Scandinavian Rugs History

Scandinavian Rugs Throughout History

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Scandinavian Rugs – In the Western world, the art of fine rug weaving is generally perceived as being a development unique to Near Eastern culture. When most Westerners are asked to imagine antique rugs, many will automatically picture something with an elaborate central medallion, ornate borders, and complex vine scroll and floral detailing; basically, they picture classically designed antique Persian rugs.

Though it is certainly true that artisanal rug weaving is a particularly important tradition in places such as Persia, Turkey, and the Caucasus, there are specific locales outside of this region where rug making has always been practiced.

Perhaps the most important such example is Scandinavia. Scandinavia boasts both an ancient history of weaving as well as a thriving new modern rug industry. What is most intriguing about the Scandinavian rugs is their unique development which is rooted in folk art.

For centuries, the Scandinavian people wove rugs out of necessity. The frigid winters and driving snows have always made the region particularly inhospitable, especially by European standards.

Of course, these adverse conditions have never proven too much for the people of Scandinavia whose culture dominated large portions of Northern and Eastern Europe as far back as the eight century. An integral part of this culture, which gave rise to the long-ships and complex social habits of the Vikings, was the art of weaving.

Scandinavian Rugs by Nazmiyal
Scandinavian Rugs

Scandinavia is comprised of the modern nation states of Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland. In these countries, rug weaving has long been an important practice. The arctic conditions and active lifestyles of the Scandinavian people combined to give rise to the practice of crafting traditional, distinctly regional rugs that had a wide range of utility.

As early as the sixteenth century, the Scandinavian weavers began to produce styles of rugs that were uniquely and distinctly Scandinavian – Ryas and Rollakans.  These fascinating styles are remarkable for several reasons.

First, they are distinctly Scandinavian in their overall aesthetic presentation. While these rugs were initially composed in muted, solid colors (often yellow, gray, or black), they would soon go on to incorporate patterns and design elements that were significant to their actual weavers.

Further, Ryas and Rollakans are notable for their transition from purely utilitarian works to pieces that were woven explicitly for decorative purposes. This mirrors the development of weaving in other cultures across the world and perhaps most notably in Morocco. In Morocco, the traditional weaving of rugs for utilitarian purposes evolved gradually into the production of pieces designed to be purchased and displayed.

Vintage Marta Maas Fjetterstrom Scandinavian Rugs by Nazmiyal
Vintage Scandinavian Rugs

In Scandinavia, beginning in the mid-seventeenth century, local weavers began to incorporate the geometric constructions and floral motifs that were (and remain) common in traditional Oriental rugs. Naturally, the master weavers of Scandinavian rugs made these designs their own by incorporating design elements that are significant to Scandinavian culture.

For instance, tulips were the flower of choice for Scandinavians. Therefore, the tulip motifs became a staple in Scandinavian rugs. Local animals and birds also made their way into these new designs – creating an intriguing synthesis of Eastern and Western aesthetic preferences.

The traditional use of Scandinavian rugs is best exemplified in the Rya rugs. When the Rya rug style fist came into its own as a distinct style of weaving, they were generally woven to be used as blankets or cloaks.

As time passed, this began to change. Initially, a widely available folk craft, Rya rugs were soon noticed by Scandinavian nobility. This began a transformation for the Rya rug. Ryas began to be woven for wealthy lords and patrons, who enjoyed decorating their manors with these distinctly Scandinavian rugs.

Vintage Rug From Scandinavia by Nazmiyal
Vintage Rug From Scandinavia

Generally speaking, the Scandinavian lords and ladies preferred to hang their Ryas on their manor walls – as tapestries – and also used them as bed coverings. Naturally, the very finest pieces would be considered to be a part of a family’s assets and would be handed down as familial heirlooms.

