By Lise-Anne Bauch
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.)
To 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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!