Beautiful Swedish Area Rugs and Vintage Flat Woven Carpets From Sweden by Nazmiyal NYC
Weaving The Swedish Rug: A Short Story About A Long History
We all should be considering our rugs as work of art. But when was the last time you truly appreciated or even thought of the rug weaver who made your rug? Even if you “just” have a special appreciation for interior design you would most definitely think of your rugs this way. Well, for the Swedish rug weaving industry, not only are their rugs considered works of art, but they’re also a special part of their cultural history.
Swedish Rug Weaving – The Early Years
Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of solid documentation concerning the early history of rug making in Sweden exclusively. But, if we look at the history of rug making throughout all of Scandinavia, we can piece together a fairly comprehensive picture of where it all began.
Similar to many textile art forms, such as knitting and weaving, the weaving of Scandinavian rugs began out of necessity more than art. The Scandinavian Peninsula, which is made up of Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Finland, is in the upper-most part of Northern Europe. As you can imagine, the weather there, especially during the colder months, is not particularly hospitable. Their often frigid temperatures led the Scandinavian peoples to highly value anything that was designed to provide warmth.
This helps to explain why, most likely, they were so quick to pick up rug making. Historians suspect that the inspiration for the earliest Scandinavian rugs came from Vikings encountering Persian rugs and wanting to recreate the insulating effect that the rugs provided.
It was approximately the mid-12th century when the Scandinavian people began weaving their own versions of this popular textile. They took the concept of the more common kilim rugs and developed their own style of flat-woven rug called “rollakan”. They then took inspiration from the popular Eastern pile rugs and developed the most recognizable Swedish rug, the Swedish Rya rug.
Ryas are knotted pile rugs that are made with a special linen backing. The backing is woven in such a way that there are small holes evenly spaced across the material through which woolen yarn can be knotted, creating a piled shaggy rug. When placed shaggy side down, these were found to be incredibly warm bed coverings.
Both rollakans and ryas were originally made from natural fibers, such as undyed sheep’s wool. This meant that the first Swedish wool rugs contained only earthy colors such as brown, tan, white, and black. Although weavers would sometimes incorporate decorative patterns, the early woven Swedish rug was mainly utilitarian, so solid colors were the most common. Because sheep’s wool is naturally insulating and water-resistant, these early rugs were perfect for seafaring people who would use them as protective cloaks and blankets.
Eventually, people across the entire peninsula discovered how useful these rugs were, particularly the nobility. By the end of the 14th century, the plain utilitarian Swedish rug had given way to much more decorative versions that included a variety of colors and intricate designs. Little did they know that by adding artistic flair to their area rugs these early Swedish rug weavers were pioneering what would become a long-standing tradition throughout Scandinavia, particularly in Sweden.
Rugs Of Many Colors
The earliest remaining examples of these decorative rugs date back to the early 15th century. They were very high quality and were often treated as family heirlooms. This explains why they were so well-preserved. The most common style of rug found from that era are Rya rugs. Ryas were particularly popular in Sweden and could be found decorating many castle rooms. They remained a decorating favorite until the early 17th century when they finally began to fall out of favor, at least where royalty was concerned.
It was during this time that Rya rugs became an important part of the Swedish wedding ceremony. Wealthy families would commission specially designed wedding rugs to be part of their daughters’ dowries. These
s would usually depict a man and a woman and they would have the year of the wedding woven into the design. The bride and groom would kneel on the dowry rug during the ceremony and then keep it as a memento of their special day. The dowry rug could then be used as a decorative area rug, tapestry or used as a bed covering. This tradition can also be seen in Finland as well as other Scandinavian countries.
By the mid to late 17th century, Swedish rug weaving had developed into a full-fledged art form. The Rya rugs began to include more geometric patterns as well as floral and animal designs. Rollakan rugs also took on a more decorative style, although they were not as popular or artistic as Rya rugs. During the height of their popularity, they were mainly owned by commoners and used both for utility and decoration.
