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Rya—The Adventure Continues! (Or, Rya with Not-So-Hidden Knots)

By Lise-Anne Bauch
Jan Mostrom's beautiful sample rya

Jan Mostrom’s beautiful sample rya

Last summer, master weaver Jan Mostrom taught a popular class in beginning rya weaving at the Weavers Guild of Minnesota (WGM). (See The Zen of Rya). This winter, students braved both the bitter cold and a more complicated weave structure in Rya with Hidden Knots.

Jan drew her inspiration from an antique coverlet in the Vesterheim collection, which she previously analyzed for the Norwegian Textile Letter. The coverlet features sparse knots on a ground cloth woven in an irregular houndstooth twill. (The side with knots would have been placed toward the body, trapping air for warmth.) Due to the weave structure, the knots do not show on the non-pile side. The result is a vibrant masterpiece uniting form and function (See “Visiting the Vesterheim Collection” from the August 2012 issue.)

Rauma YarnTo keep costs affordable, students used Harrisville Highland in contrasting colors for warp and weft, then dove eagerly into Jan’s treasured stash of Rauma yarn from Norway for their knots. Students also supplemented knots with yarns from their own stashes, including silk and linen for added visual interest.

Anne Tying Knots

Perhaps Anne Burgeson is counting to herself in this photo.

The weaving process was challenging. To achieve the houndstooth twill, the weaver must treadle continuously (1-2-3-4), stopping to tie knots every time treadle 1 is reached—while simultaneously changing weft colors every six picks. To further complicate matters, the knots alternate in placement. (Knots are tied above three lifted warp threads on one row, then tied over two lifted warp threads on the next row, and so on.) Students likened the process to patting one’s heading while rubbing one’s stomach, and there was plenty of counting-out-loud in the room.

In addition, students had the usual challenges of weaving, including keeping a consistent beat, avoiding draw-in, and creating even selvedges. Still, as in the previous class, students loved the tactile nature of rya: The soft knots just beg to be touched, and the simple, repetitive motion of tying them is soothing and meditative.

Lise-Anne's loom bench cover

Lise-Anne’s loom bench cover

Students created their own designs, choosing to weave pillows, wall hangings, or loom bench covers. Jan pointed out that a simple, bold design works best to showcase the rya knots. Students heeded her advice, sticking to basic shapes while choosing a variety of means to show off both the knots and the houndstooth in the background.

Students also chose which yarns to incorporate into their knots to achieve the desired effect. For example, Geri Retzlaff wove enough yardage for a large pillow, alternating ground cloth and knots in an abstract pattern. She included hand-dyed silk thrums from a previous project, adding a touch of luxury to the finished product.

Anne's Knots

Anne Burgeson added unspun fleece to her houndstooth background.

While a novice weaver, Anne Burgeson is a skilled spinner. She chose to incorporate her own handspun into her knots, creating a riot of color and texture to offset her cheerful blue-and-cream houndstooth. She even used unspun locks of wool for her knots, creating the illusion of fat, puffy clouds against a bright blue sky.

Carol Harrington used thick wool yarn in cheerful colors that matched her inspiration, a painting of bright red poppies. The warmth of the colors brought a touch of spring, a welcome contrast to the bleak February landscape outside. Likewise, Susan Andrews paired rich teal and orange in her abstract wall hanging, balanced with black-and-white houndstooth, while Mary Holmgren added rosy linen to her bold red and purple stripes.

Mary Holmgren traveled all the way from the East Coast for the class

Mary Holmgren traveled all the way from the East Coast for the class

In process on the loom - Susan Andrews starts on her deep colors

In process on the loom – Susan Andrews starts on her deep colors

A poppy in eye-popping pink on Carol Harrington's rya

A poppy in eye-popping pink on Carol Harrington’s rya

Lisa's Rya

Lise-Anne Bauch’s rya was inspired by an Icelandic sweater.

I chose to weave a loom bench cover using a palette of brown, grey, white, and blue inspired by a photo of an Icelandic sweater. The beautiful blue Rauma yarn was a present from my mother from her recent trip to Norway. As for those hidden knots…well, mine turned out more “partially-obscured” than hidden!

