Swedish rya knotting.
Swedish ryas were probably the first fake furs. Although the word "rya" means rug, the first ryas were considered bed covers, much like blankets. In earlier times, peasants slept between fur skins to keep warm. However, the fur, although it served this purpose, had certain disadvantages. It became stiff and hard with age and shed hairs. In addition, washing it with water and soap hastened the hardening and fur loss. The problem was solved in part by the development of the rya. The first ryas were made as close to fur and fleece as could be woven and, like the fur they imitated, they were used with the pile side to the body. The pile on the first ryas was unspun for extra warmth.
Throughout the years, the pile of the ryas became shorter and the weaving and knots closer together as the warp strands were spun. Ryas began to have patterns as did some of the imported needlework. The weavers developed both floral (copied from foreign textiles) and folk patterns from the popular cross stitch samplers. These ryas, because of their artistry, became treasured conversation pieces and were used as daytime spreads. The soft blending of the shag side of the material soon led them to be displayed with that side up. Ryas have since evolved into contemporary rags and wall hangings.
Any loom or frame with a heddle can be used to weave a rya wall hanging or rug. Yarns of all kinds can be used in the knots although it is best to use strong yarn, linen or cotton fibers for the warp because they do not stretch too much.
Swedish rya mat
Textural and color changes add variety to a surface.
There are two textures in the structure--the weaving on the ends and between the shag rows of knotting and the knotting itself. The knotting may be high or low Different sizes or types of fiber provide additional texture.
To Combine weaving, knotting and several changes in texture of fibers and colors. Most Swedish work tends toward subtle changes.
Any loom or frame, cardboard 4" x 18" (10 cm x 46 cm) scissors, shuttle, cotton warp (heavy crochet cotton), fork, wool or synthetic yarns (4 oz. of worsted weight to the foot). Other appropriate fibers may be added as desired.
Fold cardboard in half lengthwise and make a 1/2" slit in each end to anchor the yarn. Anchor yarn in slit and wind yarn for shag around cardboard in one or two layers keeping the strands close together. Do not wind too tightly--keep just enough tension to hold in place. Anchor end in slit. Insert scissor blade inside open edge of cardboard and cut across the windings to the other end through the open length. Several windings will be needed as the pieces are used up. Warp loom with cotton strands 8" (20 cm) longer than the proposed mat. The first mat should probably not exceed 18" (46 cm). Tie ends together. Do not make a continuous warp. Warp threads should be no wider than 1/4" apart. Fill shuttle with the yarn that has been selected for the woven parts.
Weave plain over and under weave until it is 1" (2 cm) from the first row. If the yarn is put through at a 30 degree angle and pushed up with the fork, it should keep the outside warps from being pulled in and narrowing the mat. On wide mats, push the weft up in sections about 5" (13 cm) wide. On the first row of knotting, start with the first two strands and lay the center of a shag (4"; 10 cm) over both. Bring ends around behind the strands and out between them below the center (ends wrap each of the strands of warp). Next knot strands 3 and 4. Continue to the end of row. Next row skip the first strand and work 2 and 3, 4 and 5, etc. Alternate these two rows until 1" (2 cm) has been done. Weave three rows. Continue until the design shows woven section then weave the required length and begin knotting. Colors may be changed as desired to fit a design. End mat as started with 1" (2 cm) of plain weave. Tie warps together at each end close to plain weave. Extra warp cotton may be added onto the strands to make a fringe.
Mat is evenly woven with straight sides. The textural and color changes create a design.
Crafts in Culture
This is the first of a three part series of articles on crafts. Each article will describe the cultural context of the craft and illustrate the artifact or the people using it or making it. A lesson plan follows.
Dr. Margaret W. Ryan is Associate Professor, Department of Art, The University of Southern Mississippi, Hattiesburg, Mississippi.