The Rag Rug From Sweden
At this point in the story, a new kind of woven Swedish rug entered the scene, the – rag rug. Nowadays it’s easy for us to think of rag rugs as cute little country decorations. But when they first came into existence, they were more of a status symbol.
In the early 1800’s, when fabric was precious and exclusively made by hand, it wasn’t uncommon for housewives to keep every scrap of fabric they could get their hands on. Old clothes were used and patched until they couldn’t be used anymore and then they were turned into useful things like patches for other clothes. The idea of placing this precious commodity on the floor would have been out of the question.
In wealthy households, however, something had to be done with the extra fabric scraps and what better use could there be than rug making? Decorative woven rag rugs started turning up in upper-class homes in the mid-1800’s. Eventually, when fabric became more readily available, middle-class housewives picked up on the trend and a popular art form was born.
Many of the early rag rugs still exist and they provide an interesting peek into the past. They are made out of every clothing material that was available at that time and they reflect the popular color schemes of the day. Most of these rugs contain subtle earthy colors with only a few bright stripes thrown in. This showed that brightly colored clothing was uncommon and cherished, not something to be tossed into the old rag bin.
You may be wondering how it is that any of these 19th-century rag rugs still exist. For that, you need to keep in mind that these rugs were mostly woven by women who knew the worth of the fabric. Not to mention the fact that they knew the amount of work that went into weaving a rug. That is why they would often used these rugs only on special occasions such as Sundays and holidays.
Next to Rya rugs, the rag rugs are one of the most iconic pieces of Swedish folk art. Not only can they be found in nearly every chic country home around the world, but they can also be seen depicted in many famous pieces of artwork from the 1800’s. It’s almost like no home was considered complete without one of these classic rugs.
The Modern Swedish Rug Of Today
Many hundreds of years may have passed since the creation of the first Swedish Rya and rollakan rugs. But Swedish rug weavers and textile artists have held tight to this historic textile art form. Throughout the 18th and 19th century, Sweden continued to gain notoriety for the quality and beauty of their area rugs. Not just the fancy Ryas and rollakans, but the humble rag rug as well. By mixing traditional rug-making techniques with new designs, Swedish artists were able to carry this important art form into the 20th and now the 21st century. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the work of the famous Swedish textile artist and designer, Märta Måås-Fjetterström.
Märta Måås-Fjetterström (1873-1941) is one of Sweden’s most, if not the most, well-known Swedish textile artists. Her rugs can be seen decorating royal palaces, on exhibit in museums and even being used in the Nobel Prize ceremony. Marta Maas began designing and making rugs as a young adult. She eventually went one and established her own rug making business in 1919 called Båstad – a business that still exists today. She and her protégé, Barbro Nilsson (1899-1983), had a huge impact on the Swedish rug weaving industry with their innovative weaving techniques and intricate designs. Their complex and colorful tapestries and knotted rugs garnered attention from across the globe, making the handmade rugs from Sweden the envy of home decorators and erudite consumers everywhere.
In the 1950’s, Rya rugs had become so popular that people began wanting to make their own. Swedish textile and rug weaving companies began producing the backing and other materials to sell along with traditional Swedish patterns as kits. These weaving kits would make it so that people around the world could learn the art of Swedish rug making in the comfort of their own homes. Rya rug making continued in popularity until the 1970’s when the cheaper Swedish hooked rug kits became available. In recent years, Rya rugs have regained popularity due to their higher quality and longevity.
Up until recently, the vibrant modern designs of artists like Måås-Fjetterström and Niellson had dominated the industry, but nowadays many decorators are looking for a slightly more subtle look. Oddly enough, this has led to a resurgence in the popularity of more traditional Swedish rugs like the flat woven rollakans and the muted rag rugs. This has only increased the desirability of Swedish rugs and they continue to dominate rug markets thanks to their quality and historic beauty.
