Editors Note

This month’s header is a collage of details from photos of the ribbon-winning pieces at this years Exhibition of Weaving in the Norwegian Tradition.  It’s an annual joy to see the talented work of weavers exhibited at the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum.  This year, since we are not limited by a certain number of pages in print, I’ve included a gallery of all the pieces that were entered, in addition to the article featuring the ribbon winners.

samplesI admire the collaboration of Heidi Goldberg and Sharon Marquardt in teaching the Nordic Arts class at Concordia College in Moorhead.  In this issue Sharon shares her instructions for the inexpensive student loom she developed for the class.  The students may not go on to be weavers, but they will definitely appreciate traditional and modern weavings they see in the future, armed with their hands-on knowledge of weaving structure, and the books and pieces that Sharon shared with them. Thank you, Sharon, for all the work you did for the students and in documenting the process that others can use in the future.

Lisa Bauch documented the two rya classes held this summer as a collaboration between the Weavers Guild of Minnesota and the American Swedish Institute (ASI).  The classes, together with the Finnish ryijy exhibit at the ASI and the exhibit of ryas by local weavers at the ASI, built a momentum to keep weaving rya.  A Weavers Guild “Rya Exploration Group” is being formed.  The group, composed of people who will each weave a rya for an exhibit at the Weavers Guild beginning October 15, 2015, will meet at least five times in the coming year for support, study, and show and tell.  The first organizational meeting will take place at the American Swedish Institute on Saturday, September 20, at 2 pm.  The group will tour the exhibits and then hash out details of future meetings over coffee at the Fika.  (Questions?  Contact me.)

And by the way, did you hear that Norges Husflidslag has been designated a UNESCO Organization of Intangible Cultural Heritage?

Robbie LaFleur



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)

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

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)

33rd National Exhibition of Folk Art in the Norwegian Tradition

IMG_7474 - Version 2This summer, beautiful weavings were displayed in the galleries of the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, interspersed with rosemaled items, hand-made knives and wood carvings.

The National Exhibition of Weaving carries on the tradition of Norwegian weaving by encouraging the preservation of traditional weaving techniques, and also spurring weavers to create contemporary pieces that depart from the historical in technique, colors or materials. This year the judges considered all entries together, rather than dividing ribbons by traditional and contemporary categories.  The judges wrote comments individually on each piece.  Then they met together to evaluate the 18 entries for ribbon competition and decide how many of each type of ribbon to award.  Finally they considered these pieces and the eight pieces entered by Gold Medalists to identify the single best weaving.

Blue Ribbon:  Donna Lacken, of Rockford, Illinois, for a table runner in krokbragd technique

Krokbragd, Donna LakenBlue Ribbon:  Judy Ness, Eugene, Oregon, for “Inner Lights,” a wall hanging in krokbragd.

Inner Lights by Judy NessRed Ribbon:  Jane Connett, Roseville, Minnesota, for a card-woven Telemark belt.

Telemark Belt by Jane ConnettWhite Ribbon:  Mary Glock, Decorah, Iowa, for a wall hanging in krokbragd.

Mary Glock wall hanging in krokbragdKeith Pierce, Lauderdale, Minnesota, for “Ouroboros,” a belt in tablet-weaving technique.

Keith Pierce, "Ouroboros"Honorable Mention:  Melba Granlund, Minneapolis, Minnesota, for “Summer Sizzle,” a wall hanging in Vestfoldsmett technique.

243 copyMarilyn C. Moore, Cedar, Minnesota, for a tablecloth in Östgötadräll technique.

248Best of Show Weaving:  Jan Mostrom, Chanhassan, Minnesota for “Folk Dance,” a wall hanging in boundweave technique.

260 copy

260 copyInner Lights by Judy NessPeople’s Choice:  This award had a tie between Jan Mostrom’s “Folk Dance” wall hanging  in boundweave and Judy Ness’s “Inner Lights” wall hanging in krokbragd technique.


Many worthy woven items were submitted, but were not awarded ribbons.  Several of them were submitted by weavers who have received gold medals from Vesterheim; their works are eligible for the “Best of Show” award.   Here are images of all submitted items: GALLERY.

Laurann Gilbertson has been Textile Curator at Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum for 19 years and is now Chief Curator.

lgilbertson (at), 563-382-9681

Vesterheim Exhibition Gallery

These are the woven items entered in the 33rd Annual Exhibit of Folk Art in the Norwegian Tradition.  You can click on any photo to see a larger version.  Once any photo is in the large size, you can scroll through the items, all in larger size.