16th century bed ryijy
What is ryijy?
Ryijy is a longpiled woollen cover, which has in one or two sides tied wool piles. Traditionally Ryijy has been made in a loom. Ryijy has a ground weave and in desired distances rows of piles tied in to the warps. Another technique is to sew the piles in to the groundweave.
The name ryijy originated with the Scandinavian word “ry” or “ru”, which means shaggy or mat.
Ryijys were from the first woven for use as coverlets and bedding, not in the floor like oriental carpets. In the 16th century ryijys were longpiled and they were mainly in natural colors, white, gray, and black. Pile side was kept to the down. Ground weave which was visible on the face of the ryijy on the bed was decorated by colourful weft-patterned bands (Pylkkänen 81).
In the 17th century a new type of bedcover, the quilted coverlet, became increasingly popular among the highborn gentry (Pylkkänen 82), but ryijys were still in the use of the servants and common people.
From the 19th century ryijys has been hanged on to the wall for the decorative purposes. Figure in these cases has been made with coloured piles.
History: cloak or blanket
The early history of the ryijy is still obscure. Researchers only state that pile-woven woollen textiles have been made from time immemorial. Archaeological excavation finds show that pilewoven woollen weavings have been used in Scandinavia both as various articles of clothing and as blankets at least since the Bronze Age.
As regards Finland, Professor U.T. Sirelius has proved that ryijys have been used as bed covers in the western parts since the Middle Ages, and that the custom was adopted from Scandinavia (Pylkkänen 45).
Woven articles definitely identifiable as ryijys have been mentioned in documents since the middle of the 15th century.
Ryijys were used as bedcovers in Finland's castles at least from the 15th century.
Bed ryijy from Nauvo SW Finland Picture Turun maakuntamuseo / M. Puhakka
Experimental piece made by Carolyn Priest-Dorman
In Irish/Icelandic technique tufts of lightly twisted wool, or locks of guard hair just as they came from the sheep, were inserted into the shed of the weave between wefts. Tufts are held down by a number of warp threads that often differs in the same piece. Methods for securing tufts into the warp differ a great deal; some involve simply laying tufts into the weave, while others require securing by wrapping the tuft around the warp (Priest-Dorman).
Ryijys were still popular with members of the court and the gentry at the end of the 16th century, especially as covers for use on voyages as they offered effective protection against the cold even humid conditions (Pylkkänen 58).
The boat ryijy remained in use until the 19th century on the confines of the ancient Scandinavian ryijy area - the northern coast of Norway, the east coast of Sweden, especially in Upland, Småland, Blekinge and the Island of Öland, the Aland Islands and archipelago of Turku and in some places right up to the beginning of the 20th century (Pylkkänen 59).
Ryijys used as a blanket in castles
The castle account books give pointers to how ryijys were used. Castle textile chamber accounts during the court of Duke John mention bridal bedclothes given to servants as wedding presents. The Duke presented Margareta John's daughter, servant of his mistress Karin Han's daughter, with a bolster, a pillow, a tapestry (täpete), a blanket, a läsen ryijy, a pair of sheets, a tablecloth, a hand-towel and a bench cushion. The bolster was obviously covered, usually with a woollen under-blanket as in the Middle Ages, and it was customary in primitive household conditions even much later to cover the straw pallet with fur-skins or a woollen blanket. Gentlefolk used linen sheets as well (Pylkkänen 57).
Fur-rugs, ryijys and various woven woollen covers such as double weaves, coverlets, patterned and colourful weavings were used as covers. They were spread, probably for decorative purposes, on top of fur-rugs or ryijys. The ducal court at Turku Castle also used fine bedcovers of silk and gold brocade (Pylkkänen 57). But these were counterpanes used in state beds on special occasions rather than bedcovers proper.
Both the lords of castles and their court and staff of servants used ryijys daily as bedcovers in the 16th century.
Bed ryijys were sometimes covered with woollen cloth, like fur-rugs were. For instance, the face of the Lieto (western Finland) bed ryijy with dense white pile on the reverse once had a red woollen cloth covering; the cloth was edged with a narrow green piping and long red and yellow pile was sewn into it. The rug from Kustavi (west coast of Finland) had a similar red woollen cloth covering (Pylkkänen 63).
Technique of Bedryijy
Weaving techniques of ryijys changed according to place of use and requirements of the place.
Bed ryijy did not need to be waterproof, but since the face of the ryijy was visible on the bed it was decorated by colourful weft-patterned bands.