Finally, lifelong weaver Louise French recently earned the coveted Certificate of Excellence from the Handweavers Guild of America. (Lou is the first member of WGM to achieve this honor.) As part of the certification process, she wove several pile weavings using cut weft or Ghiodes knots, like those used in rya. Intrigued by the process, Lou signed up for Jan’s class to learn more. Lou wove a wall hanging in copper and grey based on a painting by Paul Klee, one of her favorite artists.

Lou French's hanging was inspired by a Paul Klee painting in a German book.

Lou French’s hanging was inspired by a Paul Klee painting in a German book.

“I had no idea what a treat I was in for,” Lou commented. “I’m normally not a particularly patient weaver – one shuttle is my game – but I loved it. I loved the mystery of the hidden knots, I loved the story of why the Norwegians created such pieces, and I loved the contemplative nature of choosing the yarns that would create the next knot.”

Throughout the class, Jan remained patient and encouraging, helping each student bring their unique vision to life.”It is wonderful fun to teach rya,” she noted, “because the weavers’ creativity goes wild and the results are inspiring.” Rya exploration will continue at WGM through a year-long interest group, to culminate in an exhibit in the fall of 2015. Stay tuned for more adventures in rya!

Lisa Bauch is a writer and editor – and newly-enthusiastic rya weaver – living in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  She is on the board of the Weavers Guild of Minnesota.
labauch (at) visi.com

Developing a Loom to Teach Scandinavian Weaving

As Heidi Goldberg, Associate Professor of Art at Concordia College, Moorhead, Minnesota, developed her “Nordic Arts” class, she asked me to teach Scandinavian weaving to her students. There was a major challenge–we needed looms.

I had experimented with a cardboard tube loom first introduced to me by Latvian-American weaver Anna Smits, who taught weaving at the University of Minnesota over 37 years and was a founding member of the Weavers Guild of Minnesota. She had invited the Scandinavian Weavers Group of the Weavers Guild to her home to learn band weaving on this simple backstrap loom. It is based on the principle of winding a warp around a tube first clockwise then counterclockwise to produce a natural shed.

I adapted the loom for Heidi’s class by adding spacers to keep the warp spread at 8 ends per inch. Using the spacers, along with bubbling the weft to prevent draw-in, keeps the warps spread. The opposite shed is formed by using string heddles on a heddle stick. Tension is created by tying a slip knot in the warp and looping it over a C-clamp.

Simple materials and low-cost yarns kept the cost at about $5 for each loom. I used ¾-inch PVC pipe purchased at a hardware store, mini-blinds from a thrift store for spacers, pick-up sticks and shuttles. I punched holes for the spacers with a regular paper punch. Thrums or cotton rug yarn served for warp. Many types of yarns were donated to Heidi’s class for weft.

The pvc loom is set up and ready for a student.

The pvc loom is set up and ready for a student.

photo 3 copyInstructions for assembling the loom and weaving a sample accompany this article.  PVC Pipe Loom: An Affordable Loom for Teachers and Students is published in two sections: “Part One: Loom Construction and Starting to Weave” and “Part Two: An Introduction to Scandinavian Weft-Faced Weaving.”

In five hours of class time, students progressed from plain weave to stripes, kjerringtenner (pick-and-pick), krabbasnar (brocaded tabby), krokbragd (boundweave), and flossa (rye with shorter pile).

Sharon explains a chart.Students received already-warped looms; the weave structures were graphed. Here I learned a valuable lesson: the clearer my graphs, the faster my students learned. Students were misinterpreting my handwritten graphs, so I took the time to computerize them.

Once students grasped plain weave and the importance of bubbling the weft to keep the warp spread, the graphs served them well. I demonstrated each weave before students advanced to that structure and remained available to trouble-shoot as they were weaving.

I noticed one student with severe draw-in on his loom. As a result, he had fallen behind on weaving each structure. We fixed it by bubbling the weft a little more and flicking our fingers horizontally across the warp to spread it. As the old saying goes, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” He tried. His mother, who had taken Heidi’s class the previous year and had since purchased a loom, reported to Heidi that her son had taken his finished piece home and had hung it on the wall for all to see.

IMG_0672It was a teacher’s dream to teach Heidi’s capable students. We had introduced them to both cultural activities and to Scandinavian handcrafts. It seems quite a few people have an inherent desire to work with their hands. Weaving may fulfill those desires, and its many techniques engage the mind, as well.