Perhaps it is this tradition of passing down Ryas between parents and their children that began the Scandinavian tradition of the wedding rug. That said, perhaps the inverse is true. Regardless, during the middle and late seventeenth century, it was tradition for marrying couples to have rugs made especially to commemorate their union. These dowry rugs would usually incorporate the initials of the bride and groom, the date of the weddings and imaginative representations of the couple.

Meanwhile, as the Rya rugs were enjoying this enormous surge in popularity and cultural importance, it was Rollakans that were preferred by the “common people” of Scandinavia. Regarded as folk art by the nobility, these mostly flat woven carpets were common throughout Scandinavia and were often found in the homes of those with even the most meager of means.

That said, over time, this began to change. Just as they had come into fashion rather suddenly, Rya rugs were soon forgotten by Scandinavian nobility. Once again, the Ryas were relegated to the commoner status that had been occupied by Rollakans for so long. This occurred at the beginning of an important transitional period. Not only for Scandinavia, but for all of Europe.

By the early decades of the 19th century, the Industrial Revolution had already begun to change the very fabric of European life. It is almost impossible to name a single aspect of the average European’s life that was not radically altered by the sudden arrival of industrialization.

Countries that had had limited trade with one another were suddenly trading commercial goods on a scale never before seen. As such, the average consumers were suddenly exposed to certain items which they had previously could not afford. This phenomenon had an especially significant impact on the rug industry in Norway, where the influence of contemporary European interior design trends had an enormous impact on the style of rugs that were being produced.

Vinatge Scandinavian Rya Rug by Nazmiyal
Vinatge Scandinavian Rya Rugs

In the remainder of the Scandinavian countries, weavers stuck to more traditional styles and patterns. Certain design concepts were so important and so central to the weaving of Scandinavian rugs. So much so that they survived well into the twentieth century.

A tumultuous twentieth century, with two World Wars and countless other disastrous developments occurring throughout Europe, and the world, saw a radical re-imagining of many established traditional institutions. Perhaps most importantly, the general aesthetic preferences of the Western world began to shift.

For the first time, the abstract and the imaginative was given revered status which was previously reserved for the concrete and precisely executed. While this change affected just about every field of art and design in the Western world, a particularly poignant shift can be seen in the weaving traditions of Scandinavian rugs.

Possessing an artistic fervor, the designers and weavers of mid-twentieth century Scandinavian rugs not only accepted the broad aesthetic shift that was occurring… They seized it by the reins.

The result was the emergence of a textile artists of extraordinarily talent. Scandinavian rugs and their designers began producing distinctly modern carpets. These exciting compositions incorporated elements from traditional Scandinavian rugs, but were also boldly and assertively modernist. Deconstruction was a common artistic device for these mid-century modern designers, as was reinterpretation of traditional elements and juxtaposition of disparate aesthetic ideas.

Soon, a huge body of distinctly modern, mid-century Scandinavian rugs were available to consumers – and many just could not get enough. These new Scandinavian rugs were brilliantly suited to mid-century modern interiors and their popularity soared as a result.

Today, in the midst of the mid-century modern revival, these uniquely modern carpets are once again in extraordinary demand. Representing a unique development in the world of fine rug weaving, Scandinavian rugs boast one of the most fascinating and captivating stories of any style.

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Scandinavian Carpet Collection – The name alone evokes images of freezing winters, cold oceans, and snow-capped mountains. It evokes images of seagoing Vikings, intrepid explorers, and roaring fires in stone fireplaces. With such a heritage, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Scandinavia is responsible for some of the finest rugs and tapestries ever made – after all, necessity is the mother of all invention, and when it’s cold like it is in Scandinavia, there is something of a need for a well-made rug.

In modern times, Scandinavia is renowned the world over for its unique and beautiful rugs, which have been handmade for centuries. Rya (or Ryijy) and Rollakan rugs, pieces that have been handcrafted throughout Scandinavia (in the countries of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark) since at least the 16th century, are highly desirable to collectors due to their impeccable craftsmanship and rich cultural significance.

