Editor’s Letter: The New Digital Format

Even though the shiny new digital Norwegian Textile Letter (NTL) now includes numerous color photos and is easily available to a potentially huge audience, the lack of a print edition is still a bit of a loss.  So to those of you who enjoy print magazines and newsletters (and I am one!), I hope the benefits of the new format will win you over.

With each new issue of the NTL, a few more older issues will appear on the Archives page.  Maybe you are one of the NTL readers who has subscribed since 1994 – there are many!  If so, your comments and memories and updates would be great to hear.  For those of you who are new to the newsletter, it should be like Christmas every quarter – with many new issues to read. The first two volumes are available now.

There are a few ways I hope you respond to this new issue.  Read it and enjoy (and comment!). Subscribe.  Let others know about the newsletter. Volunteer to write an article for an upcoming issue, or just as important, suggest what you would like to read or know about.

Happy holidays to everyone.

Robbie LaFleur

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From the Norwegian Breakfast Club to the Norwegian Textile Guild – a Brief History

By Mary Skoy

The Norwegian Textile Guild and the Norwegian Textile Letter had their roots in a meeting held in 1994.  Lila Nelson, curator emeritus at Vesterheim Norwegian American Museum, reminisced in the August, 2008 issue of the Norwegian Textile Letter,

I can still recall my amazement and disbelief. It was seven o’clock in the morning in the middle of Convergence 1994 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and about seventy people were hopeful of getting into the room for forty-five that I had reserved. I was sure that even forty was an optimistic guess; who makes a seven a.m. date on a day already packed from morning to night? I envisioned a very few sleepy people sipping coffee and stifling yawns.

Never had I been more in error. By the end of the meeting, we had an organized named group, ideas galore for goals, suggestions for possible futures meetings, and a commitment from Textile Curator at Vesterheim, Laurann Gilbertson, to provide assistance and direction.

But, possibly most important of all, during the spiritied discussion, Betty and Don Johannesen, modestly and without fanfare, offered to edit a newsletter to keep us connected.

I realize in retrospect that without the newsletter, we would probably not have survived.  It was the one element in which we could all share  Scattered over the entire United States (and eventually including members from other countries), we were united mainly by the printed word.  We continued to meet at Convergence and also at some regional conferences, but many members could not attend these nation-wide gatherings.

Betty and Don Johannesen edited and published the high-quality newsletter for fourteen years. During Mary Skoy’s tenure as editor, from 2008 to 2013, members received even more for their low dues, with the inclusion of full-color photos.

The first year of newsletters set the academic, informational, and collegial tone of the newsletter.

  • Number 1, November 1994. Karen Diadick Casselman, “Historical and Modern Lichen Dyes: Some Ethical Considerations.”
  • Number 2, January 1995. Lila Nelson, “The Ruteåklær Tradition in Norway.”
  • Number 3, June 1995.  Amy Lightfoot, “Primitive Norwegian Sheep” and “Fisherman’s Mittens.”
  • Number 4, September 1995.  Betty Johannesen, “An Introduction to the Dansk Bragd Tradition” and “Dansk Brogd Rug.”

Norwegian Textile Guild milestones include:

  • Summer 1994 — A group of people interested in Norwegian weaving met at the Convergence conference in Minneapolis, taking the name “Norwegian Breakfast Club” in honor of its first 7 am meeting.
  • Fall 1994 — The first issue of the Norwegian Breakfast Club Newsletter was published by editors  Betty and Don Johannesen.
  • Summer 1995 — Members met at the Frontiers of Fibre conference in British Columbia. The name Norwegian Textile Letter was formally adopted.
  • 1995 — The first study group was organized (topic: dansk brogd or boundweave with pickup).
  • Fall 1997 — The first translation of a Norwegian publication was in included, translated by Eva Hovde Douhit.
  • Summer 1999 — The first Vesterheim Textile Study Tour travels to northern Norway.
  • Fall 2008 — Mary Skoy becomes editor of the Norwegian Textile Letter.
  • Fall 2013 — Robbie LaFleur becomes the editor of the new digital version of the Norwegian Textile Letter

Mary Lønning Skoy traces her interest in Norwegian textiles back to her great aunt, Sunniva Lønning, a teacher, fiber artist, and fiber activist in Norway in the mid 20th Century. Today, she weaves to  surround herself with handwoven textiles.

maryskoy (at)

A Studio Visit: Grete Bodøgaard

By Robbie LaFleur

Creative energy flows through Grete Bodøgaard and into her tapestries, her teaching, and her life.

