By Riikka Palonen
Ryijy in Finland – tradition and new creativity
Last autumn, 2019, the Ministry of Education and Culture in Finland inscribed ”ryijy” tradition on the National Inventory of Living Heritage. The National Inventory adheres to UNESCO’s Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage.
Ryijy has been developed to replace fur – either because the owner could not afford to use the furs, or because warm cover has been needed in conditions where there is constant exposure to moisture. It is assumed that fishermen in the Gulf of Bothnia learned the use of ryijy from the Vikings. The fur cape easily hardened to be unusable at sea, but wool, due to its moisture-repellent properties, retained its warming value even in the rain. Ryijys were also used as blankets in beds and in sledges and those ryijys were double-sided, inner side was dense and warm against the skin and on upper side there were decorative patterns. Floral and plant motifs were popular, as were ornaments. Presumably ryijys where not used as carpets on the floor in the Nordic countries. The earliest ryijys were probably monochromatic or very simply patterned – the most important thing was functionality.The production of quilted blankets on 19th century stopped the use of ryijy as a blanket. The ryijy remained as a valuable wall textile as well as in ritual use – it is still common for a Finnish wedding couple to kneel on a special wedding ryijy in a church ceremony. The ryijy tradition was already falling into oblivion, when some nationalistic artists such as Akseli GallenKallela and Emil Cedercreutz began collecting peasant ryijys in the beginning of 20th century. Gallen-Kallela, along with a few other contemporaries, also designed new Art Nouveau style ryijys.
Ryijy is traditionally woven in a horizontal loom. I myself use loom which my own grandfather carved for my grandmother around year 1917. The maximum working width in my loom is 110 cm. I use 3 peaces of 4 cm long cuts of yarn to form a pile, which then is tied to the warp using so called Smyrna knot. Mixing different color yarns to one pile gives more nuances to the pattern. After each row of knots I weave 1 cm of base weft. I design my own patterns and weave unique pieces. As a basis for my work, I first make a painting based on my idea, from which I then start searching for matching colors in wool. I don’t make a graph paper design but I weave like with free hand, following the painting. As yarn I use Finnish sheep wool dyed with natural dyes, such as bark, mosses and sponges. I buy yarn from traditional dyers. Such yarn you can never get in large quantities, just a few hundred grams of the same color lot – and you never get exactly the same color again – each dyeing is unique. This completes the uniqueness of my ryijys, I wouldn’t be able to weave another exactly similar even if I tried.The most challenging part of my own work is turning the unlimited color scale of the painting into a very limited scale of the yarn, however so that the original atmosphere and harmony of the painting is repeated in the ryijy. The weaving proceeds from the bottom up, and a maximum of 25 cm of finished work is visible at a time. It’s a very exciting moment when the ready woven ryijy is taken out of the loom and I see it for the first time in its entirety.Since I am also a storyteller and I live in strong connection with the surrounding woodlands I find my ideas from our Finnish folk tradition and myths as
well as from my own experiences while wandering in the forests. I add the traditional border patterns to my rugs, spicing them with symbolism, but in the actual image area, I do more painting-like subjects, even sometimes crossing the borders.
See my work here.