Rya: From a Weaving for Warmth, to Just Plain Wonderful

Rya coverlets are perfect for Norway, aren’t they? If you are covered with shaggy threads of wool, just like a sheep’s fleece, the heat of your body is trapped, and you manage to keep warm in a drafty old wood home, or a loft in a barn, or in a cold, damp fishing boat along the coast.

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Båtrye, or boat rya, from the collection of the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum

 

Along the west coast of Norway, boat ryas were woven by women for everyday use in a hard climate. They were utilitarian, yet valuable textiles. Fishermen used the båtryer in boats on their trips to the offshore fishing banks, or while bunking in a cold and damp rorbu, or fisherman’s cottage. They were ideal to roll yourself up in against the cold and raw weather. The båtryer, with thick pile, were woven counterparts of sheepskins, but much better because a sheepskin stiffens when it gets wet.

Women wove båtryer for their husbands and sons and they were used for many years, sometimes generations.  A boat rya used ten to twenty kilos of wool, which was a significant portion of the annual production of a small farm. To ensure they lasted it was important to dry them thoroughly between each use, so the yarns would not rot. They were crucially important objects, as illustrated by the story of a fisherman whose boat capsized. He floated in the water and thought about all of the things in the boat that were lost. When the rescuers arrived, his one thought was, “Save the rya first!”

boatryadetailThe “Traditional Norwegian Weaving: American Reboot” exhibit includes a wonderful donated båtrye from Skodje, Sunnmøre, Møre og Romsdal, NorwayThe coverlet was made by Nikoline Indreberg, the great-grandmother of the donor, in ca. 1890, for her new husband Ole. The coverlet was one of the few belongings that the family brought with them when they had to move after Ole died.

The smooth side of the rya was woven in twill weave with red and white bands. The pile side was woven with rya knots of wool, along with narrow strips of cloth. To save wool, weavers often used wool rags in the knotted pile. You used what you had.

In addition to the important utilitarian boat ryas, by the eighteenth and nineteenth century another tradition of decorative rya bed coverlets developed, although not to the extent they were woven in Finland and Sweden. The patterns on the decorative top side were generally simple: checks, plaids, or warp-wise stripes in a variety of twills.

 

Lisa-Anne Bauch

Lisa-Anne Bauch

Moving to contemporary pieces woven in rya technique, American weavers generally create pieces for wall display, and sometimes for pillows, too.  The ability to mix yarns in each rya knot enables subtlety and depth in color changes.  The textural aspect of the knots adds richness. Locally, the interest in rya led to a year-long study group and exhibit in 2015.  See “The Fruits of Rya Exploration.”

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“Moonlight,” Edvard Munch

Lisa-Anne Bauch used the technique to mimic the atmosphere of a famous Edvard Munch painting, “Moonlight,” from 1895.  Lisa wrote, “I was fascinated by the way Munch captured the glint of moonlight on water. I replicated the effect by adding linen, which catches the light, to the wool knots. I also used a pale yellow yarn in the moonlit sections to draw the viewer’s eye.”

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Watch for posts on more contemporary ryas in the American Reboot exhibit.

 

A Traditional Krokbragd: Pretty in Pink

One of the pieces on loan from the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum for the Norway House/Weavers Guild of Minnesota show, “Traditional Norwegian Weavings: American Reboot,” is a krokbragd coverlet, chosen for the striking colors in its bands.

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A traditional krokbragd coverlet from the collection of the Vesterheim Norwegian American Museum

Sometimes textiles in the museum have detailed provenances and specific dates; this one does not.  Curator Laurann Gilbertson guesses that it was not woven before the late 1800s, as the addition of bright pink means that chemical dyes were used.  Also, it has hemmed ends, rather than fringe.  At least in the coverlets at Vesterheim, fringed ends became more common in the first decades of the 20th century.