Lists of the castle textilechambers give us information from the use of the ryijys. Amount of the information increase from simple amounts to more and more details. First ryijys were listed according to their condition. Next appear words that describe the outlook, colours and weaving technique and for last even about their size (Pylkkänen 68).
The size of the rugs began to appear in bailiffs accounts around 1553-1557. Most of the ryijys measured 4x3 ells (240x180 cm). Some were a little longer, approximately 4 ½ ells, but five ells was a rare length. The width was generally between 3 ½ and 2 ½ ells (210-150 cm).
Ryijys were made to the size of the bed. The beds slept several persons, and thus the ryijy had to cover all those sleeping in the same bed (Pylkkänen 70).
The majority of the castle and crown manor ryijys were natural black, white, grey or black-white of sheep (Pylkkänen 70). Black-and-white rugs were commonest at royal manors, colourful ryijys at castles. The most usual colours used were red and yellow.
The weft, piles and warp wool threads were spun in different ways. Their wool amounts are mentioned separately in the accounts.
In the inventories of Turku Castle for 1557-1559, were entered a separate groups of multicoloured ryijys.
There was no differentiation between spiisse ryor and lässne ryor on the grounds merely of colour or condition of the article. Both one lässne ryijy and the spiisse, i.e. Everyday, ryijys were black-white. Although everyday ryijys were generally described in the accounts as being lambs wool colour Turku Castle accounts once mention black-white-yellow everyday ryijys.
The words lesne and lässen denote a certain weaving technique which has also been applied to other textiles. The weaving technique in question was obviously known both in Sweden and Finland at the beginning of Modern Times. The werb läsa in Old Swedish means in weaving technique the picking up of yarns for patterns. Vivi Sylwann interpreted the Lässen-gerningh ryijys to be rölakantype ("Rölakan" are Swedish flatwoven carpets/tapestries) weavings in which the pile was knotted in a ground weave of pick-up effect and mostly with the motley stripes (Pylkkänen 72). The picking up of the ground was either of the type with the rosepath stripes or with shuttled weft thread. Normally the rosepath has been made with four or six harnesses.
Word Spiis, spise was used in the 16th century for everyday utilitarian ware. Spiisse ryor has been in everyday use (Pylkkänen 71). Which mean, that they have not been as fine or decorative as lässen ryor. That means that the groundweave between the knots has been made with a plain weave.
The Finnish Vippelä ryijys has the same ground weave with the rosepath pattern. Even the name Vippelä derives from the vippelessen word (Pylkkänen 73). The zigzag bands in the vippelessen-effect were a common textile pattern already in the Middle Ages. It was favoured especially in bench cushions and, again, in other decorative textiles of the renaissance and Baroque periods.
Tyyni Vahter pointed out that the lässne ryijys woven at Finland's castles in the 16th century possibly resembled the vippelä ryijys. Similar ryijys with thick pile on the reverse face and rosepath bands in the ground were woven also in Småland and Södermanland (Pylkkänen 73).
Length of the piles seems to vary between 50-80 mm and the length is uneven in most old-fashioned bed ryijys.
Vippeläryijy from Säkylä Finland.Picture: Turun maakuntamuseo / M.Puhakka
Project: 16th century bed ryijy
I wanted to weave a typical Middle Age bed ryijy to use in my pavilion tent. It is one step further to have a more authentic Middle Age camp. I also want to show and teach people, that technique is easy and work to do is reasonable.
Riitta Pylkkänen and some other people has made a great research among the Finnish folk textiles and when I loaned study of Pylkkänen from mistress Tofa Johansdottir, I had all the information I needed to start the work. I recommend book: ”Ryijy-rug traditions from the 16th and 17th centuries” to everybody interested of historical ryijys.
I decided to use a size of my own bed (200x120cm) as was done also in the 16th century.
Since, I have only two heddle bars, I can not make a complex design like a rosepath. Therefore I decided to use a taquete weave, which is also a weft-faced weave, where the front and opposite sides of the weave are in opposite colours. With taquete can be made simple patterns, similar to the rosepath.
3 warps / cm
Wool 140 tex x3, (sirkka ryijylanka, Vuorelman ryijylanka) natural white
Specially spun ryijy-thread need to be used. Normal threads spinning will open.
2 threads in one pile knot. Length of the pile 5 cm.
Cheap 85% wool, colours red and white.
Warping the loom:
First step is to tie the warps in to the stock in groups of six threads. In the same time warps were pushed thru the heddles. Other end of the heddle was already pushed thru the heddle bar.