Scandinavian Carpet by Nazmiyal
Scandinavian Carpet

Initially utilitarian and made in muted solid colors – often blacks, grays, whites and yellows – Scandinavian rugs would later feature geometric constructions and floral motifs inspired by the aesthetics of Oriental rugs. It was beginning in the mid-17th century that new elements began to appear in Scandinavian rugs — the tree of life design, floral patterns (with an emphasis on tulips), and depictions of birds and animals were introduced into the design of these rugs, bringing exotic appeal and a new beauty to traditional pieces.

The cultural roles played by Ryas – among the more interesting Scandinavian carpets – also changed over time as they became more ornamental and less utilitarian. Initially functioning primarily as blankets and cloaks early on in their existence, these rugs would later be used by nobility both as ornamental bedding and as proud displays of social standing, often being hung on walls as tapestries. The finest of these pieces became important family heirlooms, handed down through generations.

Ryas also went on to become an important part of traditional Scandinavian marriages. The initials of the couple, the marriage date, double hearts and representations of the bride and groom were often included in the design of these wedding rugs. After falling out of favor with the Scandinavian nobility in the 18th century, Ryas would go on to become an important part of local folk culture, an avenue long occupied by the flat woven Rollakans.

Scandinavian Carpet by Nazmiyal
Scandinavian Carpet

Norwegian examples in the 19th and 20th centuries also came to reflect contemporary western European design, while those made in Sweden and Finland adhered more to the traditional abstract geometric tradition.

Indeed, in these latter areas traditional patterns continued to be made well into the twentieth century. After the Second World War, the traditional abstract style gave way to modernism as Scandinavian rug designers such as Alvar Aalto and Eero Saarinen came to prominence. Being such an old and essential part of Scandinavian culture, it only made sense for rugs to become an important medium for contemporary artists.

Scandinavian Carpet by Nazmiyal
Scandinavian Carpet

To know the beauty of a Scandinavian rug is to know Scandinavia. These works of art have evolved over the centuries alongside the people responsible for them. Each piece is a window into a different chapter of Scandinavian history and culture, a unique work of deep and powerful insight. Here is a culture where rugs began as necessities, but would go on to embody the rich cultural soul of an entire region.

Discover The Beauty of Decorative Scandinavian Rugs

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Decorative Scandinavian Rugs – Currently, the vintage rugs from Scandinavia are highly sought after by interior designers looking to add that special finishing accent to a room. The decorative Scandinavian rugs first gained international recognition for their pile and flat woven carpets between the 1920’s and 1970’s.

The time between the 1920’s and 1970’s was when designers employed the minimalism movement heavily. The result was stunning and often uncomfortable. Area rugs tended to relieve some of the uncomfortable, stark feeling that the minimalist approach often leaves.

Decorative Scandinavian Rugs by Nazmiyal
Decorative Scandinavian Rugs

This was due in part to the abstract designs used by many of the vintage rug weavers in their designs. Abstract designs are perfect as accent pieces. The Scandinavian rugs work well with a variety of different design styles.

They have a timeless appeal to anyone who leans more towards traditional designs, when area rugs defined various spaces in an open floor plan and provided warmth from wood, stone and tile flooring.

Decorative Scandinavian Rug by Nazmiyal
Decorative Scandinavian Rugs

Recently, these designs have been making a comeback as part of the modern style. Trends are reverting to some of the minimalist approaches of the mid-20th century. The result is a resurgence of interest revolving around designs that can accent both the traditional and the modern.

The decorative Scandinavian Rugs are in high demand, especially designs and pieces created during the mid-20th century. They offer superior quality with an appeal that gives them the versatility to blend in with numerous designs and styles.

Decorative Scandinavian Rugs and Tapestries by Nazmiyal
Decorative Scandinavian Rugs and Tapestries

These rugs are perfect for adding that little final touch that brings a room together. It can help bring warmth to a modern design to keep it from being cold, add that extra touch that prevents minimalist from being stark, and can add that final touch to bring traditional from too much to just enough.