Gallery of student work in various stages of completion:

See also the article in the February, 2014 issue of the Norwegian Textile Letter, “Transforming Through Tradition: Teach Nordic Arts at Concordia College, Moorhead.”

Sharon Marquardt holds a Master’s degree in theater arts with an emphasis in costuming. Instead of constructing costumes and placing them in storage after a show’s run, Sharon decided to weave heritage textiles. She learned Scandinavian weaving techniques at Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum in Decorah, Iowa, where she also took private weaving lessons from Syvilla Tweed Bolson. Her interest has taken her to her grandmother ‘s home in northern Norway where she still has relatives in Tromso. Sharon has a broad range of teaching experience.  She has been employed as an English and gifted/talented teacher in two public schools. She has taught rigid-heddle weaving through weaving stores, university extension classes, and conferences. She has also taught warp-weighted loom weaving. She adapted the Norwegian West Coast weaving techniques, which she taught at Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, for the PVC loom used in Professor Heidi Goldberg’s Nordic Arts class at Concordia College, Moorhead, Minnesota. 

shmarquardt (at) gmail.com

The Zen of Rya

Jan M Rya 2In August 2014, teacher Jan Mostrom offered a long-awaited class in rya weaving at the Weavers Guild of Minnesota. The Weavers Guild presented the class in partnership with the American Swedish Institute, in conjunction with their exhibition The Living Tradition of Ryijy – Finnish Rugs and Their Makers. (For a description of the exhibit, see http://norwegiantextileletter.com/article/finnish-ryijy-rugs-at-the-american-swedish-institute/)

Jan is an accomplished teacher and weaver in the Nordic tradition, and her class was eagerly anticipated, proving so popular that a second session was added immediately. All in all, eleven students participated. None had prior experience in weaving rya, and several of the students were first-time weavers.

Jam Mostrom's sample rya, front (detail)

Jam Mostrom’s sample rya, front (detail)

Jan Mostrom's sample rya, back (detail)

Jan Mostrom’s sample rya, back (detail)

To make the class welcoming and fun for students at all levels, Jan chose a simple project to get us started. Her inspiration was a traditional style from the Närke region of Sweden that alternates rows of plain weave with rows of rya knots. This type is also known as a sparse rya, because the background fabric shows through the pile. This weft-faced fabric often bears distinctive checks or vertical stripes, providing a more symmetrical counterpoint to the softer knotted sections. Jan brought in several of her own pieces in this style for inspiration.

Yarn for Ryas 1Student projects were small woven pieces 16” wide, suitable for a wall hanging or cushion cover. (Length varied based on design.) The warp was sturdy Finnish seine twine and the weft was Rauma brand yarn spun from spelsau, a native Norwegian sheep. Rauma is tightly spun and has a beautiful sheen, making it both durable and attractive. Weavers supplemented the Rauma with a variety of other yarns from their personal collections. Overall, students found the rya knots easy to tie, making for a relaxing weaving experience, while the thick pile felt scrumptious to the touch.

Within the basic framework of size and materials, weavers were free to play with color and design. It was truly inspiring to see the wide variety of finished products. Each rya was completely unique, reflecting its maker’s personality and preferences, proof that this seemingly simple style of weaving holds endless possibilities.

Susan Andrews

Susan Andrews: Graphic rya with red

Kelly Nordstrom: Rya inspired by a fish graphic

Rya inspired by a fish graphic

Several students created clear geometric shapes with clean lines in contrasting colors, taking advantage of the rya’s graphic possibilities. Kelly Nordstrom’s project was inspired by the bold black-and-red design of a fish on a Finnish napkin. Susan Andrews and Edi Thorstensson also chose to work with red, paired with gray and white respectively, creating bright, dramatic contrast.

Edie Thorstensson

Edie Thorstensson

Marie . explored a stash of knitting yarns for an autumn palette.

Marie . explored a stash of knitting yarns for an autumn palette.

Cynthia Werner's piece includes the natural shades of sheep

Cynthia Werner’s piece includes the natural shades of sheep

Others created a more abstract effect by blending colors seemingly at random. Marilyn Moore was inspired by the abundant lilies in her garden, while Marie Larson dug into her stash of knitting yarns to create a riot of colors and textures in her favorite autumnal palette. Cynthia Werner is an experienced yarn spinner who loves to work with Shetland wool. Her design—featuring shades of white, gray, and black—echoes the natural tones of a dappled Shetland fleece.

