Rya rugs — 15 designs from 1964, plus a great video on the history of rya rugs and how to make them

rya rugI saw my friend Denise yesterday — she is fairy godmother of my Astro — and she had some goodies for me that she had picked up at tag sales and her local thrift shop. My favorite, for sure: A booklet containing 15 designs for rya rugs, dated December 1964, from the A.s. Sellgren @ Co. of Trondheim, Norway. Thank you, Denise! When I arrived back home, I jumped online to see what I could find out about rya rugs — since there is always a history to fascinate.

Sure enough, I quickly made the the happy discovery of a terrific video (above) featuring Melinda Byrd of Byrdcall Studio. According to this newspaper article [story no longer online], Ms. Byrd’s “grandparents Bill and Angelina Lundgren created Lundgren Rya in the U.S. in the mid-1950s. The Lundgrens made the hand-knotted rugs by importing rya yarn and woven rug backings from a Swedish distributor.” Byrd was involved in the 1970s, and today is calling attention to rya rug making again. In the video, she explains the history of rya rugs — and shows how they are made. It was well worth the 10 minutes to watch this video — it really gives me a new appreciation for this beautiful — and functional — art form.
rya rugWhat I find most interesting about rya rugs — or at least, Wikipedia says so — is that they originally were designed as clothing, as a substitute for animal skins. Animal skins got stiff, the ryas did not. Ryas certainly look cozy. I also love Melinda’s instructions on how to clean a natural wool rya: by stomping it in the snow!

I think it is a safe guess that rya rugs became popular as decorative items — and as carpets — in mid-20th century America in conjunction with rise of Danish Modern and in general, all things Scandinavian. Apparently, their hegemony was derailed when women began making latch hook rugs. (Honestly, I need to research the differences…)

Melinda still has yarns that were created for her grandparents’ company. She sells them at her etsy shop here.

Tips to using the slide show above: Click on the first thumbnail… it will enlarge… move forward or back using the arrows below the image… you can stop, or start, at any image.

Back to my collection…Each of the 15 designs was printed then mounted to a hefty green stock paper (as shown above) printed with the name of the design. Total size of each piece is 7″x10″ and they are so graphically appealing that I am going to look for 15 matching frames and display them all together in a grid. For those of you looking for cheap, cheerful and unique artwork, this is always a fun idea to try. That is: Look for prints from a book or a display catalog like mine and group and frame them. There is something very pleasing about the repetition of prints illustrating one subject area, all in the same size, all in the same frame. Of course, “cheap” is only possible if you can find the frames in the quantity you require. Pier One might be one of the first-places I’d look first for, gasp, 15 frames! Michael’s, Wal-Mart, Target, and Dick Blick’s are other places I would look.

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  1. Elaine says

    I loved Rya rugs in the 70s, and had a beautiful abstract orange, black and cream one. The strands are at least twice as long as the ones in most latch hook kits. They were also longer ones and shorter ones in the design for a loosely sculpted look. I wish I still had it. The backing deteriorated and the rug eventually fell apart. I also made latchhook rugs including my own designs. It is a wonderfully accessible art form. Bring it back!

  2. says

    Wow! I never know what I’m going to learn on this site :) I have a real affinity for textile arts and loved to latch-hook as a kid. As an adult, I’ve wished I could find something I wanted to latch hook, but I’ve never seen a design that’s even close! These rugs are gorgeous and I could totally see making one! Thank you so much for researching this and introducing it to those of us who never heard of rya rugs.

  3. says

    I knew you’d find interest in these! I love the designs and was going to mimic them in quilts but felt the need to pass along these cards to a particular someone I know that would appreciate them. I’m very glad that you will frame them, they will look awesome.

    Thanks for the research and information on them, makes me kinda glad I’m a (somewhat) hoarder that feels the need to clean out once in awhile. 😉

  4. says

    Well, it was quite a nice surprise to discover your blog page today, Pam! You are helping to teach people about the dying art of rya rug making by gathering good info to share. That’s me in the video you posted! I have four remaining wool/linen backings. At the end of this month, I’ll be teaching my “last rya rug class” to four good friends who can’t wait to get started. The class will be videoed and photographed, so keep your eye out in the future for a follow up class via video. Thanks for spreading the word and for telling people that I still have yarn for sale–while it lasts. Cheers, melinda

    • pam kueber says

      Hi Melinda, it’s so nice to “meet” you. I’ve been waiting all winter here in the Berkshires to use your in-the-snow rug cleaning method — but no snow!!! Please stay in touch!

      • says

        I’m in Maryland now. I grew up in Massachusetts. We just got a 1/2″ of snow today. Not enough to take the rugs out for a stomping. Wishing you good snow soon. By the way, I’ve been enjoying your postings very much this evening. Nice to “know” you. Let’s keep in touch for sure.