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Claire Caughey Most. Photo by Jenny Rediske

Krokbragd bed coverlets were commonly found in most regions of Norway.  It remains a popular weave structure for contemporary weavers in Norway and the U.S.; nearly all of the members of the Scandinavian Weavers Study Group have woven at least one.

Claire Caughy Most, from Stillwater, Minnesota, has explored luminosity in a series of krokbragd weavings, and the American Reboot show includes “Beyond Midnight #2.”  Claire uses the same technique as the 19th century piece, but in a graphic and contemporary interpretation with narrow interlocking stripes.  The shades of turquoise and green almost glow.

 

Beyond Midnight #2 for American Reboot

 

A Virgin and Violence: Lila Nelson’s Weaving at the American Reboot Exhibit

IMG_1904Lila Nelson, who died in 2015 at age 93, was the Registrar and Curator of Textiles at the Vesterheim Norwegian American Museum for 27 years, and a mentor to many of the weavers whose works are in the “Traditional Norwegian Textiles: American Reboot” show. No retrospective of American weaving in the Norwegian tradition would be complete without her work.

Two of Lila’s tapestries, both owned by the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, are included in the American Reboot exhibit.  One is a “virgin” with a puffy skirt.  Many people who are fans of Norwegian tapestry, or billedvev (literally, picture-weaving), weave one of the virgins from the most popular medieval weaving motif, the Wise and Foolish Virgins. Lila wove one with attitude, and with a distinctive skirt.  She wove the tapestry on a floor loom and used a clever combination of loom-controlled weave structure along with billedvev technique. When she wove the image of the woman, the threads in the “H” technique of the background floated behind, and she wove the figure in tapestry (billedvev). Perhaps it was unintentional, but that technique made the skirt pouf out.

virgin-foolishMost of the virgins in the old tapestries held stylized small squares to their faces.  (See the detail here, from a Wise and Foolish Virgins tapestry owned by MIA, the Minneapolis Institute of Art.) On Lila’s virgin, there is no doubt that the foolish virgin is crying into a substantial and functional handkerchief. This piece shows Lila’s lifetime love of experimentation in her weaving. It was also chosen because the exhibit will include many other virgin interpretations, showing the influence of that design in traditional Norwegian weaving.

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Lila’s other tapestry in the show illustrates another characteristic of Lila’s work–her frequent commentary on politics and world events.

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Tree of Death. Lila Nelson, 2004

 

It was inspired by the photo, “Torture at Abu Ghraib,” by Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker on May 10, 2004.  Here are Lila’s comments, as related in an interview with Sam Iverson.

“I saw an image of how they were treating some of the prisoners to get them to talk at Abu Ghraib and I thought this was quite horrifying. I think you can see that I turned this [image] into a cross-like thing and the AG stands for Abu Ghraib. At the bottom are impersonal guards or soldiers. The characters at the top are “vultures” that are in charge of all this. The designs on the garment are being ironic. They are from one of the Finnish runic alphabets and they are sort of the letters for love.”

Only two pieces from Lila’s loom are in the American Reboot exhibit, but her influence, whether through acquiring textiles for Vesterheim, or mentoring aspiring weavers, can be directly tied to many other weavings on view.

Explore more about Lila’s work in these online articles.

The Tapestries of Lila Nelson: Poetry, Myth, and Protest. This article was published at the time of an exhibit of her work at the Textile Center of Minnesota, November 2 – December 16, 2015. Also, this document includes images and commentary from the show. (Warning: it is a large file and will load very slowly.)

From Tradition to Protest: Lila Nelson’s Weaving Life.  An overview of a retrospective of Lila Nelson’s work at the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, December 5, 2015 – November 16, 2016.

At a celebration of her life held on June 25, 2015, several friends spoke about Lila: Robbie LaFleur, Laurann Gilbertson, Carol Colburn, Lisa Torvik, Claire Selkurt, Wendy Stevens, and Mary Skoy.

The May 2012 issue of the Norwegian Textile Letter was devoted to Lila and her work.

Watch a video interview by Sam Iverson about Lila’s political weavings, here.