It flows from the farm fields and towns of South Dakota, as she travels to teach weaving to children, correctional facility inmates, and others through the South Dakota Humanities Commission.

It flows from her home and studio in the former bank and library of Volin, South Dakota, a tiny town tucked in the farm fields of southeastern South Dakota.

It flows from her childhood home above the Arctic Circle in Bodø, Norway, a mere 4,033 miles away.

It flows from her looms.

One of Grete’s first comments during my interview visit to her studio was unsurprising. “I have restless feet,” she said, commenting on the fact that she is rarely at home, especially in the summer.  Her car was packed for travel to Moon Rain, north of Ottowa, Canada, to lead a two-day workshop on natural plant dyeing.

Grete lives and works in a converted bank in Volin, South Dakota. At every turn you see an artifact or art work, or a wall of visitors’ signatures, a myriad of cookbooks, or antique furniture and textiles from Norway.


(Photo: Robbie LaFleur)

Oh, and weaving!  This tapestry was woven from a poem by her (second) husband, the filmmaker and poet Charles Nauman, who wrote it when they were living on a buffalo ranch in the Black Hills.  They hiked the prairie often and found a ring of teepee stones in which the opening faced east. Grete reminisced,  “For one year, 1999, while we lived on the ranch, Chuck wrote a poem each day and I wove a small tapestry each day. It was a very creative and productive year.”


Tapestry sitting on a chair from Norway (Photo: Robbie LaFleur)

A more recent tapestry also touches on a South Dakota story. In this photo taken at a Sioux Falls gallery, the story of “Her Nest (A very small bird / has made her home / in a buffalo skull / a very small bird) is woven with digital symbols.”


(Photo: Robbie LaFleur)

The corner location of this tapestry, appropriately in their bedroom, precluded a better photo.


(Photo: Robbie LaFleur)

The bank building also used to house the town library in a long, narrow room along the front.  It is now Grete’s studio, and the bookshelves hold yards of books and yarn.


(Photo: Robbie LaFleur)

The shelves face a space packed tight with looms. Look up to the high ceilings and you see spinning wheels, hauled from Norway as airplane carry-ons by her parents, and a treasured wool “beach bag” that her grandmother made and lined with plastic.


(Photo: Robbie LaFleur)

Bodøgaard’s path from Bodø to South Dakota included stops to study weaving in Norway and Denmark, and an apprenticeship in weaving and dyeing in London.  While studying historical archaeological textiles in Denmark, Grete traveled to Hamburg. She viewed Bronze Age textiles; that was planned.  She had a love-at-first-sight experience with a professor from South Dakota; that was unexpected.

When Sam Heikes showed up in Denmark six months later with a marriage proposal, she accepted his hand, and a life adventure.  She was a modern-day immigrant to the Midwest, following generations of Scandinavians.  Her mother-in-law and her husband’s grandmother still spoke Norwegian.

Grete moved to South Dakota along with her eight-harness Glimåkra loom. Her mother insisted she needed it so she wouldn’t forget what she was supposed to be doing.

Together with the wife of an art professor at the University of South Dakota, Grete developed and taught a class in textiles. When she became pregnant in 1970, an administrator informed her they “can’t have people who show,” and the class came to an end.  As a progressive Norwegian, Grete thought, “Where am I?”

She was happy to raise children and sheep, along with her weaving, in the next few years. Her first commission, appropriately enough, was from the North Central Wool Marketing Association.  Her tapestry weaving career was given a jump start when the Minneapolis Tribune published a photo essay about her work in their Picture supplement in 1976.  (You can read “A Weaver: From Norway to the Prairie; included with permission, best copy available.) As a result of the attention, her commissions increased and she took on apprentices from the U.S. and abroad.