  5. says

    Hi, Lillie,
    Glad you liked the video! You could actually use just about any kind of yarn if you were knotting a rya for a wall hanging. The special thing about real rya yarn is the resilient (almost springy) nature of the fleece and the long staple length. My rya yarn is 2-ply. But it it doesn’t have to weather trodding feet, you could use what ever you like and be creative. I have slipped some silk yarn and some 1-ply “cowhair” yarn into some of my wall hangings. I do still have some rya yarn if you want to go that route. check out byrdcall.etsy.com if you want to read more and see the colors available. Thanks, Melinda

  6. Liz Wing says

    Love the NR 237 Smilende portal design.. Not crafty though… Anybody know where I can buy a rug with that design???

  7. Christine Munro says

    I made an enormous circular rya rug in the early 70s . It was blues and greens, filled the centre of my living room and took almost a year to do. It also kept me warm through the chilly “winter of discontent ” in my attic ..unheated..flat while I was making it. My recipe for cleaning it was to turn it upside down -hoover- then move it up and hoover up the debris that falls out.

  8. says

    Hello Pam,
    I know this is an old post, but I found a couple of Rya tapestries at an estate sale labeled Sellgren of Norway and designed by Ramon Isern. I would love to buy a copy of the booklet you found or buy the original if you are willing to part with it. There is not much information about this company out there, and I like to research my finds before I sell them to my customers. Thanks

  9. Ralph Ware says

    Can anyone give me suggestions on how to hang a rya rug? My wife has a couple small rectangular ones that she would like to hang. Thanks

    • says

      Hi, Ralph.
      I’m always looking for the best way to hang a rya, too. My favorite way is to stitch a sleeve of fabric the width of the backing. Slide a 1/4 inch board into it, and stitch it with needle and thread to the top of the rya you are hanging. Then I screw two small screws into the board through the fabric and wrap a picture hanging wire between the screws. Then you can just hang it on a nail.

      An easier way is to stitch some loops every few inches along the top of the rya and slide a rod through the loops. What other ways have people done it? And if you go to my web site, Cindy got a couple letters reversed. It is byrdcallstudio.com. I’m writing a book on the subject of designing and making an off-loom rya rug. I’ll make a point to illustrate various ways to hang a rya. If you go to my web site, I recommend you sign up for my monthly newsletter which usually has several rya techniques or stories of interest. Thanks. Melinda Byrd

  10. Cindy says

    Ralph.. You could go to Melinda’s website.. brydcallstudio.com… She’s very nice and I’m sure she could help you or at least send you in the right direction.

    • says

      Thanks, Cindy! Nice to meet you around the rya internet world! Thanks for your kind words!!! I just gave Ralph a few tips. Also, it’s a common dyslexia thing to tpye Bryd instead of Byrd,..I see it a lot, so I just want to let people know to find out more about rya stuff, go to byrdcallstudio.com. 😉
      Thanks for spreading the word. That is what is bring rya back more than anything …..just spreading the word. Enjoy your next rya project. Send me a picture when you are done. Thanks. byrdcallstudio@gmail.com. melinda

      • pam kueber says

        Thanks, Melinda — I have linked your website in the article. Also I checked out your etsy page again — I think Katiedoodle might need to test your rya rug kit!

  11. says

    I just came across your site and wanted to add a few comments. Perhaps Ryas were used as clothing but more often they were used as blankets in Finland and other parts of Scandinavia. They were woven using fairly soft wools that were suitale for blankets. The extra knotted pile made them especially warm, providing more insulation than a flat woven blanket. They were made of natural coloured wools at first, and then became much more decorative. On many ‘rya rugs’ [ryijy matto] the pile was quite densely woven, about 1 cm sq, and about 5-6 cm in length, creating a pile that was about 1 – 1.5 cm in depth – not long and shaggy, as became popular in the 70’s.
    The rya were meant to be used as blankets or as decorative wall hangings, also providing insulation to the walls in the cold climate. Since these were woven from soft wools they did not withstand the hard wear of placing them on the floor. They became family heirlooms and many that were well treated still look beautiful today.
    The difference between rug hooking and rya rugs is the type of materials used. Rug hooking uses a canvas type of backing and the knots are tied with a latch hook, that creates an actual knot in the pile. With a rya style of knot, there is no real ‘ knot’ – the yarn is looped between 2 warp threads. around the outside of the 2 warp threads and back in through the middle. It is secured by the additional weft threads that are beaten around it. If you pull on one of these rya knot threads, it can easily be pulled out – also making this style of rug much more delicate and susceptible to deterioration with misuse.
    Thanks so much for providing the images of these beautiful rya rugs. I may have to make a few :-)

    Paivi Suomi

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