“Traditional Norwegian Weaving: American Reboot:” Take Classes Right in the Gallery

The Norway House/Weavers Guild of Minnesota exhibit this summer, Traditional Norwegian Weaving: American Reboot, includes special events and programming.  (Full list here.) Three classes by Weavers Guild instructors will be offered, all on Mondays, and will be held right in the Norway House Galleri.  This is a great opportunity to learn a new skill while surrounded by the color and texture of the textiles in the show.  Sign up soon!

Viking Metal Bracelet: July 24, 2017, 10 am – 2 pm. Instructor: Melba Granlund

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Learn an ancient wire looping technique called Viking knit.  Dating back to the Viking era, it was used in jewelry making and as ornamentation on garments.  In this class, students will learn how to use various nickel-free wires (stainless steel, copper, brass, or gold plated copper) or colored artistic wire to create a one-of-a-kind bracelet.   Materials fee of $12 payable to the instructor.  Maximum number of students: 8. Sign up

 

Cardboard Loom Weaving for Kids: August 7, 2017, 10 am to 12 noon.  Instructor: Melba Granlund

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Easy to learn weaving for kids (age 9 and older).  In this class, kids will learn basic weaving skills to make a bookmark using a needle, yarn or embroidery floss, and a cardboard loom.   All materials are provided.  A great project to keep little fingers and minds occupied on a long road trip or as an alternative to an electronic device. Choice of yarns and threads in bright, vivid colors make weaving fun.  If project does not get finished during the class, child may take their work home to complete on their own.  Materials fee of $5 payable to the instructor. Maximum number of students:  8. Sign up

 

Sami-Style Band Weaving: Mondays, August 14 and 21, 12-4 pm.  Instructor: Keith Pierce

 

keith-band-classLearn to weave intricately patterned and colorful bands found throughout Scandinavia and the Baltic regions, and used by the Sami people as embellishments on their folk costumes. Students will weave using methods and tools traditionally used for centuries in northern Europe. In the first session students will start weaving immediately with a pre-warped heddle and will learn to read a pick-up pattern to create short bands for bookmarks or key fobs. In the second session students will learn to warp a heddle for weaving a pattern of their choice. Maximum number of students: 8. Sign up

A $20 materials fee is payable to the instructor and includes a variety of yarns and a heddle and shuttle that you can take home to create additional bands on your own.

 

 

Traditional Norwegian Weaving: American Reboot


Traditional Norwegian Weaving: American Reboot

An Exhibit at Norway House: July 20-September 10, 2017
Sponsored by Norway House and the Weavers Guild of Minnesota

 

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A traditional krokbragd coverlet from the collection of the Vesterheim Norwegian American Museum

Make Minneapolis your destination thus summer for an exhibit joining Norwegian weaving past and present. Inspired by historical textiles, American weavers have used Norwegian weaving techniques to create a new body of work, contemporary in design or materials. Enjoy traditional pieces from the collection of the Vesterheim Norwegian American Museum and outstanding weavings from recent decades that honor the past and break through with modern expression.  

The exhibit of invited pieces (40 in all) is based around several techniques, including rya; tapestry; krokbragd and other boundweave variants; band weaving; and overshot weaves such as monks belt and skilbragd.  Other pieces are chosen to illustrate where American weavers learned their skills in Norwegian techniques, and where weaving in the Norwegian tradition has been exhibited over the years.

Related events include lectures and classes and weaving demonstrations.  A loom will be set up in the gallery where members of the Scandinavian Weavers Study Group will weave a rutevev (square weave) runner.

