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Color-Blending for Rya

How can you work with color in Rya? Let’s explore!

Hej! I’m a textile artist from Stockholm, Sweden working mainly with abstract and figurative tapestry and Rya. If you’re new to that word Rya, it’s a Swedish hand-knotted pile-technique with a long ”shag” and fewer knots per inch. 

Rya had a big heyday in Sweden in the 1950s -1970s, with famous designers like Viola Gråsten and Marianne Richter putting a Rya rug, store-bought or handmade, in almost every Swedish home. These designs were my first love as I started with textiles, but over time, this has evolved into what’s now my artistic expression, where color and texture play a bigger part. 

In addition to my studio practice, I teach workshops in exploring Rya and how to create your own designs within the technique. In one class, a woman asked me how to translate a painted color to yarn. She struggled to find the "right" shade of raspberry yarn to mimic the marker pen color she had used for her drawn sketch. Eventually she asked what I would pick from the stash because she "couldn't see it" by just looking, and we ended up picking out four different yarns to find the match. I often find that happens in Rya - you actually need to combine multiple colors to achieve a different color. These tones often exist in the spectras where some people would say they don’t match or ”go well together” - and therefore it’s sometimes hard to believe that yes, this will work

You have to have faith and allow some experimenting. Here I will take you through two ways of color-blending, with Array and Mallo as my companions. 

A First Step

The easiest Rya crash-course is to make a small sample in a frame loom. This way, you can work in a limited format with a fast result, before setting up a big, time-consuming project on a shaft loom. As a sketch and inspiration, I found some concrete-defying flowers growing outside the studio. I focused on the green, white, yellow and pink of the tiny daisies and warped the loom with a combination of Array Tangerine 4, Array Lime 3, and Mallo Clay.

color blending for rya inspiration
For the weft, I made a bundle of Array Tangerine 4 and Mallo Clay, doubling them so that each weft consisted of 4 strands. To make the bundle, I put the cones on the floor and wound them up as pictured below. The end held by my pinky, ring finger and middle finger was the ”running line” to the weft.
color blending for rya demonstration
arry and mallo yarn bundles
I got the idea of a ”growing” color scheme - from a darker ground to a lighter sky. For the daisy petals I didn’t have a plain white or magenta pink available, so I had to find blends from the colors available to achieve the same contrast and effect. Once you look really closely, you see that the yellow bud has dots of green in it, and I let that guide me. At first, I thought that the Array Lime 3 included in the ”bud” bundle was too bright, but once paired with the stem and petal bundles, it gave just the right amount of pop!

Here are the colors I used: 

rya color blending array and mallo bundles

array and mallo rya color blending bundles

To achieve a cohesive gradient, I added Array Forest 1 in all of the darker bundles. In the very first bundle, it represents the muddy ground, and in the last one, represents the sky. Dark colors that still carry color often prove to be my most used. Array Forest 1 and Cinnamon 1 and 3 act exactly like that: they’re saturated so they add darkness and shade, but they’re still green and brown, meaning they’ll also act as a chameleon to whatever color they’re supporting. This has great use in Rya weaving.

rya color blending example weaving

rya color blending example weaving

The finished result is a big abstraction in a small format. From here, a lot of information on how the colors blend and the way the yarn behaves can be translated to a larger project.

Taking It To the Loom

Sometimes color combinations alone can be so inspiring you don’t need a painted sketch or object to work from–you just dive in, as I did with this project. In Array I found a palette from blue-greens to pink-reds with Sapphire, Forest, Meadow, Lime, Tangerine and Cayenne. I chose a mix of the blue-greens with dashes of Cinnamon for the warp, and started knotting.

 Color Blending with Rya Tutorial

I let the pink blend of Array Tangerine 4 and Mallo Clay play a center part, acting as a monochrome (although blended) to the very mixed blends of Forest 3 and 5, Ocean 5, Lime 1 and 3, and Sapphire 5 on each side. When I’m working like this, I like to think of quotes from two artists, active in the US and Sweden during the same era. Dorothy Liebes said “A dark, a light, a bright” and Barbro Nilsson said “One color should consist of as many similar tones as possible. Only then it comes alive''. I believe they knew what they were talking about! 

Following their recipe, this combination - Array Cinnamon 1, Lime 2, Sapphire 5, and Lichen Mallo was one I couldn’t have enough of.

color blending with rya gist yarn samples

color blending with rya gist yarn sample

Using specific colors for the warp might seem unnecessary as most of it gets covered, but it’s what you see through all of the knotting, and that’s important. It also becomes the backside and fringe or braid, which is akin to finding the right frame to a precious picture versus just pinning it to the wall.

Don’t be surprised if you suddenly find yourself matching your weaving!

rya color blending yarn bundle

rya weaving with gist yarn sample

Slowly, the motif evolved into an abstract bird surrounded by green leaves, a teal sky, and red flowers. The many blends worked beautifully together, but felt slightly busy.  To ease that, I included some of the “monochrome” pink bird bundles in the flowers, and added three wavy stripes in only Array Forest 1 within the top right teal blend to bring some balance to the composition.

rya rug abstract bird sample

After cutting it off the loom, I gave the Rya a soak in lukewarm water. This blends the colors further as the whole weave relaxes and also blurs the lines from the rows of knots. Before it was completely dry, I added movement to the surface by letting my fingers gently comb through the pile. Since it is predominantly wool, this manipulation of the knot directions lasts.

rya weaving wet finishing

Multiple colors working together as one

The warp colors are glowing on top, the light green on the left harmonizes with the teal on the right, and the solid red and pink figures in the center and on the sides also include various shades of green and brown. Thanks to the contrasting blends, the colors show up fantastically in any given light condition.

miriam parkman rya weaving sample

rya rug samples

A close up on the surface, in daylight to the left, lit by sun to the right.

I hope this inspires you to experiment with Rya!  

Happy knotting and blending!

About Miriam Parkman

Miriam Parkman is a professional hand weaver and textile artist in Stockholm, Sweden. She graduated from Handarbetets Vänner school in 2016 and is a founding and active member of weaving collective Studio Supersju. Miriam finds her inspiration in 1940s-1960s design, natural landscapes and every-day life, filtered through the mediums of tapestry and rya weaving. When she's not working, she enjoys cooking, dancing, planning what flowers to grow next season and arranging live music nights as part of a small non-profit country music club called Sthlm Honky Tonk.

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