water between Sri Lanka and the east coast of India, and then headed north into the Bay of Bengal. In India Aina Cederblom spent a year working as a weaving instructor. On one occasion she met Mahatma Gandhi, who was interested in textiles and admired her weaves. Once her job at the weaving school came to an end she took the land route across India, travelling illegally on foot into Tibet, hotly pursued by the Indian police. She hid out in the jungle, dressed like local Tibetans, bribing them in order get directions and spent days walking deprived of both food and sleep.
Upon returning to Indian territory she then took the train back to Calcutta, where Rospiggen lay waiting for her and headed out to sea again. She passed the coast of Burma en route to the Mekong river and headed towards Angkor Wat in Cambodia. She was overwhelmed by the teeming channels of that great river and, following several wrong turns, she finally reached the ruined city of Angkor Wat by land. From Cambodia she continued onwards to Saigon, and then Jakarta. From Indonesia Aina Cederblom set sail for the Philippines, where she learned of the outbreak of the Second World War on arrival. Having spent three years in Asia she finally began her journey home to Sweden. Rospiggen 3 was loaded onto a freight vessel which took the long way around the African continent en route towards Europe. Once the vessel got to the Shetland Islands Rospiggen 3 was once again placed in the water and Aina Cederblom concluded her third journey by sailing along the Norwegian coast headed for Sweden.
After the Finnish Winter War of 1939–1940 a great demand for aid arose in Finland and Aina Cederblom became involved in extensive aid work. The area around Hangö in Finland was to be evacuated following Soviet orders and, to support this evacuation, Aina Cederblom purchased an old trawler. The trawler was subsequently used for transporting construction materials between Sweden and Finland to build homes for Hangö evacuees now living in Ekenäs. There is a street known as Cederblomsgatan in Ekenäs specifically named after Aina Cederblom. Further, during the war years Aina Cederblom organised the daily feeding of at least 500 children for several years.
Aina Cederblom became a pensioner in 1963 but this led to another stage of philanthropic activism on a par with what she had done during the 1930s and 1940s. Aina Cederblom read about the poor city of Recife in north-east Brazil in a weekly journal, inspiring her to open a weaving school in Olinda, just outside of Recife. She gathered an extraordinary amount of materials and necessities and shipped them from Sweden to Brazil, funding the vast majority of these efforts herself. Aina Cederblom had a steady pensioner’s income which she felt was surplus to her own needs. The Olinda weaving school, built according to her designs and ideas, opened as the Escola Artesanal Sueca Brasilia in 1970. It was primarily intended to rapidly teach local women the art of weaving following Aina Cederblom’s instructions.
During her sailing voyages of the 1930s Aina Cederblom also provided travelogues for the Vecko-Journalen magazine. She also wrote two books about her sailing adventures. William Rigmark published a book entitled Världshavens Vagabond in 1979 which is no biography but rather a portrait of a woman’s unquenchable desire for discovery and determination. It is largely based on Aina Cederblom’s own books, the 1932 På snurrefärd genom Europa and Som sjöluffare på Atlanten, published in 1934. Rigmark’s book describes not just the first two journeys but also includes stories from her third epic through Asia as well as the aid work she undertook during the Second World War. Aina Cederblom’s activities during the 1950s and onwards remain unpublished, however, apart from a brief note on her time in Brazil.
In 1980 an episode of the Här är ditt liv TV-programme was dedicated to Aina Cederblom. She was in Sweden just then, gathering material to build yet another weaving school in Brazil. A raft of individuals from across the globe whom the then 83-year old Aina Cederblom had come to know appeared on the TV-programme. This included three sailors from the Stella Maria which had transported Rospiggen 2 and its skipper to the Arctic almost half a century earlier. On that show Aina Cederblom recounted her sometimes life-threatening adventures. Her lengthy and dangerous boat journeys across open water are impressive and fascinating, but it is Aina Cederblom’s legacy as a weaving-instructor which was of greatest importance to women the world over. Through her weaving schools they were able to learn a profession which gave them an income.
Aina Cederblom died in 1986. She is buried at Norra begravningsplatsen (the Northern Cemetery) in Solna.