  • Opening celebration: Thursday, July 20, 2017, 5-8 pm.
  • Gallery talks: Sundays, July 23 and August 13, 2 pm.
  • Weaving demonstrations: Wednesdays and Sundays from July 23-September 10, 12 pm-3 pm
  • Afternoon with an Expert, featuring Laurann Gilbertson, Curator, Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum: Saturday, September 9, 1-3:30 pm.  Following the lecture, “Warmth and Color: Traditional Norwegian Coverlets,” Gilbertson will conduct an Antique ID clinic.  Members of the public are encouraged to bring Nordic textiles to learn more about their age, origin, and function (but no appraisals).   
  • Classes: Sami-style Band Weaving, Mondays, August 14 and 21, 12-4 pm; Make a Viking Knit Bracelet, Monday, July 24, 10 am-2 pm; Cardboard Loom Weaving for Kids, Monday, August 7, 10 am – noon.

IMG_5189Information on the exhibit is also found on the Norway House website. Be sure to sign up for Sami-style Band Weaving with Keith Pierce, or Make a Viking Knit Bracelet with Melba Granlund. Maybe you know a kid to sign up for the fun introduction to weaving. This is a special opportunity to see the weaving exhibit in depth, as these Weavers Guild classes will be held at Norway House, right in the main gallery.

Also, follow the Scandinavian Weavers Study Group blog in the coming weeks to read about many of the individual pieces.

This 19th century “boat rya,” a treasure of the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, will hang next to several contemporary rya weavings.

 

The Dukagång Experiment–Cut off the Loom

Several curious Scandinavian Weavers Group members gathered to cut the dukagång group warp off the Glimakra last night.  It was so fun to see the completed pieces, right side up, and not just peeking from the back of the loom as they rolled around the beam.  Jan Mostrom, who should be duly thanked for her work setting up the project and getting the yarn, clipped it off. (There was a section of unwoven warp at the very end, which Lisa Torvik is going to use for firfletting.)

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Mary Skoy brought her sewing machine and sewed fine, straight seams between the pieces so they could be cut apart without raveling.

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Melba Granlund was the designated snipper.

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Oh, you wanted to see the individual pieces?  Coming soon.  They will be displayed on a wall of the Weavers Guild, and published here, on Friday.

Grene Demonstration on a Warp-Weighted Loom

Melba Granlund set up a warp-weighted loom (courtesy of the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum) at the 2017 Shepherd’s Harvest Festival, as part of the Weavers Guild of Minnesota booth.  She started work on a traditional Sami-style grene, a banded coverlet technique woven with thick, lofty wool.  It was a smashing success!  Though she planned to give a formal presentation at one point, that never happened.  Instead, she was inundated with questions from curious visitors from beginning to end.  And all that didn’t leave time for much actual weaving progress, only about 4-1/2 inches.

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With the festival over, and the loom moved back to her home, Melba is continuing the project.  Watch the blog for updates on the grene, and a description of the wonderful yarn she is using.

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Did you miss this cool loom at the Shepherd’s Harvest Festival this year?  There’s always 2018.  Melba said that there was so much interest that a warp-weighted loom demo would be great for next year, too.

Favorite Pattern Motif so Far? Stars.

On our Scandinavian Weavers group warp, three people have chosen to weave stars.  Recently, Lisa Torvik’s star peeps out as Sara Okern weaves a blue star.

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Lisa Torvik’s bright and festive star pattern

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Sara Okern said this was the first time she has woven anything but a rag rug.  Success! 

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Sara wove a blue star.

Norwegian Yarn in the Swedish Dukagång

Karin Maahs finished her piece, and her pattern weft was sentimental. She used thin Norwegian yarn her grandmother used to embroider bunads (Norwegian costumes).

One day her pattern was sitting on the loom. “Oh nice, that’s what was just finished,” I thought as I snapped this photo.  Clearly I had not looked carefully, as that was the just completed piece, and Karin’s pattern ready to start.  Weaving from the back makes this process hard to document!

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Here’s Karin’s piece, underway.  It will be nice to photograph all the pieces once they are off the loom.  For now, it still looks great at this weird angle.

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A Dukagång among Friends

Patty Johnson, Jane Connett and Judy Larson whipped out their dukagång in record time.

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Judy and Jane figure out the pattern.

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Patty helping out under the loom

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Their pattern revealed from below