IMG_1122Her work in tapestry over the years has been influenced by what she looks at and what she reads, and what she remembers. When immersed in a project, she can work eight to ten hours a day.  “I’m a fanatic.  I get so much energy from my work,” she said. One of her large commissions was a tapestry of a painting, “Indian Christ,” by the noted American Indian artist Oscar Howe.  It is seven feet by ten feet, six inches, and hangs above the altar in the chapel of Our Lady of the Sioux Chapel at St. Joseph’s Indian School in Chamberlain, South Dakota.

indian Christ: O.Howe

Newspaper photo supplied by the artist

Another news article shows the glorious scale of three commissioned weavings.

Dakota Seasons, 1980 G. Bodogaard, text 1At one point, South Dakota almost lost this talented weaver. “When Bush was elected, we moved back to Norway.” She and her second husband moved into the house where she grew up, in a group of buildings mostly constructed in the late 15th century for Danish government officials, and also including a church built in 1275.  The area was settled even earlier.  A spindle stone made of soapstone from Viking times was discovered under the house, and is now in Grete’s studio.  Their house looked out over a creek; the ocean was a five minute walk away.  What could trump this lovely situation?  Her daughter announced she was pregnant.


Grete Bodogaard holds a drop spindle made with Viking era soapstone (Photo: Robbie LaFleur

Though Grete moved back to South Dakota, her trips to Norway are frequent and her ties to Norway are strong.  An upcoming exhibit in Bodø will include works from Grete and from another transplanted Norwegian artist working in Seattle, printmaker Eva Isaksen. The exhibit, “Light and Dark in the North,” is a result of the need for the two artists from Bodø to “go home,” both in their works and physically.

Details for weavers

Grete Bodøgaard weaves primarily on a two-meter wide Glimåkra tapestry loom. “It’s solid to work on,” Grete said.  She prefers an upright loom for tapestry because it is difficult to get perspective when looking down at a floor loom. A second old tapestry loom was found by chance.  Grete’s sister-in-law purchased a house owned by two tapestry weavers, who left their looms. She uses primarily Norwegian yarns, and stocks up each time she visits Norway. In the U.S. she buys through Norsk Fjord Fiber.

Grete studied with Maria Brekke Koppen for one year in Oslo.  Koppen was an exacting teacher, but one who encouraged personal exploration.  On the one hand you should follow directions, Koppen emphasized, but you have to figure out your own way of doing.  Generations of tapestry weavers have studied from her textbook, Norwegian Tapestry Weaving, and Grete’s studio copy is well-worn.  You’ll find many of the Norwegian joining techniques described in the book in Grete’s tapestries. She explained succinctly, “I don’t like to sew things up.”

Grete has been inspired by many Norwegian artists, including the contemporary artist and tapestry designer Jan Groth.  “There are so many wonderful weavers in Norway,” Grete said, “There are no rules.”

Of Synnove Anker Aurdal she noted, “It was a total enlightenment to hear her talk.  I loved her creativity. She was very elegant.” (Though there is not much online on Aurdal in English, see wonderful images at this Facebook site and the Absolute Tapestry site.)

The first time she saw a weaving by Frida Hansen was at a museum in Hamburg.  Although Hansen was a prominent European artist in the early part of the 20th century, at the time Grete was studying, Hansen wasn’t studied or accepted in her home country of Norway.

Grete was influenced early on by Hannah Ryggen’s tapestries, which she saw as a child.  Ryggen lived not far from Grete’s grandmother.  Ryggen never learned to draw, Grete commented, yet the power of her images was strong.

More background on Grete Bodøgaard:

Robbie LaFleur weaves in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and is the editor of the Norwegian Textile Letter.

lafleur1801 (at)

National Exhibition of Folk Art in the Norwegian Tradition, 2013

By Laurann Gilbertson

Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum’s National Exhibition of Folk Art in the Norwegian Tradition was on view in Decorah, Iowa, from June 11 to July 27, 2013.   The exhibition, which also includes woodworking, knifemaking, and rosemaling (decorative painting), attracted more than 3,400 visitors.