Swedish Rug Weaving Final Thoughts
Swedish rug weaving has a long and interesting history, not only in Sweden but throughout all of Scandinavia. From simple utilitarian floor coverings to full-fledged status symbols, the Swedish rug has evolved a lot over the years. But even with all the changes, the basic techniques and high-quality craftsmanship remain the same. Knowing this, it’s easy to see why these beautiful rugs are so often sought after and highly cherished. Whether you like the smooth artistic geometric lines of the flat woven rollakan, the shaggy blended look of the Rya, or the uneven textured and rustic look of the rag rug, one thing is for sure, the woven Swedish rug is more than just floor covering. It is a special piece of history and incredible work of art.
The History About Swedish Rugs and Carpets from Sweden
Swedish Rugs and carpets have a long history in Scandinavian weaving which reaches right into the Modern period. An established form of Swedish folk weaving, “Rollakans” were used as coverlets or flat woven tapestry rugs.
The vintage mid century modern Swedish rugs are the product of ancient weaving traditions transported from countries in the Asian Steppe on epic journeys through harsh Arctic conditions. Evolving from a practical fur-like cold weather garment into a stylish coverlet, the Rya was the premier all-purpose textile for the Scandinavian region.
After many years of creating long-pile Ryas and flat-woven carpets, Swedish weavers developed a passion for designs incorporating simple geometric patterns and artful motifs based on regional folklore. By the 20th century, Swedish rugs were international art objects that were partly the product of government funding. Swedish rug weavers and textile artists continued to grow their trendsetting style with shaggy carpets, bold works of art and happy colorful rugs that epitomize modern, mid-century designs.
Vintage Swedish rugs have been the benefactors of the recent resurgence in mid-century modern interiors. Rugs from Sweden are known for incorporating modernist motifs and designs which naturally go perfectly in any modern decor or setting. As the demand increases for the art deco and vintage rugs – people can expect the prices of the Swedish rugs to escalate over the next few years.
With that said, Swedish rugs are probably the best value – simply put – for a fraction of what it would cost to get a good (not great) mid-century modernist painting, one could buy any one of a number of the best Swedish rugs that were ever made. It is because of this simple fact that people are now buying Swedish rugs and using them as wall hangings / tapestries. There is no doubt that the Swedish rugs have equally as much artistic value as any painting but since the price points are so much less this begs the question – why buy a modernist painting when you could own a Swedish rug that is equally as beautiful and is far less expensive?
Swedish Rugs – Beauty and Diversity of
Nazmiyal is pleased to offer collectors, designers and carpet enthusiasts a comprehensive collection of vintage rugs, textiles and art pieces from Sweden. Nazmiyal searches the world to procure the best Scandinavian Ryas, flat-woven Rolakans, art rugs and traditional Flossa pile carpets.
Created during the mid-20th century, vintage Swedish and Scandinavian carpets embody the creative spirit that emerged at the birth of Modernism. Undoubtedly an offshoot of the Aesthetic Movement, Swedish carpets and textiles represent an industry backlash where mass-produced items were shunned and master craftspeople contributed care and creativity to each piece.
Until the late 1920’s, Swedish textiles and carpets were domestic luxury items that were unknown to the world. This changed when the country made a collaborative appearance at the 1925 International Exhibition or “Exposition Universelle” in Paris.
The Society of Swedish Homecraft and other government-sponsored organizations united freelance weavers and artists to put their country on the weaving map. Dominated by a young group of artists and master weavers trained in industrial art and design, Swedish weavers and artists upped the ante at an exposition hosted by the Musee des Arts Decoratifs in 1927. This international exposure changed the future for Swedish weavers.
Sweden, a country roughly the size of California, is home to one of the most diverse weaving traditions in the 20th century. Swedish weavers had access to a world-class education in the arts that was augmented by their individual artistic instinct.
