Shaggy and colorful, Rya rugs became a sensation in modern interior design, finding a place not only in American homes but also in hearts. Nowadays those vintage carpets remain sought-after by collectors and designers alike because of their Art Deco vibe and modernist designs.
Rya rugs (Ryas) are the oldest type of Scandinavian carpets. Their origins reach back to the Middle Ages. Primarily they served as mantle and bedding rather than floor covering. Ryas have shaggy woolen piles and usually simple geometric designs. Antique rya rugs were dichromatic (off-white, natural background and black or brown motifs). Later they started appearing in many colors.
Among all types of Scandinavian carpets, Ryas are the easiest to recognize. How? Look for a long pile of about 1 to 3 inches, similar to one of contemporary “shag carpets”. Each separate knot consists of three strands of wool. This gives the rug rich texture and allows for a vast palette of colors. The name Rya (or ryijy) has a broader meaning than one could suspect. The term comes from a village in southwest Sweden. Its direct translation is simply “rug”. However, initially, the word Rya meant a thick bed cover with a knotted pile. The same word describes the wool used for the production of those rugs.
The History of Rya Rugs
The invention of Rya rugs would not be possible if it wasn’t for the Vikings. They brought silk textiles from Russia and the Byzantine Empire to Scandinavia around the 9th and 10th centuries. The knowledge about knotted pile carpets came from the Ottomans in Anatolia. Anyway, it didn’t take long for Scandinavians to learn how to weave. Before the rugs, Swedish peasants used fur and wool to keep warm during harsh winters. Nevertheless, it was impractical. Animal hides couldn’t be washed and were home for numerous parasites. Sweden and Norway started making Ryas in the 15th century. Sailors and fishermen wore them first. Later they became popular among commoners.
The first designs of Rya rugs were simple, geometrical and dyed black, white, and grey. Their dense pile, which helped people keep warm, stemmed from the Turkish “Yataks”. However, those were softer than Swedish ones. Stiff and coarse, early Ryas Rugs were durable but not very elegant, a trait that started to bothersome. In the 17th century, a new type of Rya appeared, inspired by European Baroque patterns. First woven by the daughters and wives of burghers in Stockholm, those rugs had shorter piles and closer rows of knots. Thus, this made them much lighter than the originals. Beautiful and colorful motifs started to appear. Thanks to the new appearance, Ryas’ function has changed from practical to decorative. In Finland, they served as prayer rugs during weddings, often being a part of the bride’s dowry. After the ceremony, those rugs adorned homes as valuable heirlooms.
The popularity of Ryas Rugs started to spread outside Scandinavia in the 20th century. In 1970 Ryas took the American market by storm despite the lack of advertisement or active promotion.
The Never-Passing Charm of Rya Rugs
Ryas fuse together centuries of tradition and modern aesthetics. Therefore, they fit perfectly into the newest interior design trends. Great care for detail exhibited during every step of their production is what makes them so special. Vintage Rya rugs are equally durable and beautiful. They bring the rugged Scandinavian charm all over the world. They also promote the rich culture of their homeland.