If You Can’t Read the Norwegian Weaving Book, So What?

comboHow did the contemporary weavers in the “Traditional Norwegian Weaving: American Reboot” exhibit learn to weave in traditional techniques?  Sometimes it was a class, other times by studying an old textile. But books are key.

If you could create a state-by-state map showing ownership of weaving books in Norwegian, Minnesota would win, hands-down.  Many weavers around the state have collections of books bought on trips to Norway or many times, from the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum.  It doesn’t even matter if the owners don’t read Norwegian, weavers find inspiration from the photos and can read the drafts for the loom.

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Jeanine Swanson Ehnert‘s beautiful and traditional weaving in skilbragd technique was inspired by the draft for a “Skilbragd from Fosnes” found in a book published in 2001 by the Nord-Trøndelag Husflidslag, Om Fellen Kunne Fortelle: Åkletradisjon til Inspirasjon  by Randi Breistet (loosely translated as If the Blanket Could Talk: Coverlet Traditions for Inspiration). She used a draft similar to this one from the book.

Jeanine weaves in Frazee, Minnesota, with a concentration on traditional Norwegian weaving techniques.  She also conducts weaving workshops and classes at the Vevstuen Nordic Weaving Studio, located in her home, which includes two floor looms and several table looms. Some workshops are for beginning weavers, and others focus more on Scandinavian design aspects.

Here is Jeanine weaving the first section of her “Skilbragd fra Fosnes.”

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The piece progresses.

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Come to the wide-ranging exhibit at Norway House, July 20-September 10, “Traditional Norwegian Weaving: American Reboot” to see the full piece. Don’t miss it! During the run of the show, there will be classes, demonstration days, gallery talks, and a lecture.  Full details here.

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.