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. 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!

  2. 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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