Visiting the Vesterheim Collection: A Båtrya

By Jan Mostrom

The most recent rya collected by Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum in Decorah, Iowa is a båtrye (boat rya) made by Nikoline Indreberg about 1890 in Skodje, Sunnemøre, Norway for her new husband Ole Indreberg.  Ole was traveling back and forth by boat to Lødingen in Lofoten from Skodje to build houses on the island and no doubt the rya provided warmth  and safety for his sea journeys.  After Ole’s death in 1898, Nikoline and her children Else and Petter traveled about 15 miles by foot to Spjelkavi where they settled.  The rya was one of the few belongings they brought with them on their trek.


Vesterheim rya (Photo: Vesterheim staff)

Petter eventually immigrated to Seattle but was not able to convince his sister Else to come to America.  Else’s granddaughter brought the rya with her when she immigrated in the United States in 1978 and it was one of her most cherished possessions.  Else Bigton donated the rya to Vesterheim in 2010 in memory of Else Indreberg Spjelkavik.

The pile side of the båtrya is made up of rows of evenly dispersed knots of white and brown heavy yarn in a somewhat random pattern.   At first glance you may not notice the many rag strips that are included in the knots.  There are frequent strips of dark brown/green twill  which blends well with the brown yarn.   When you look closely you will notice surprising pieces of homespun plaids in rust, green, purple and white and cottons in light blue, pink, black, navy, white and red.  It made me wonder if these scraps could have been from Nikoline or Else’s dresses or Petter’s jacket.


(Photo: Robbie LaFleur)

The knots are closely set across a row with the knots being made around two warp threads and create a pile that is about 1 ¾ inches long.  The rows of knots are a scant 1” apart.

The rya is made up of two sections sewn together. The warp in the backing is of thin white and red wool sett at about 32-33 epi.  This close sett creates a warp face fabric on the side opposite the knots and the knots do not show.  Because this is a  1 / 2 twill the weft shows on the side with the knots. The weft appears to be an off white 2 ply cotton.  The warp stripe repeat is made up of 24 white, 6 red, 24 white, 4 red, 4 white, 4 red, 5 white, 27 alternating red and white, 6 white, 27 alternating red and white, 5 white, 4 red, 4 white, and 4 red ends.  This is repeated across the warp so that there are 6 repeats and continues in a partial repeat to the 6 white warps between the alternating warp stripe pair.  At that edge several warps were added so that the seam can be made with that center stripe remaining at 6 threads.

Vesterheim Rya back.  (Photo: Robbie LaFleur)

Vesterheim Rya back. (Photo: Robbie LaFleur)

The rya is hemmed at both ends with a rolled to the pile side hem that is very neatly sewn with a red thread that creates a line on the non-pile side of the rya but does not show on the reverse.  The finished size of the rya is 63.25 inches in length and 56.75 inches in width.

vesterhimdraft5 Graph Paper-5x5Click here for a pdf version of the draft.

Additional information and photos can be found on the Vesterheim website: Identification # 2010.008.001.

Also, visits to study textiles in the collection can be arranged by contacting Laurann Gilbertson; lgilbertson (at), or 563-382-9681.

Jan Mostrom began a long love for Norwegian weaving in a class at Luther College taught by Lila Nelson.

janmostrom (at)




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