Weavers sent traditional and contemporary interpretations of Norwegian weaves.  Judges wrote constructive comments and awarded ribbons.  The judges were Marta Kløve Juuhl, a weaver from Arna, Norway, and Linda Elkins, former Instructor of Art at Luther College and a weaver from Decorah, Iowa.

Entries in the Traditional category followed the historical tradition in technique, colors, and materials.  Entries could also be adaptations of old weavings.  In this category, a Blue Ribbon went to Sandra Somdahl (Decorah, IA) for “Fall Morning” Wall Hanging in krokbragd technique.

"Fall Morning" by Sandra Somdahl (Photo: Charlie Langton)

“Fall Morning” by Sandra Somdahl (Photo: Vesterheim staff)

A Red Ribbon went to Donna Laken (Rockford, IL) for “Crooked Path Blues” Rug in krokbragd technique.

208 Laken sm

“Crooked Path Blues” by Donna Laken (Photo: Vesterheim staff)

A White Ribbon went to Betty Rikansrud Nelson (Decorah, IA) for Table Runner in doubleweave technique.

"Table Runner in Doubleweave Technique" by Betty Rikansrud Nelson.  (Photo: Charlie Langton)

“Table Runner in Doubleweave Technique” by Betty Rikansrud Nelson (Photo: Vesterheim staff)

Honorable Mentions were awarded to Sharon Marquardt (Henning, MN) for a West Coast-style wall hanging and to Keith Pierce (Lauderdale, MN) for a Sami-style band.

"West Coast Wall Hanging" by Sharon Marquardt.  (Photo: Charlie Langton)

“West Coast Wall Hanging” by Sharon Marquardt (Photo: Vesterheim staff)

"Sami Band" by Keith Pierce (Photo: Charlie Langton)

“Sami Band” by Keith Pierce (Photo: Vesterheim staff)

Entries in the Contemporary category showed a contemporary departure from the historical tradition in technique or colors or materials.  Some elements still identified the pieces as being within the Norwegian weaving tradition.  In this category, Blue Ribbons went to Jane Connett (Roseville, MN) for “Bookmarks in Krokbragd Technique” and to Patty Kuebker Johnson (Roberts, WI) for “Exploring Drawloom” wall hanging.

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“Bookmarks in Krokbragd Technique” by Jane Connett. (Photo: Vesterheim staff)

"Exploring Drawloom" by Patty Keubker-Johnson (Photo: Charlie Langton)

“Exploring Drawloom” by Patty Kuebker-Johnson (Photo: Vesterheim staff)

Veronna Capone (Brookings, SD) received two Red Ribbon, for “Centerpiece in Monksbelt Technique” and “Centerpiece,” a runner in turned monksbelt technique.

"Centerpiece" by Veronna Capone (Photo : Charlie Langton)

“Centerpiece” by Veronna Capone (Photo : Vesterheim staff)

No White Ribbons were awarded.  Honorable Mentions went to Nancy Ellison (Zumbrota, MN) for “The Farmer’s Sheep” wall wanging in krokbragd and rya techniques and to Judy Ann Ness (Eugene, OR) for “Celestial Navigation: The Journey Home,”  a wall hanging in krokbragd technique.

"The Farmer's Sheep" by Nancy Ellison (Photo: Charlie Langton)

“The Farmer’s Sheep” by Nancy Ellison (Photo: Vesterheim staff)

"Celestial Navigation: The Journey Home" by Judy Ness. (Photo: Charlie Langton)

“Celestial Navigation: The Journey Home” by Judy Ness (Photo: Vesterheim staff)

The Best of Show weaving was Jane Connett’s “Bookmarks.”  Visitors to the exhibition voted for their favorite weaving to receive a People’s Choice award.  They chose Donna Laken’s “Crooked Path Blues” rug.

As weavers win ribbons they accumulate points toward a Gold Medal.  Blue Ribbon = 3 points, Red Ribbon = 2 points, White Ribbon = 1 point.  After a weaver accumulates 8 points, he/she is awarded a Gold Medal.  With their ribbons this year, Veronna Capone and Betty Rikansrud Nelson received Gold Medals in Weaving.

