Snow-washing: An American Account and a Norwegian Story

Heidi Goldberg:  Snow washing ryas at Concordia College on Wednesday, January 29th, 2014

A cheerful visit from Solveig Storvick Pollei the week before served as the impetus for a rya snow-washing day. Solveig had stopped by the art department when she was at Concordia College to have a look at the weavings on campus. We found some ryas looking a bit drab and dusty, and her suggestion of a little snow cleaning spurred me into action.

Photos by Solveig Pollei.  The colors look bright here, but Solveig noted they were a bit dusty.

Photos by Solveig Pollei. The colors look bright here, but Solveig noted they were a bit dusty.

Rya from Concordia College

Solveig Pollei found a pair of ryas in storage at Concordia College

When we snow-washed the ryas, it was ten degrees and sunny. With only a light and variable wind, it seemed like a respite from the subzero temperatures and dangerous wind chills we’d endured in the last weeks.

At first I contemplated taking them home to clean them, away from curious eyes in my secluded front yard. Then I thought, “Why not celebrate the unusual activity of snow-washing handwoven articles and use the occasion as a learning and laughing opportunity with my Nordic Arts students!” We were finishing up our woodcarving unit and embarking on rosemaling; the fiber unit was still a few weeks away. I encouraged students to bring boots to the next class period.  When I announced that we should clean up early to go wash the ryas, the students seemed half interested, not really knowing what to expect. When it came time to go, even the reluctant scrambled for their coats, the oddity of the prospect urging them to see what it was all about.

Sonw-washing, Cassie

Cassie adds snow to the rya

We plodded off the sidewalk into the clean snow on Olin Hill; the snow was a couple feet deep. We flattened the three ryas out in the snow and started in. We dragged them a bit across the snow, gently stepped on them, piled and brushed snow across them with our mittens, picked them up, shook them out, flipped them over and repeated the process several times. The process not only cleaned the rugs, but provided a fun bonding experience for the class. I should note that one of the ryas is lighter in weight and needs some repairs; we took care to be quite gentle with this rya.

Nick and Heidi snow-wash the rya

Nick and Heidi snow-wash the rya

One could clearly see that the pieces were indeed cleaner, the colors were more vibrant, and the wool smelled fresher.  A few fine crystals stuck to the pieces after the washing. When we brought them back in, a little snow melted on the surface, dampening them slightly, but the pieces felt dry after a couple hours of being left to air out in my office. The crystals of the sparkling dry fresh snow worked beautifully to bring the ryas back to life.


The ryas were turned over in the snow

Melissa, AJ, and the snow-wahsed rya

Melissa and AJ display the renewed rya

Marta Kløve Juuhl:  Snow-washing in the Mountains of Norway

(Editor’s note:  Since textile snow-washing is often done in Norway, I asked Marta Kløve Juuhl, from the Østeroy Museum in Hordaland, if she had any Norwegian instructions or photos to add.  She reminded me she is from Vestland, where there isn’t always so much snow, and her museum is even closer to the coast.  She didn’t really have instructions, but thinking about snow-washing brought up a great memory.  Here is her story, followed by a translation.)

Ein sommar på 1990 talet gjekk heile familien min, mann, eg og 3 barn (8 og 11år)  på ein lang fjelltur opp til ei jakthytte som far min bygde på 1960- talet. Det var 5 timar å gå, og alle ungane måtte ha ryggsekk med sine eigne ting i.  Hytta er ganske primitiv, men der er rikeleg med sengklede. Det vil seia mange ullteppe, eller kvitlar på vossamål, min dialekt.

Veret var strålande, så vi hadde ein fin tur opp, men gjekk i mykje snø. Dagen etter var det like fint ver, og då bestemte eg at vi skulle vaska kvitlane (ullteppa). Der var mange snøfenner rundt hytta, så vi bar ut alle saman, minst 20 teppe, breidde dei utover oppå snøen. Ungane fekk hoppa og spretta så mykje dei ville på dei. Etterpå snudde vi dei, og ungane gjentok hoppinga. Like ved er der nokre store steinar som vi la ullteppa på etterpå, så dei fekk turka seg. Og reine vart dei.

Jegerar har aldri tid til slikt når dei er på jakt, så eg er sikker på at kvitlane har ikkje vore vaska slik fleire gonger.

One summer in 1990 I took my whole family – my husband, me, and three children (our 11-year-old daughter and eight-year-old twin boys) – on a long mountain hike up to a hunting cabin my father built in the 1960s.  It was a five hour hike and all the children had to carry backpacks with their own belongings.  The cabin was very primitive but rich in bed coverings, that is to say, wool blankets, or “kvitlar” in Voss dialect.

The weather was brilliant so we had a fine hike up, but we walked in deep snow.  The day after had equally beautiful weather and we decided to wash the kvitlane in the many snowdrifts around the cabin. We carried them all out, at least 20 blankets, and laid them out over the snow.  The children got to jump and leap around on them as much as they wanted.  Afterwards we turned them over and the children resumed their hopping. There were several large rocks nearby, so we laid the rugs on them to dry. And clean they became.

Hunters never have time for this sort of task when they are hunting, so I’m quite sure that the kvitlane haven’t seen such washing many times!

Marta Kløve Juuhl taught weaving in the Norwegian Husflidsskole system for many years.  She now works part-time at Østerøy museum, primarily with textiles, and also in her private studio. Her current commissions include bands for bunads and wall hangings for churches.
marta.klove.juuhl (at)

2 thoughts on “Snow-washing: An American Account and a Norwegian Story

  1. Kelly Marshall

    Nice job Robbie! I am so lucky to have you working on my website, you have really polished it up and the newsletter is fabulous, informative, fun and great pictures and articles.

  2. Pingback: The Second Digital Issue of the Norwegian Textile Letter | Norwegian Textile Letter

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