Discover the Beauty of Our Scandinavian Rug Collection

Scandanavian Rug Collection – The Danes, Swedes and Norwegians were the “northern people” who wove Scandinavian rugs. Originally, they spoke a common language and shared similar artistic expressions. They were simple people who did not travel to foreign lands. As opposed to their European neighbors, – court life, and the tastes of kings and aristocracy did not dictate their styles and ideas. As a result their customs and art have been untouched from outside influence.

Scandinavian Rug Collection by Nazmiyal
Scandinavian Rug Collection

These vintage rugs were originally intended to be used for warmth as bed covers, cushion covers or wraps rather than on the floor. The rugs were either flat weaves or tapestry weave. The knot was similar to the Turkish knot but was an original invention. Warp threads were wool, flax or hemp.

The early carpets were made with no design; they were crudely woven, shaggy pieces all in one color. Gradually, zigzag lines, checks and geometric forms appeared. One of the first decorative motifs was the cross as well as, some crudely woven human figures.

The Scandinavian vintage rug was unique; no two rugs were the same. They were often an important part of the marriage dowry. The initials of the couple, the marriage date, double hearts and representations of the bride and groom were often included in the design. Beginning in the mid 17th century the tree of life, flowers (with an emphasis on tulips), birds and animals were introduced.

Inderior Decorating with Mid-Century Scandinavian Rugs

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Mid Century Scandinavian Rugs – In praise of Scandinavian rugs and carpets and their designers, there is certainly a lot to say. Almost everyone has their own opinion concerning why Scandinavian designs are so successful.

It could be their knack for balancing traditionalism and modernism. It could be their unique aesthetic – the freedom given to designers or their wide range of styles. It could also be their talent for divining and shaping the trends of tomorrow.

Of course, it is most likely a blend of these factors and others that make Scandinavian furnishings so enduring. Long before Ikea, there was Marta Mass-Fjetterstrom and her gang of well-trained and innately talented designers who were on the cusp of an important mid-century modern design movement.

Mid Century Scandinavian Rugs by Nazmiyal
Mid Century Scandinavian Rugs

The positive reputation of Scandinavian designs is longstanding, and its history goes far back. Folk art had an iron grip on Scandinavian and Viking Societies. There’s also significant evidence that Eastern arts reached Nordic countries centuries ago.

By the late 19th century, independent weavers and textile experts were tasked with revisiting textiles and consequently revived their designs. Just as the dark, sophisticated furnishings of the Karl Johan period dominated the early 1800s and rustic regency pieces triumphed during the Gustavian period in the late 18th century, Marta Maas Fjetterstrom, Carl Malstem and pioneers of the Swedish craftsmen movement ruled the Mid 20th century.

Mid Century Marta Maas Scandinavian Rug by Nazmiyal
Mid Century Marta Maas Scandinavian Rug

Although Fjetterstrom created many groundbreaking designs, her best contribution might be the grassroots workshop model that ignited a creative hotbed of independent artisans. The freedom given to designers is a key element of Scandinavian designs.

This approach also worked for Marimekko, a brand that created a cohesive model by involving many disparate designs and designers.

Mid Century Scandinavian Rugs and Carpets by Nazmiyal
Mid Century Scandinavian Rugs

Above all, the diversity and versatility of Scandinavian rugs are their defining traits. This range gives them a commonality, although their colors, designs and textures might be vastly different.

Scandinavian and Swedish kilims, pile carpets and ryas blend contemporary ideas with classical details, a unique combination that makes mid-century Scandinavian rugs ideal for a range of styles, from futuristic to rustic.

Their pleasant appearance and chameleon-like ability to flatter almost anything is a tremendous asset. It’s no surprise that dedicated architects and designers select Scandinavian carpets when outfitting their own homes, partially because these charming pieces seem at home anywhere and in any era, which proves that the Scandinavian century is continuing in the new millennium.

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