Marilyn Moore

Marilyn Moore: The colors of lilies

Geri Retzlaff  explored shapes in soft tones

Geri Retzlaff explored shapes in soft tones

Wanda inspired by palette..celtic blue

Wanda inspired by palette..celtic blue

Jan brought a stack of books to inspire us, allowing students to draw on the rich history of rya to spark their own projects. Wanda Truman was struck by the flower design on a traditional wedding rya woven in red, but chose to weave in her favorite Celtic blue to reflect her own heritage. Geri Retzlaff and Carol Harrington were inspired by the abstract designs of twentieth century ryas and also took on the challenge of creating rounded shapes. Geri wove in soft pastels, while Carol contrasted purple and orange for a contemporary look.

Many students, like Carol Harrington, drafted cartoons before weaving

Many students, like Carol Harrington, drafted cartoons before weaving

Allison N Rya 3Other students explored rya’s three-dimensional possibilities. Allison Nassif chose to work almost entirely in white, using a heavy yarn similar to that found in mops for her rya knots. The knotted design of thick chevrons alternated with plain weave, creating heavy piles that viewers longed to sink their fingers into.

 

Lisa B Rya 1Besides working in wool, most weavers in the class added silk or linen to the knots to create varied texture and visual interest. My own project was inspired by Edvard Munch’s 1895 painting Moonlight. I was fascinated by the way Munch captured the glint of moonlight on water and tried to replicate the effect by adding linen, which catches the light, to the wool knots. I also used a pale yellow yarn, thicker than the Rauma, in the moonlit sections, hoping to draw the viewer’s eye.

Lisa Bauch was inspired by Edvard Munch's painting, "Moonlight"

Lisa Bauch was inspired by Edvard Munch’s painting, “Moonlight”

Jan’s class took place over four days, and visitors stopped to view our progress, many of whom had been to see the exhibit at the American Swedish Institute. Two of our guests were women from Finland, who were pleased to see their beloved national weaving style being taught in the United States.

For their part, Jan’s students are eager to continue their explorations. “Rya weaving was surprisingly easy to learn,” says Geri Retzlaff. “The weaving and knot tying are relaxing and I found myself pondering other designs while weaving my class project.” Students agreed that the simple repetitive movements of tying the knots can produce a zen-like calm—but also leaves the attention free for lively conversations in class, if preferred.

Inspired by the success of the beginning class, Jan is planning to teach a more advanced rya class in 2015. “I found it very exciting to teach this class,” she explains. “The creativity in the students’ rya pieces was inspirational. It made me excited to start a new rya piece myself. It is gratifying to an instructor when the students are excited and enthusiastic about what they are learning and have such successful results.”

In addition to classes, the Weavers Guild is forming a year-long interest group, open to anyone interested in beginning or continuing their study in this style. Members are invited to create work for an exhibit in the fall of 2015.

Thanks to Jan Mostrom and her students, the American Swedish Institute, and the Weavers Guild of Minnesota for helping to ensure that this living tradition lives on!

 Lisa Bauch is a writer and editor – and newly-enthusiastic rya weaver – living in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  She is on the board of the Weavers Guild of Minnesota.

labauch (at) visi.com

Warp-Weighted Loom Classes at Vesterheim, July 2013

By Melba Granlund

The Warp-weighted Loom

Based on finds in ancient burial sites in the Palestine city of Jericho, it has been estimated that the warp-weighted loom dates back 9,000 years – or to the seventh millennium BC.  As such, it is the oldest type of loom and, remarkably, remains in use even today.   No one has ascertained the exact location where the warp-weighted loom was first developed, but evidence of its use is widespread across Europe, Asia Minor, and Scandinavia, as far north as the Arctic Circle.

