Rya Rugs

Shag Vintage Swedish Rya Rugs and Carpets:

Learn More About Vintage Swedish Rya Rugs and Carpets

Rya Rugs (or Ryijy) are the traditional Scandinavian rugs made in Sweden and Finland, and word “Rya” actually means Rug. The vintage Scandinavian Rya rugs that were made in Sweden have extremely long, dense pile and were inspired by the Turkish “Yataks” or bedding rugs. Simple patterns, stripes and geometric designs are emblematic of these textural treasures. Thanks to the recent revival of mid century decors the vintage Swedish Rya rugs seem to have made a strong comeback.

Interior Designers and decorators are seeking out vintage rugs from Scandinavia and more specifically the mid-century vintage shag Swedish Rya rugs because of their art deco feel and modernist designs. From all the different types of Scandinavian carpets, the shaggy Rya rugs are easiest to recognize due to their pile which is much like the modern day “shag carpets”.

Scandinavia’s fantastic vintage rya Rugs are modernist, luxurious and superbly stylish. With such rich textures, bold colors and abstract designs, it’s not surprising that these luscious mid-century area rugs are working their way back into modern interiors. After Islamic textiles were introduced to the far north around the 10th century, it didn’t take Scandinavian craftspeople long to produce their own re-creations. The first long-pile Ryas were worn by sailors and fishermen, and they were also used as insulating bed-covers.

This enduring Nordic textile enjoyed centuries of popularity first as an upper-class bed covering and later as a local handicraft. During the 1600’s, decorative Swedish Rya shag rugs were made for dowries, featured in wedding ceremonies and displayed in homes. The popularity of these luxurious, colorful rugs really took off in the mid-20th century when shag carpets were must-have accessories, and Scandinavian design pieces were all the rage. The scrumptious texture and rich colors of vintage Scandinavian Ryas have earned them a place in stylish homes once again.

History of Vintage Swedish Rya Rugs

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.

Home Decorating With Vintage Swedish Rya Rugs

Vintage Rya Rugs are Scandinavian rugs that were woven in Sweden and / or Finland. The word “Rya” actually means “shaggy” which refers to the texture of the vintage Rya rugs. Their patterns tend to be simple and incorporate straight lines, stripes and bold geometric patterns.

Because of their geometric designs, the vintage Swedish Rya rugs are prized both for their exciting, traditional composition as well as their important cultural role in the history of Scandinavia. As the interest in mid century vintage Scandinavian rugs continues to climb, so too will the inherent value of fine Swedish Rya rugs.

A Home Decorated With A Vintage Swedish Rya Rug:

Home Decorating With Vintage Swedish Rya Rugs by Nazmiyal

Home Decorating With Vintage Swedish Rya Rugs

The mid century modern movement in interior design has embraced these beautiful and whimsical works of folk art rugs, different from art deco rugs. Designers and consumers have been flocking buying these rugs for their modernist designs and relatively low pricing.

Rya Rug Nazmiyal

This beautiful shag rug has cool blues and purples with a school of fish swimming towards the center.

For the past two or three years, vintage interiors have been all the rage. If this vintage mid century modern fueled trend continues (and we don’t see the interest tapering any time soon) then you can count on the fact that the vintage Swedish Rya rugs will spike in value. Especially as the demand grows while the supply dwindles.

History of Vintage Swedish Rya Rugs from Scandinavia

The weavers of Scandinavian rugs and carpets were influenced by carpet weavers in Anatolia and Asia Minor though international trade routes. Between the 9th and 10th centuries, paths were established linking the Varangians or Vikings with the Greek speaking Byzantines in Constantinople.

Vintage Swedish Rya Rugs and Scandinavian Carpet Viking Ship - Nazmiyal

Vintage Swedish Rya Rugs and Scandinavian Carpet Viking Ship

By the year 800, the Byzantines had established themselves as the dominate superpower in Asia Minor, claiming territories that were previously under Roman control. Trans continental and trans oceanic trade routes, through some of the world’s harshest climates, brought the first knotted pile rugs to the Scandinavian countries of Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland. Over the next four hundred years, Scandinavians adapted knotted pile carpets to suit the harsh arctic climate.

Thick Shaggy Wool Pile Of A Swedish Rya Rug - nazmiyal

Thick Shaggy Wool Pile Of A Swedish Rya Rug

By the 14th century, the Scandinavians had developed their own style of shaggy long pile carpets known a Rya or Ryijy. These thick “new rugs” replaced the thick furs used as rugs, cloaks and bed coverings. The unique shaggy texture of the long pile Scandinavian Ryas, provided much needed warmth during the long Nordic winters. Ancient cloaks with fur-like pile have been found in the viking center of Jornik / York England.

Ancient Viking Warrior Woman Grave at Birka Sweden - Nazmiyal

Ancient Viking Warrior Woman Grave at Birka Sweden

Remnants of a blue and red cloaks, shaggy pile (approximately two inches long) were discovered in one the many ancient graves on Sweden’s Birka / Birch Island. Swedish Rya rugs were also adapted as bed coverings and wall hangings by royalty, castle dwellers, as well as commoners and peasants.

Excavated 10th Century Textile Braiding From A Grave At Birka Sweden - Nazmiyal

Excavated 10th Century Textile Braiding From A Grave At Birka Sweden

Rya carpets are made using a combination of techniques including weaving tapestry, needlework and carpet knots. Swedish Rya rugs were traditionally produced by adding symmetric Turkish / Ghiordes knots directly to the warp through a specially woven backing. Small holes in the weave allowed the craftspeople to insert evenly spaced knots using a large tapestry needle.

