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A ryijy-rug is a textile which is knotted, generally sparsely piled, has a long piling and is made in the Nordic countries. Technically they are rather similar to Moroccan piled carpets.

The book first tells about the roots of the ryijy-rug, which apparently were in Mesopotamia. From the Mediterranean countries the ability to weave knotted textiles spread with the Vikings to the Nordic Countries. The earliest picture of a textile which supposedly is a ryijy dates from 1066. It is in the Bayeux tapestry.

In the beginning the ryijy was a sleeping cover. It was especially good on sea, because it was warming even when wet and the salty water did not make it hard. Use as sleeping cover was also common on land in the beds. The first written mentioning of the ryijy is in the Vadstena Cloister in Sweden in 1420. The ryijy also belonged to the equipment of the soldiers. Apparently there was something special in the ryijys in Finland, because King Gustavus Wasa supported the weaving of ryijys especially in Finland.

First, the ryijys were undecorated bedcovers, but the ryijys of the court or upper classes started to be decorated, first using embroidery. While sleeping, the piled side faced downwards and therefore the non-visible reverse was generally not decorated. Little by little piling was also added on the upper side, making the ryijy much warmer. At the same time the visible upper side started to be decorated with colourful threads. The decoration was geometric in the beginning, but soon various motifs started to be added, e.g. magic signs bringing protection and good luck. This became especially common when ryijys started to be used in weddings and after the weddings as covers on the beds. The ryijy became a display textile, admired by the guests.

The end of the 1700´s and the beginning of the 1800´s were the heyday of the Finnish folk ryijy, and different types developed in different regions, and were then further modified by the weaves. The upper classes had their own types. Little by little the wadding quilt replaced the ryijy as bedcover, and the ryijy was only used as daytime decorative cover or as a carpet. However, in the sleigh its warming capacity was still needed. When industrial colours came into use, the character of the ryijy changed and foreign textile models were adopted. The ryijy became a decoration of the walls, with strong colours and abundant motifs. The Friends of Finnish Handicrafts, founded already in 1876, however, started to collect folk ryijy models.

In the beginning of the 1900´s the jugendstil ryijy received a new task as cover of the high-backed bench sofa. The artists and architects started to design ryijys, the first one being the painter Akseli Gallen-Kallela. The value of the folk ryijys was appreciated, however, and the exhibition organized by the Art Gallery Hörhammer in 1918 arose great interest. Even more meaningful was the pioneering book The Ryijy-Rugs of Finland by U.T. Sirelius, which appeared in Finnish in 1924 and in English in 1926. It arose a huge interest in ryijys.

As a result of the increasing interest in the Finnish ryijys, copies started to be made of the folk ryijy models. Also the artists started to design their own models corresponding to the style of the time. When the size of the ryijys became smaller and when ryijys started to be sewn with a needle on a ready-made background, the ryijy became a decoration of every home. Models wee designed by artists as well by laymen. A good example of the adaptability of the ryijy in new conditions is the so-called half-ryijy. When there was a depression and shortage of wool, ryijys were made by piling only the most important motifs, the background could be even a sack for seeds or it was made of rugs.

In the 1940´s the Finnish art ryijy started a strong development and gained appreciation also abroad. The character of the ryijy changed and it became more like an abstract painting in wool. In the 1950´s the Finnish ryijy designers were rewarded in international events, e.g. in all Triennials in Milan. Ryijy-rugs started to be made industrially, in order to fulfil the strong demand for export.

Many ryijys have been produced as unique, one off art textiles, often for public spaces, but lately especially smaller models have been made or purchased for homes to create a feeling of warmth and softness.

In addition to the story of the ryijy-rug, there are pictures of about 200 ryijys, often also a detail of the ryijy. Leena Willberg, MA, has written a description of each ryijys, which tells the period of production, the type, the usage, the designer, the maker and other facts and thoughts about the ryijy in question.

Touko Issakainen:
Rose -coloured ryijy
Designed in 2006
Made by the artist

Impi Sotavalta:
The Hunter, detail
Designed in 1926

© Tuomas Sopanen, Lauri Tuomenoksa 2016