I pushed the warp threads in to the heddles in following order:
1st up - 2 next down - 1 up – 3 next down -1 up – 2 next down – 1 up and so on.
In the picture below: black is warp thread, red is heddle and green is heddle bar.
The diagram below right show, the heddles and the image of the weaving. (Kankaankutojan sidosoppi 35)
When the warping was done I begun to weave heading with red ground weave. I wove 7 cm before I made first pile row. I tell later how the piles are tied.
Ground weave, Taquete
After first row of piles I began the taqueté pattern with two red threads and one white. After 15 cm of ground weave I changed the amount to two white threads and one red. That is how I got more red part of the ground in to the head end of the cover.
First I wove two white threads same time in to the same shed, from left to right. I changed the shed and wove one red thread from left to right. Once again I changed the shed and wove two white threads from right to left and after change of shed one red from right to left and so on.
Between the pile rows, I wove 12 mm of ground weave.
After pile row I changed the shed. Since I have two heddle bars if I first wove red in to the shed opened by the upper bar, I changed it to the lower bar. That is how the place which was red, turned after piles in to white – and the opposite side of the rug has the opposite colours.
I used a red tenterhook to keep the width of the work even.
In the Middle age weavers used threads they attached to the warps and sides of the loom to keep weave even. The threads are tied in to the already woven area to stretch it. I have used the thread technique once with a tapestry weaving.
Tieing the pile knots
I tied the pile knot from two threads, cut beforehand in to the desired measure. The length of the threads were 11cm, from where 1cm goes in to the knot and the length of the pile will be 5cm.
From the two example pictures you will see how the pile knot is done.
I left one empty warp between the knots. In the next pile row I moved the knot one warp left or right.
This is not possible in the modern decorative ryijy, since there the piles will make the decorative figure.
The reason for the movement is that while I used a taquete groundweave, there came places where the warps in knot were in the same side of the weave. By moving the knot the place where that happened changed every row.
bar I used to measure and cut piles
When I measured two meters between first and last pile row, I wove the 7cm top hem.
After that I tied warps together in groups of 3+3 and cut the ryijy from the loom.
Next I sew the warp threads inside the headings with the same groundweave thread.
Last I corrected the mistakes from the groundweave. There were some places where the weft went in to the wrong side of the warp and this was very visible in the taquete weave.
Evaluation of the work
I think that the work succeed well. The size of the work ready is 110x200 cm. Sides are very even.
I did not take consider the natural narrowing of the weaving, but the stretching bar worked well.
The goundweave makes a beautiful red and white surface, with a red top heading.
Warps became thicker in the sides, while the work progressed, but it does not harm the result. One reason for this is that the work moved in the loom a little bit and it was not in the middle all the time.
The only thing I would do different this time is the material of the warps. I should have used wool-warps. But still the warps are covered by the weft very well. Warps are a little visible in the rows of the piles.
Work took time 2 months (150 hours). Threads cost 220 euro.
I used the ryijy first time in the pavilion in summer 2010. Temperature in daytime was near 30 C, and in nights about 15 C. The ryijy was warm and cool in same time. I am happy how it works as a real bedcover.
Ryijy-rug traditions from the 16th and 17th centuries, Riitta Pylkkänen, 1967
Carolyn Priest-Dorman, 2001, Trade Cloaks: Icelandic Supplementary Weft Pile Textiles
Complex weavers and http://www.cs.vassar.edu/~capriest/textileres.html
Guðjónsson, Elsa E. “Forn röggvarvefnaður,” Árbók hins Izlenska Fornleifafélags (Reykjavík: Ísafoldarprentsja H.F., 1962
Sencer, Yvette J. “Threads of History,” Fashion Institute of Technology Review, Volume 2, no. 1 (October 1985) pp. 5-10. Re-examination of the original technical report on the Mantle of St. Brigid
Pritchard, Frances. “Aspects of the Wool Textiles from Viking Age Dublin,” Archaeological Textiles in Northern Europe: Report from the 4th NESAT Symposium 1.-5. May 1990 in Copenhagen, ed. Lise Bender Jørgensen and Elisabeth Munksgaard, pp. 93-104
Käspaikka – Käsityö verkossa http://www.kaspaikka.fi/ryijy/index.html
Kankaankutojan sidosoppi, Ulla Harjumäki, Helena Kivistö, Elisa Lähteenmäki, Anne Turkia, 1988. ISBN 951-1-09880-2