Tuesday, February 26, 2013

In search of bed rugs and boat rya...

My sister and I are planning a trip to Finland this spring in search of our 'roots'.  Although I truly am an American mutt, 1/4 of my ancestry is Swedish-Finn...and for reasons I can't explain, I have always had a very strong interest in early Scandinavian textiles.

Reproduction of a 'proddy' rug that is on display at Stundars Museum in Korsholm, Finland
  Unbeknownst to my poor sister, I have already started my search for museums in the Ostrobothnian region of western Finland that have interesting 19th century household textiles.  Much to my delight I came across the website recently for the Stundars Museum in Korsholm, Finland.  Even better, their artifact of the month was a 'proddy' rug.

I had never heard of a 'proddy' rug before.  However, when they started describing this textile that was woven in two sections with a hemp warp, rags for filler and a pile made out of wool fabric strips and wool and cotton yarn, I started to get excited!

Rag rya that is part of the collection at the Nedreberg Farm near Stryn, Norway
While in Norway in 2011, I had the opportunity to see some interesting ryas that had a pile made out of rags.  The back or ground, like many of the Norwegian ryas (rya is the Swedish name for these rugs) was a twill weave with colored stripes.  These ryas were designed to have the pile side facing down and the woven 'back' facing up. The pile would trap the air, not unlike our down comforters and create a very warm bed coverlet.  (The owner of the farm however, told us that the children slept under this rya with the pile side up because the wool rags tickled their noses.)

Detail of rag rya from Nedreberg Farm
The 'proddy' rug at Stundars also captured my imagination because of it's history.  Museum founder and curator, Gunnar Rosenholm, ..."During his expeditions in the region in the 1950's, he (saw) a rag rug in a seal-hunting boat in Replot.  His research showed that in the 18th century only farmers and people of rank could afford rag rugs, so called proddy rugs, with pile made from wool yarn.  Crofters had rugs made from rags.  Still in the 1880's, crofters used the proddy rug as a bedspread.  The rag rug was used in much the same way as a skin rug but sometimes the rag rug was more practical.  A skin rug would turn stiff and cumbersome once it had become wet.  This is why fisherman preferred proddy rugs in their boats well into the 20th century, and why the last rugs were found in the archipelago."

Batrya on a bed in a rorbu (fishermans cabin) at the Lofoten Museum in Storvagen, Norway
The proddy rugs got me thinking about the batryas (boat rye) that are found on the west coast of Norway. They have several nice examples on display at the Lofoten Museum in the Lofoten Islands. The batrya has a woven ground with a pattern in it, but the pile is made of plied wool yarn.  They were woven for the same reasons that the proddy rugs were woven.  When the fishermen went out on the fishing grounds and spent the night in their boats, these rya kept them warm and dry, were relatively easy to wash and did not deteriorate in the salt water like a skin would.

Detail of the front and back of a batrya at the Lofoten Museum.
In Shetland, a more decorative bed rug version of the rya is found in the form of a 'taatit rug'. The ground is woven on a loom like the other bed rugs in Scandinavia, but the knotted pile is then looped onto the ground after it is removed from the loom with a needle, and then cut...in some ways like the rya 'kits' that are available today from Finland.  Unlike the modern Finnish rya which is purely decorative, the taatit rugs were functional bed rugs.

Taatit Rug in the collection of the Shetland Museum

One of my favorite versions of the batrya dates back to Viking times in Iceland in the form of the 'varafeldur', a woven shawl that was used as currency. The pile in this case was made of locks of the sheeps fleece knotted around the spun wool warp yarns.

Detail of the 'varafeldur' woven by Elizabeth, Marta and Hildur

A few years ago Elizabeth Johnston (Shetland) along with Marta Klove Juuhl (Norway) and Hildur Hakonardottir (Iceland) wove a 'varafeldur' in Iceland using the old viking methods on a warp weighted loom.  They used the fleece from local Icelandic sheep.  The finished varafeldur is a remarkably soft, light weight textile that would keep any fisherman warm.
Marta Klove Juuhl with woven 'varafeldur'

Although I didn't have the privilege of seeing this piece woven, I did get to handle the finished piece.  This weaving technique is quite rare.  The only place I have seen it demonstrated was by the interpretive staff at the Lofotr Borg Viking Museum in the Lofoten Islands in Norway several years ago.

So as I plot 'my version' of our trip to Finland in search of our roots - I guess I'll also have to take a detour to the Ostrobothnian Museum in Vaasa to see the original 'proddy' rug.  It would be a shame to just see the reproduction and not the original...I do hope my sister ends up falling in love with these Scandinavian bed rugs like I have!

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