The Swedish Rollakan and Rya

The Nordic is notorious for its harsh weather conditions and excruciating, almost everlasting winters. The inhabitants needed to make clothes and built homes that could keep them warm and the Viking traders found the perfect insulation tool in the Persian carpets made in the East. Not only were they beautiful but they provided necessary heat in the form of wall hangings, floor covers and even bed spreads/blankets.

Up to the 12th century a magnitude of Persian carpets made its way to the Scandinavian countries, but from there on the Swedish developed their own techniques in weaving carpets for domestic use. At first they wove kilims, called Rollakans, that mimicked the Oriental designs, but with limited dyes available, it was mostly woven in white, black and grey, the natural tones of sheep wool. Later on, another technique was developed, called Rya, or as we know it today, the shaggy rug. Using knots taught to them by their Eastern trading partners, the Swedish developed their own style of piled carpets. They were warmer than their Oriental cousins and could also be used on the walls, floors and especially as bed covers. Some were even worn as coats. It became a versatile domestic item, a blanket at night and a floor covering during the day.

For the seafaring Vikings the Ryas were priceless items at sea, because even when it got wet, it still provided the necessary heat. Ryas formed part of the trousseau of eligible ladies to be wed and not only formed part of the marriage ceremony but also reflected the initials of the bride and groom, the date of the wedding, a set of double hearts, and symbols and signs that represented the groom’s and the bride’s families. Wedding Ryas were extremely important, and perhaps represent the most distinct development in Scandinavian rug-making. Oriental themes were incorporated into the finest Scandinavian rugs, with the Tree of Life motif featuring most prominently. A standby in Persian rugs, the Tree of Life symbol was adapted by the rug-makers of Scandinavia to represent family trees and ties.

Today the Rollakan and Rya rugs from Sweden is still very popular with many artists designing exquisite geometric and colourful designs.