Consider sending a piece or two for next year’s exhibition.  The deadline for entries will be May 23, 2014.  You can find Official Rules and Guidelines online, or if you prefer that a copy of the rules be mailed to you, contact me by phone or email.

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

lgilbertson (at), 563-382-9681

(Editor’s note:  Read more about Veronna Capone’s weaving and her gold medal here.)

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.

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.


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.

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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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


  • 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)


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)




Varafeldur: An Icelandic Rya Reconstruction

By Marta Kløve Juuhl

This is a norrøn vararfeldur, the closest you can come to a rya in the Viking period. In Norwegian it’s called a gråfell (grey fleece).

It was woven in Iceland in November, 2010 by Hildur Hakonardottir from Iceland, Elizabeth Johnston from Shetland, and me. It is the first gråfell which has been made for more than 1000 years.

It is told in Snorre, the Norwegian kongesaga (king saga), that our king Harald Gråfell was in Hardanger with his men one summer (this must be just before year 1000), and there came an Icelandic ship loaded with vararfeldur which people did not want to buy. They gave one to the king, and he started wearing it. Suddenly the Icelanders got rid of all their gråfellar, and the king got his name. At that time this was a big export from Iceland, before the vadmål took over. In fact vadmål became a trade item later on.

Concerning our weaving, it all started in the summer of 2010. We had a class with weaving on a warp weighted loom at Osterøy museum where I work. Both Hildur and Elizabeth attended that class, among many other students, and I was the teacher. They set up a loom with vadmål.

During that week we found that the three of us had so much in common that we wanted to continue the work with this loom. So before they left we decided to meet in Iceland in November.

When we arrived at Hildur’s house at Selfoss, she had decided that we should try to set up a vararfeldur, which she had read about in the Icelandic legal text, Grågås. There it was strictly regulated how it should be made, 4 ells long and 2 ells wide and 13 knots with wool in each row. Hildur had also read somewhere about the technique, and from that we chose tabby.

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Hildur Håkonardottir in Iceland. (Photo courtesy of Marta Kløve Juuhl)

The warp is white 2-­‐ply yarn, double, and the weft is also double two-ply yarn, grey. We picked the yarn from what we thought would be the best quality for this. My experience from weaving åkle helped finding the weight of the stones for each thread. Hildur obtained some grey fleece; in fact we needed fleece from three sheep to finish this one. We used long fibres, only dekkhår. It took a long time to take away the underwool with carders.

In 2012 Hildur and Elizabeth came to Bergen and we set up a loom at the museum with Norwegian yarn (Hoelfeldt Lund strikkegarn) and wool from spelsau in Osterøy. So this vararfeldur is black and brown, very beautiful. We demonstrated weaving at the Osteroy Museum and at the Bjørgvin Viking market at Hordamuseet. This time we tied the knots in front of the loom. We decided that was best for demonstration purposes. It worked quite well, but we had to put an extra string across the piece to keep the wool away. It’s faster to weave with the knots on the back side.

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The rya woven at Osterøy museum (Photo courtesy of Marta Kløve Juuhl)

In 2014 we hope to publish a book on the technique, written in a way that everybody can read it and use it when they want to set up a warp weighted loom.

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A course was held at Osterøy Museum, where the varafeldur was used as inspiration. (Photo courtesy of Marta Kløve Juuhl)

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)

Editor’s note: During the Vesterheim Textile Tour in June, 2011, Marta Kløve Juuhl joined the group for a day. She brought her varafeldur and discussed its creation.  It was a magnetic object to all the fiber-crazy people on the bus; you could hardly keep from stretching your hands to feel the unspun locks of the coverlet.

Marta displays the varafeldur on the Vesterheim tour bus (Photo: Robbie LaFleur)

Marta displays the varafeldur on the Vesterheim tour bus (Photo: Robbie LaFleur)

Here is the back.

Varafeldur detail (Photo: Robbie LaFleur)

Varafeldur detail (Photo: Robbie LaFleur)