LoomSketch copy

Sketch by Kay Larson

It’s my guess that the simplicity of the loom construction, and the ease with which it can be moved from place to place, are the reasons why it has survived so long.  The warp-weighted loom consists of two vertical uprights, a horizontal warp beam, a shed rod, a heddle rod and weights.  Warp threads are held parallel under tension by being tied in small bundles to weights made from either stone, round rings of fired clay, or metal.  In Norway, soapstone was often used.  A spacing cord is used to keep the threads in order, half of which are positioned through string heddles attached to the heddle rod, enabling the weaver to create two sheds for the weaving process.  More complex patterns and weave structures such as krokbragd, rosepath, boundweave, and twill are also possible with the use of additional heddles or by finger-picking additional sheds.

Because of my love for all things old, I have long wanted to try my hand at using one of these looms.   My opportunity came this summer at Vesterheim. Vesterheim staff invited Marta Kløve Juuhl to come from Norway and teach two warp-weighted loom classes, held during the two weeks prior to the annual Nordic Fest.  The first class wove a Sami grene (blanket) using handspun wool in natural colors.  In the second class, students chose between two weaving techniques – one, a western Norwegian åkle using traditional colors of ryegarn, and the other, a rya, “the Viking way.”   As it turned out, I was able to be a student in both classes.   In the second class I chose the western Norwegian åkle.

Marta taught classes twice before at Vesterheim.   Among other projects, Marta currently teaches warp-weighted loom weaving at the Østerøy Museum in Norway.  She describes her life as that which revolves around weaving, as that is all she does.   Her dedication to, and knowledge of, weaving was obvious from the start.   Marta’s easy-going and caring nature made the experience a joy for everyone.  She could trouble-shoot any problem and anticipated when you were going to have a problem even before it happened.   If you made an error, she showed you how to correct it and did so in a nurturing manner.   She is one of those teachers you will always remember with fondness and gratitude.

IMG_5116
Marta Kløve Juuhl winding a header (Photo: Robbie LaFleur)

Sami Grene

Instruction in the first class began by learning about the Sami tradition of grene weaving, which is still being practiced today by women in Finnmark, the northernmost region of Norway.   Those familiar with Sami band weaving and  Sami folk dress may think that all Sami clothing is adorned with brilliant colors of red, yellow, and blue.   Not so.  We learned the Sami people are currently wearing more clothing in natural colors, and not as many multi-colored garments as in the past.  This was also true of the grene, where only natural colored wool is used.  Marta’s sample grene piece was made from luxurious Norwegian sheep wool, handspun by a Sami woman from Finnmark. The wool was not from the Norwegian Spelsau sheep, but from a Norwegian ”white” sheep, which according to Marta is now more common in Norway.   Marta arranged for us to order this same lovely handspun wool, and she brought over 70 skeins for the class.  The grene incorporates three separate qualities or weights of wool – a different weight each for the header, the warp yarn and the weft yarn – each spun in a different technique, either for strength or loft.   The yarn is truly distinctive, and is not available at any Husflid in Norway (trust me, I know, because I tried to find it).  While some class members chose to bring their own handspun, we all used wool in the natural colors of the sheep:  white, grey, or natural black. One student even brought her own loom to the grene class, homemade following a picture she had seen in a children’s book.

grenes

A variety of natural sheep colors in the student pieces (Photo: Melba Granlund)

The Sami grene begins with a header or narrow band woven in a checkerboard pattern using a small heddle.  Extensions of the weft threads from the header are used for the warp threads.  The header band with lengthy warp threads is lashed onto the top warp beam, and then the warp threads are arranged to create two sheds using a series of string heddles and a finger-crocheted spacing chain to keep them in order.

Image 3

Sami grene header (Photo: Melba Granlund)

The header is lashed to the loom (Photo: Melba Granlund)

The header is lashed to the loom (Photo: Melba Granlund)

Typical Sami pattern designs were depicted for us in the sample piece Marta had woven for the class and in the references provided in the Østerøy Museum booklet, Oppstadveven.   In addition, we viewed a Sami grene on display in the Sami collection at the Vesterheim Museum.

Vesterheim-grene

Grene owned by Vesterheim (Photo: Vesterheim staff)

Weft yarn for the grene was made up into large butterflies called “udoos.”  As you can imagine, there were a lot of jokes flying about using, and abusing, that term.  As weaving progressed, the weft threads were eased into place by grasping and pulling apart the loose warp threads below,  snapping the weft threads upward into position.

