As the clocks go back at this time of year, it serves as a gentle reminder to all of us that the nights are getting that little bit longer, and the air a little colder. An extra blanket is likely to be found around the home in the coming weeks – but keeping cosy during winter wasn’t always so easy. In the Nordic countries centuries ago, after needle and thread paved the way for warmth without having to use animal hides, Finland was the place to be if you wanted to stay warm with the most effective fabrics. It was there that the ryijy rug first found its footing.
This historic rug first appeared as a purely utilitarian textile, broadly woven for use in bedding. Knotted and piled, the ryijy rug often features long piling similar to the style of Moroccan carpets. Thought to have first originated in the middle-east, many historians credit the Vikings for spreading the knowledge of this textile to the Nordic countries, where people in Finland used it to their distinct advantage.
Even when the ryijy rug was wet, it remained a hugely effective insulator and throughout the years its use became hugely popular with soldiers and then civilians after King Gustavus Vasa supported wearing it in Finland. From then on, the rug became much more than a practical insulator, and slowly but surely designers began to embellish their surfaces. In early designs, the piles on the rug were designed to be worn against the skin, leaving the bare side of the rug to face outwards. Over time, piles were added to both sides and their designs became more and more ornate. Now in the 21st century, over 150 years since the start of the modern Finnish immigration, ryijy rugs are making a comeback as textile artists across the US return to them, as seen in a recent exhibition at the American Swedish Institute.
The technology of fabric has certainly come a long way since the original rugs graced the Finnish landscape, as jumpers and blankets continue to become cheaper, lighter and more breathable when they're used out in the cold weather – or, more likely, in the warmth of your own home.
To read more about Nordic cultures and textiles, pick up the new issue of Selvedge to see Swedish textile artist Britta Marakatt-Labba's new work.