A Rya tapestry is similar in nature to a knotted Persian carpet. It is
comprised of woven rows of weft alternating with rows of knotted yarn. The rya knots are similar to a Ghiordes knot in Persian carpets but are spaced farther apart than those in a Persian carpet and are much larger and longer.
In Norway, ryas have been found dating back to the early 1400’s. They were used as bed coverings, the knotted side being closest to the body providing warmth. In the castles in Sweden, they were used as bedding throughout the 16th
century. The ryas at this time were mainly of solid colours, natural white, grey, black and yellow. In the 17th Century, the rya was no longer considered bedding for the upper nobility, though the servants and lower class still used ryas.
In Finland, the rya developed further with the use of colour and pattern. Decorative ryas date back to the 1700’s. When a young couple married, the rya was used as a prayer rug during the wedding ceremony. The bridal couple would kneel on the rya as they exchanged their wedding vows. The colourful tapestry was then displayed in their home as a reminder of their wedding day and became a family heirloom to be passed on to future generations.
The rya in Finland was larger, made of 1 or 2 pieces, sewn together. Not everyone was a rya weaver as it took skill,
strength and a large loom to weave the heavy tapestry. There were rya weavers, who travelled throughout the villages and towns with their looms. As wedding day plans arose, a rya was commissioned to celebrate the coming event.
Rya designs were usually colourful geometric shapes and florals and quite often had images of the boy and girl to be wed. Also a Tree of Life image signifying the family heritage. The Rya was also dated with the year of the marriage. Different regions of Finland had unique designs and colours specific to the area using the local plants for dyes.
Ryas are still made today, using both traditional and more modern designs. In Finland, schools have rya competitions with children designing their own rya. Ryas can also be sewn onto a pre-woven backing.
I often get asked: How do you tie a rya knot on the loom? Here’s how.
Rya Rug Tapestry Books
The Ryijy-Rug Lives On Finnish Ryijy-Rugs 1778 – 2008. Book by Tuomas Sopanen, Leena Willberg
Last Updated on April 17, 2021 by Paivi Suomi