Originally, Swedish Rya rugs were used with the pile down to envelop sleepers in a cocoon of warmth. Early Rya quilts had decorative striped backs and shaggy wool pile in one or two solid colors. Eventually the decoration was reversed and colorful designs were worked into the knotted pile.

Weaving Shaggy Vintage Swedish Rya Rugs - Nazmiyal

Weaving Shaggy Vintage Swedish Rya Rugs

Between 1500’s and late 1800’s, the Scandinavians produced increasingly elaborate carpets and Ryas rugs. They often mimicked the designs of the antique rugs which were imported from Turkey and Anatolia to Finland and other parts of Scandinavia.

Swedish Rya rugs were created for marriages where they were used in the traditional wedding ceremony. In Scandinavia, local cultures adapted and changed traditional Islamic art motifs, such as the tree of life design, by changing the symbolism to represent the family tree made up by relatives and past generations.

The Scandinavian Rya vintage rugs remained popular throughout the 20th century when designers adopted the shaggy vintage rug to compliment the mid century modern furniture of the 1960’s and 1970’s. Modernist designers, like Danish carpet manufacturer Ege Rya, used ancient abstract motifs borrowed from Moroccan Berber carpets to create shaggy wool carpets with a modern edge.

Long before the Danish design craze of the 20th century, oriental rugs were important design pieces and functional items in Scandinavia. During the mid 1920’s a historic carpet was discovered in the church of Marby in Jamtland Sweden.

14th Century Marby Carpet From the Met Museum - Nazmyiyal

14th Century Marby Carpet From the Met Museum

The so called Marby carpet, which dates back to the late 14th or early 15th century, is important evidence of the carpet trade between the vikings and the Byzantines. Due to the geometric designs and classic bird in tree motif, historians believe the carpet was produced more than 3,000 miles away in Azerbaijan or Turkey during the early years of the ottoman empire.

Previously, many historians believed the rug trade was restricted to Italy and countries closer to the carpet making region of Anatolia. The introduction of oriental knotted pile carpets through trade routes was instrumental in the development of the unique Scandinavian style.

Since the introduction of knotted pile rugs, Scandinavian people have been developing and perfecting their carpet weaving traditions. Although Scandinavians have been producing rugs since the 14th century, some of the best examples of the art are from the late 1880’s when traditional Ryas, and copies of Anatolian designs, reached the height of their popularity.

The Back / Weave Of Vintage Swedish Rya Rug 49116 - Nazmiyal

The Back / Weave Of Vintage Swedish Rya Rug

The Danes, Swedes and Norwegians were the “northern people” of the Scandinavian countries. 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 were left untouched from outside influence. These 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 rugs 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 rugs were made with no design; they were crudely woven, shaggy pieces all in one color. Gradually, zigzag lines, checks and geometric forms appeared.

The Shag Pile Of Vintage Swedish Rya Rug 48797 - Nazmiyal

The Shag Pile Of Vintage Swedish Rya Rug #48797

One of the first decorative motifs was the cross as well as some crudely woven human figures. These rugs were 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.

The Scandinavian region became acquainted with rugs at an early period. In the early Middle Ages flat woven kilim rugs and textiles probably found their way home with Viking merchants active in Russia and the Byzantine Empire. In the centuries that followed, such trade ties introduced the knotted pile carpet from Ottoman Turkey.

Indeed, one of the earliest surviving Turkish rugs comes from the parish church at Marby, Sweden. From this early period onward, Scandinavians began to produce rugs for themselves, inspired initially by the imported products, and developing gradually into a distinctive northern idiom.

Flat woven tapestry rugs or coverlets became an established type, especially in Sweden, where they came to be known as “Rollakan.” Pile rugs or Ryiji (Rya), often with a long shaggy nap were produce in Norway and and Sweden, and above all Finland. The earliest examples are from Norway; these were monochromatic.

Late medieval records suggest that the Swedes tended to import Rya rugs from Finland, but they were made in Sweden as well. The prototypes of these long pile rugs may well have been Turkish, the so-clalled “yatak” or bedding rug.

This seems especially likely since the examples of Scandinavian Carpets were also used as bedding insulation. At times they too were woven with pile on both sides for added warmth, like Turkish yataks. They even display the same kind of bold, graphic patterning as the Turkish examples.

Vintage Swedish Mid Century Modern Rya Rug 48579 Nazmiyal

Vintage Swedish Mid Century Modern Rya Rug #48579

From the 1600’s on, Swedish Rya rugs were also made with abstractly rendered animal or heraldic imagery, which seems to go back to Medieval European and Oriental traditions, like the Turkish animal carpet from Marby.

Stylized floral designs were also popular. This entire repertoire has survived in Ryas right into the twentieth century, but after 1700, the Rya ceased to be popular among the elite and became a staple of Scandinavian folk culture.

Family Room Interior Design with Vintage Swedish Rya Rug Nazmiyal

Family Room Interior Design with Vintage Swedish Rya Rug

Norwegian examples in the twentieth and nineteenth centuries also came to reflect contemporary western European design, while those made in Sweden and Finland adhered more to the old abstract geometric tradition. Indeed, in these latter areas old patterns continued to be made well into the twentieth century.

After the Second World War, the old style abstraction gave way to modernism, reflecting the prominence of Scandinavian carpets and the mid century modern designers like the Finns, Alvar Aalto and Eero Saarinen.

Photo Gallery Pictures Of Vintage Swedish Scandinavian Rugs

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