rya rugs


[ree-uh, rahy-uh]

A rya is a traditional Scandinavian rug. The first ryas originated in the early fifteenth century as coarse, long-piled, heavy covers used by mariners instead of furs. As time progressed, the rugs have evolved to be lighter and more colourful. The insulation ryas provide protection against the cold Scandinavian climate. Ryas are a knotted pile carpet, with each knot composed of three strands of wool. This enables the rug to exhibit rich texture from all the different shades of color. Ryas are similar to knotted Persian rugs, though the rya knots are larger, longer, and further spaced. The name originates from a village in southwest Sweden. The term rya may also refer to a breed of sheep whose wool is used to make rya carpets.


In the early 9th to 10th centuries, Islamic silk textiles were introduced to Scandinavia by Viking merchants who traded in Russia and the Byzantine Empire. Subsequently, the Scandinavian region acquired knotted pile carpets from the Ottomans in Anatolia. In fact, the Marby rug, one of the earliest surviving Turkish carpets was found in the Church of Marby near Jämtland, Sweden. Eventually, Scandinavians produced rugs themselves, influenced by the oriental rug design.

Ryas originated in Norway in the early 15th century, where it was worn by sailors, seal hunters, and fishermen to protect them from the frigid seas. These early ryas were discovered to be used in Norwegian ship burials. These ryas were monochromatic, being solid black, white, grey, yellow. The ryas became lighter, as Scandinavian households used them for bed coverlets. The pile side faced the body to provide warmth. In 16th century Sweden, ryas were used by the nobility as bedding as well as a display of social status. However, by the 17th century, they lost their popularity with the nobility, and became bedding for the lower classes. In eighteenth century Finland, ryas became decorative, with animal, flower, and symbolic designs. They were used in weddings as prayer rugs. The ryas would be displayed in the home like tapestries to remind of the wedding and would often be passed down generations as family heirlooms. In the mid-20th century, ryas had a resurgence in popularity in the West with modern designs.

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