Like many artists, I have an interest in several different media. Since I lived in Germany in the late 1960’s, I have loved the Scandinavian Rya rugs, especially the wonderful contemporary designs being produced in the 60’s and 70’s. Some had bright colors and others were more subtle mixed earth tones, but the depth and variety of color and patterns in these rugs captured me.
The advertising for Rya rugs in the mid 20th century was really wonderful. I still have a couple of catalogs from that time because I love the pictures so much. A blog called “The Carpet Index” has a couple of entries about the rya rug ads. Click on one of these pictures left and below to see these posts.
At the time I first found them, I wanted a rya rug, but could not afford to buy a rug nor even a kit to make one. The traditional way to make a rya rug is to knot the pile at the same time as weaving the backing on the loom. However, in the mid 20th century, pre-woven backings became available, but the cost of these kits was prohibitive to me at the time.
The women in my family are rug makers, at least that is true of my Mother, my Grandmother, and myself. For many years I had a latch-hook rug in my entry that had been made by my Grandmother when she was in her later years. I also have a hooked rug that my Mother made from strips of wool clothing. When I had come back from Europe in the early 1970’s, I decided I must have something like a rya rug, so I made a cut-loop hooked rug using my Mother’s rug hook based on one of the rya designs from the brochures I brought back from Germany. Both my Grandmother’s latch hook rug and my own hooked rug finally fell completely apart last year. I found in my closet a latch-hook rug that I had bought and started to work on 40 years ago, and decided to finish the kit. In the process, I remembered what it was that had made me stop…doing each little strand with the latch hook was not rewarding, but I finished the rug because I felt a deep connection to my Mother and Grandmother while working on it. After I finished that rug, I felt I really wanted to replace the rug in my entry where my Grandmother’s rug had been.
I began researching rya rugs on the internet. I found that vintage rya rugs are very expensive and very few new ones are being made. Then, I made a startling discovery! I found Melinda Bryd, an artist in Maryland, whose own heritage from her grandparents had involved a business selling rya rug making supplies. She had at the time decided to buy back her grandparent’s business and write a book about rya rug making. She had some backing and yarn for sale on etsy. I immediately bought a backing and started searching for a design for my rug. Melinda and I shared a special interest in rya rugs, and I am so grateful that she is working to revive rya rug making. I could not have done my rug without her help and materials. She has written a great story about my project on her blog.
My approach to design: I looked at more than 200 images from the internet and from my own designs before settling on the first rug design. Being a computer person, I decided to use a computer-generated grid to plan the design. I created a grid with the correct number of rows and columns to match the backing I had chosen: 80 rows and 84 knots across. Each square in the grid represents one knot. I outlined the different color areas in the rug and assigned each color area a number. Then, I counted the knots in each color area. Sitting down with Melinda’s yarn samples and my design, I determined which color yarns would go in each area. (Each knot has three strands, which is what leads to the great richness of a rya…mixing different colors into one knot, kind of like a pointilist painting where the eye blends them into one color). Below is a picture of my color area plan with yarns grouped into the color area codes on the graph at right. While knotting the rug, I worked from this computer printed graph of the design, and it worked very well. Towards the end, I started to vary from the design and just work directly with the yarn colors and what I felt would work for the design.
The cost of the materials for this first rug have been well below what I feel the value of the result is, and about the same or less than it would cost me to buy a high quality rug of the same size. The backing from Melinda was $108. When I ordered the yarn, I ended up getting almost 50% more than I really needed because I was uncertain about how much extra my blending and variations would take on this design, and I also didn’t have enough confidence on my first rug to cut the estimate too closely. The cost of the yarn was $365, so I used about $250 worth of yarn on the rug. I could sell some of it back to Melinda, or use it to make another rya…or some other wool yarn project.