Artists and master weavers, such as Marta Maas Fjetterstrom, contributed hundreds of inventive designs that were manufactured in cooperative workshops while others like Marta Gahn, Brita Grahn, Rakel Callander and Anna Greta Sjoquist worked independently.
The legacies left by these celebrated master weavers, designers and artists are profound, and their creations span many styles. Imbued with folklore and Scandinavian symbolism, these diverse textiles and carpets woven by master craftspeople are impeccably made using the finest materials.
From the initial inspiration to the laborious process of creating each carpet, the expressive creations of Sweden’s accomplished master weavers represent one of the most comprehensive and diverse weaving cultures. View our collection of modern and antique Swedish carpets to discover the creations of this marvelously eclectic country.
The renewed popularity of mid-century design has reinvigorated the desire for Swedish rugs and Kilims of this vintage and quality so view the collection now before these Swedes leave town!
Vintage Marta Maas and Swedish Tapestries
This breathtaking vintage Swedish Tapestry rug is a stand out piece in the Nazmiyal collection. A mid-century modern design by legendary artist Marta Maas Fjetterstrom, the flat-weave carpet is unrivaled in its abstract elegance. Crafted with a similar technique to other rugs of the period, this is actually a tapestry.
“This is what textile art is all about, especially with the modernist twist” says Nazmiyal’s Omri Schwartz. He notes the arresting subtle nuances of the design that tell a story. “The eyes in the top left corner, they are looking away. You wonder what it’s trying to say.”
Marta Maas Fjetterstrom was a leading figure in the Swedish rug and textile world. Born in 1873, she studied and mastered the nationalistic and art nouveau style of weaving of the period. By 1919, she broke with tradition and developed a style all her own. Influenced by folk art and Traditinal Oriental area rugs, the new design reflects a vision of nature expressed and experienced with each line and form.
“She is a remarkable storyteller,” said Erik Wettergreen, director of the National Museum in Stockholm in 1934. “This hard-working weaver who finds her inspiration in legends and in meadows, from the Orient and from Scandinavia, from ancient faiths and from the freshest leaves, from biblical quotations and from buildings, from all that causes the imagination to bloom.”
Marta Maas Fjetterstrom’s works are among the most prized pieces of collectors, dealers and art aficionados worldwide. Her textiles can be found in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the Louvre in Paris.
Beauty of the Swedish Tapestries
Swedish Tapestry – Vintage rugs and mid-century modern rugs from Scandinavia are among the more popular styles available to consumers today. These exciting and dynamic pieces are prized by designers and homeowners the world over for their unique aesthetic idiom, which tends to emphasize the more minimalist tendencies of mid-century design.
Many mid twentieth century area rugs and carpets from Sweden and the other Scandinavian countries feature modern reinterpretations of traditional Scandinavian design, often deconstructed and then presented as something entirely new.
This unique approach beautifully blends together classical Scandinavian design trends with contemporary aesthetic preferences, resulting in uniquely appealing compositions, whether the piece in question be a Swedish tapestry, rug or carpet.
Our extensive Swedish tapestry and rug collection features beautifully woven examples from the full range of mid-century Scandinavian design.
More traditional tapestries featuring pictorial depictions of people and animals, exciting and abstract modern pieces featuring eccentric geometric figures, and simple compositions featuring clean and straightforward design elements – each piece offers something unique, and each piece may be found in our collection.
A well composed vintage Swedish tapestry or rug represents an exciting development not only in the world of rugs and carpets, but in the world of art broadly.
While they tend to be quite limited in numbers, Swedish wall hanging tapestry rugs are phenomenal examples of great textile art. They are extremely versatile in look and colors which makes them easy to incorporate in many different interior design approaches. This versatility combines by the relatively lower price points, make these vintage piece a very smart choice for the savvy home decorating consumer.
As a nice little side note, the term “antique rugs” in Swedish is: antika mattor.
Visit our NYC rug showroom or click the image below to shop our vintage and flatwoven Swedish area rugs and carpets:
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