Friday, June 11, 2010

My Dala Horse IKEA Hack

A few years ago, IKEA sold their modernized version of the Dala Horse, a decorative wooden horse from Sweden. Originally carved as toys, Dala horses became items used for barter for household goods as their popularity grew. The earliest record of a Dala horse for sale is from 1623. Traditionally carved and painted by a handful of artisans, mass production of the Dala horse began in the 1930's after they were featured in the World Fair. The horses are carved and decorated in specific patterns according to the locality of their makers, meaning which village or valley. The most easily recognized Dala horses are the bright orange-red ones from Nusnas painted with a kurbit saddle . A kurbit is a vine and the tradition of painting the horses this way comes from the Biblical account of Jonah's struggles to understand why God would so freely forgive the sinful Ninevites. God caused a kurbit, or a vine to grow up and shade Jonah as he pouted on the hillside overlooking Nineveh. The wiggly painting on the saddle represents the kurbit.

I have a small collection of Dala horses (about 10), most of which I don't remember where I acquired. A couple came from my mom, one I bought over the phone from a gift shop in Westby, Wisconsin while on maternity leave, another came from my aunt.

The tiny little guy shown here is barely half an inch tall but Dalas come in a variety of sizes and colors.

I also have two Fjord horses from Norway. They are decorated with the traditional decorative painting of Norway called rosemaling. I personally prefer the Fjord horses, or Fjording horse, as that is my heritage and the rosemaling makes me think of my mom. She is a talented and creative lady and rosemaling has been around our home for as long as I can remember.

Fjord horses are beautiful draft horses which originated in western Norway. They have a very distinctive build and while a small horse, they are strong enough for heavy farming but agile enough to be driven. Fjord horses also compete in dressage. They are beautiful, gentle tempered horses.

Photo from Tomasz Sienicki at Wikimedia Commons

So back in the 1990's IKEA marketed their version of the traditional Dala horse sporting a variety of paint jobs. I'm sorry that I don't have photos. One horse had a rose tattooed on its hindquarter, a tribal vine tattoo around a front leg, and a piercing in its ear. I had the academic horse- gray with a pair of Buddy Holly glasses, covered with a smattering of typeset characters. It was cute for awhile but eventually it ended up in the "been there, done that, moved on" cupboard for abandoned decorating accessories. Soon an idea began to germinate: if IKEA can decorate a Dala however they please, why can't I? Then came scrapbooking. Now, I'm not really a scrapbooker- I don't have that gene. But I love the paper. Last Halloween I decoupaged pumpkins with my patients using scrapbook paper and that's when I knew what to do with the literate looking horse in the closet.

I tore up almost two sheets of scrapbook paper and covered him bit by bit (aha- get it? "Bit", horse's bit, like in their mouth. Oh stop it) using what I once heard referred to as "craft nectar"- Mod Podge. It was glorious messy fun. To be consistent with the sizes of torn paper I had to make them smaller than I might otherwise have done because of the logistics of getting the paper, which was kind of thick, to go around his horsey parts.

I would maybe use a different pattern if I were to do it again but he's fine the way his is and keeps watch over us on the rare occasion that we watch TV.

Want to try this?
Please, don't cover a real Dala horse.

I mean I suppose it's your choice but Dalas are not cheap. According to a quick Internet  search, a twelve inch horse can range between $130 to $275 depending on where you shop. You can maybe do better with an online auction such as as there are Dalas all over there but you have to be careful. It would be so sad to decoupage over a vintage horse. If you stumble across a Dala at a yard sale and it's going for a quarter- buy it. But don't cover it as it very likely is vintage and $$$$$ more than a quarter. It is possible to find unpainted Dalas on the Internet for a bit cheaper and in the past I've seen papier mache horses (not necessarily Dalas). So I guess I was lucky to have a mass produced non-Dala Dala horse to play with. But maybe you'll be inspired to look at the things around you in a new light.

"If Chrysalis can cover a horse ...."


  1. Oh how I love this post! So much great information and I never even heard of a Fjord horse! I will definitely link to this one during the winter holidays. this is better information than any I could find to accompany my felted Dala Horse tutorial.

    Your paper covered horse is lovely, but I still want a very real one of my very own.


    Here is a place where you can buy unpainted dala horses, fairly inexpensive. You can even buy them not carved and smooth and do all the work yourself. :) Of course, they come all the way from Nusnäs, Sweden... So if you are in the US it might take a while to get one. I was lucky enough to go there and buy a bunch in person.