History of Vintage Swedish Rya Rugs
Vintage Rya Rugs from Sweden – Details make all the difference. This is certainly the case with traditional handcrafted vintage rya rugs (ra-yas). These shaggy, often colorful vintage rugs and carpets and wall coverings are a development unique to Scandinavia, but they have also created a sensation throughout the United States – a decorating and handcrafting sensation to be precise.
Although the first Rya rugs and carpets date back to the middle ages, they have become a quintessential part of mid-century modern decor. At first look, ryas resemble the shaggy latch hook carpets made on card tables and dinner tables across the country.
However, their traditional construction and fine materials set them apart as do the exceptional qualities of the rya sheep and their long-staple wool.
Melinda Byrd, a Maryland-based artist and third-generation rya expert, explained these differences, saying that the wool is exceptionally durable and resilient, but you wouldn’t want a sweater made with these coarse fibers.
These unique traits make traditional rya rugs compression and wear resistant. So after years of use, they retain their fluffy, shaggy appearance and luxurious tactile qualities. The backing and parts of the rya that one doesn’t usually observe also make a difference.
While latch hook rugs are made by wrapping pre-cut yarn around a mesh-like backing, rya backings are hand made. Pre-planned spaces between rows of weft allow the artist to make symmetric Turkish or Ghiordes rug knots around each warp thread at a rate of about four knots per inch.
Historically, this tightly woven foundation was made with a wool weft and high-quality linen warp.
The rug’s signature shaggy pile is formed by many uniform loops that are cut open later in the process. Looped pile was common for many years. Anecdotes say that high-heeled shoes made cut pile a safety necessity. In the United States, many people created their own ryas using commercial kits.
These pieces have become treasured family heirlooms that are still enjoyed today. Those who have lived with these objects have a great understating of what makes ryas so special.
Quality is an elusive and sometimes subjective sensation that’s best discovered by understanding the construction process, learning about the value of the materials and seeing the finished product first hand. The current emphasis on quality and style is fueling a modern-day contemporary revival of vintage rya rug making.