Image 5

Western Norway Åklæ

We began the åkle with a twisted cord as the header, made from four strands of the same yarn to be used in the åkle (red, blue, green, gold).   The twisted cord is lashed to the top beam of the loom.  Warp threads are then inserted through the header at so many threads per centimeter, attached to weights, arranged in string heddles, and finally connected by a spacing chain to keep them in order, similar to that done for the grene.  Weft yarns were bundled up in “udoos” the same as for the grene, and as weaving progressed, rows of weft threads were beaten into position using a weaving sword made of wood or bone.  As an alternative, you could pull apart the warp threads to snap the weft yarn into place, as we did with the grene. At the edges, we used the western Norway technique of carrying the yarn at the selvedge rather than cutting the yarn with each color change. This creates a thicker edge, different from other weaving.

Students chose their own weaving patterns. My inspiration came from an åkle in the Vesterheim collection which is depicted in Kay Larsen’s book, The Woven Coverlets of Norway.  I decided to incorporate as many krokbragd patterns as I could find depicting crosses, as well as tapestry techniques including rutevev and Vestfoldmett. As an experimental color study, two other students decided to weave the same band patterns, but using different colors.

IMG_5139

Curator Laurann Gilbertson inspired students with coverlets from the Vesterheim collection.

Five students wove ryas. One rya weaver, who brought her own loom and planned to weave fabric to use in Viking reenactments, chose to weave a twill requiring four sheds.    She explained that twill fabric has been found dating back to the late Bronze Age in Denmark.

IMG_5211

For use as a Viking-era shawl, Elizabeth Christianson wove a rya with a twill base. (Photo: Melba Granlund)

Lessons Learned

Much to my surprise, while I thought I would not be able to tolerate standing all day at the loom, it came easy — I found it easier than sitting at a floor loom all day long.   Another thing that became apparent to me is that I spend a lot of time trying to make a decision about which patterns to choose, as there are so many beautiful ones from which to pick.

Probably the most important thing I discovered, however, was that when using a warp-weighted loom, be sure you have enough rocks!  It became obvious about halfway through my first project that my grene was doomed to fail due to the lack of enough rocks and the inconsistency in their sizes.  There weren’t enough rocks for everyone in the class, and the stones varied in weight widely. The inconsistent/inadequate warp string bundles caused my piece to draw in severely toward the center, as there was more weight there than on the outside warp threads.  I considered repositioning the heavy rocks to the outside, but decided that that might just have caused warp thread draw-in at a different area, or cause the piece to be tweaked or stretched to one side and make it more difficult to keep an even beat and straight lines.  So I left them as they were, which was probably a mistake.   I tried to compensate by leaving 3-4 inches of extra weft thread at each selvedge in each row, which was then needled into position towards the middle, trying to force the warp threads further apart.  While that helped, it was not sufficient to solve the problem completely.  Oh, well, it’s just a practice piece, I told myself.  Next time, I will devote more attention to this part of the set up.  Thankfully, I did not have this problem in the second class as more weights were found for all the looms, including weights in the form of water bottles.  In retrospect, I probably should have done something similar for my grene.

IMG_0974

Even, successful distribution of rocks in the second class (Photo: Melba Granlund)

At the end of these classes, many of us had fallen in love with this type of loom, and if we didn’t already have one, we wanted one and were looking for ways to acquire one, either by outright purchase or having one built.  I’m still working on that part, as my åkle isn’t done and needs to get back on a loom to be finished.  Even if my piece were done, I know that I will definitely be doing more weaving on this “way-back machine” called a warp-weighted loom.

REFERENCES

  • By og Bygd 1983, Norsk Folkemuseums Årbok:  Paper by Elsa E. Gudjonson, “Nogle Bemærkninger om den Islandske Wægtvev, vestadur.”
  • Hansen, Egon H.  Opstadvæv Før og Nu. København, Denmark: Teamcos forlag,  (1978)
  • Hoffman, Marta.  Fra Fiber til Tøy. Oslo, Norway: Landbruksforlaget A/S, 1991.
  • Hoffman, Marta.  The Warp-Weighted Loom. Robin and Russ Handweavers, 1964.
  • Kåstad, Anna Østerbø.  Oppstadveven. Østeroy Museum, 2000.
  • Sundt, Eilert.  Om Husfliden i Norge. Oslo, Norway:  Gyldendal, 1975.

By Melba Granlund

melba.granlund (at) gmail.com