Scandinavian Flatweaves, Nordic Rugs with Timeless Appeal

There’s so much to appreciate when it comes to Scandinavian flatweave rugs. They are versatile in style, function, and have a truly rich and colorful history.

Let’s lay down some of the most important and interesting details of these wonderful Scandinavian rugs. By the time you finish reading this article, you’ll have cultivated a deep appreciation for modern and vintage Scandinavian rugs, too.

wool and acrylic flatweave design

What Is a Scandinavian Flatweave?

Scandinavian flatweaves are a centuries-old type of handwoven rug. They originated in countries on the Scandinavian Peninsula: Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Finland. These rugs were originally used as bedcovers or wall hangings, to help keep the chill at bay.

You might see these flatweave rugs called röllakans (or rölakans) or Swedish kilims. Other common names you might hear for a Scandinavian style rug are: Nordic rugs, Danish rugs, Swedish rugs, and Norwegian rugs. (However, these broader designations include other kinds of rugs as well, like ryas or flossas, which are Scandinavian pile rugs.)

Finnish ryijys and the Swedish röllakans are iconic examples of Scandinavian flatweaves. The ryijy is a status symbol denoting wealth and the röllakan is renowned for its elaborate motifs. Both are prized for their singular designs and historical significance. 

Compared to other kinds of rugs, Scandinavian flat woven carpets are long-lasting and low-maintenance. Without pile, these tapestry-like rugs are thinner and lighter. Their flatness and lack of bulk also makes them ideal for layering and easy to fold up for storage.

A Quick Timeline of Scandinavian Area Rugs

The history of Scandinavian flatweave rugs dates back to around the 8th-11th century CE. This coincides with the Viking Age, a tumultuous period of raiding, trading, conquering, and exploring.

From the Middle Ages

During this era, Scandinavian weavers created flat-woven textiles to use in clothing and household goods. These textiles were also used as a form of currency, and in result it’s no surprise that non-Norse influences started to infiltrate the traditional motifs and methods used in Scandinavian flatweaves.

The imprints of other cultures — such as those of the Ottoman Empire and Persia — were plain to see by the 17th century. These rug-making approaches led to the incorporation of new materials, colors, patterns, and processes.

In the 19th century, the European and American Arts and Crafts movement revered and reinvigorated traditional crafts. This included everything from weaving and woodworking to stained glass making and embroidery. The movement sparked a renewed interest in Scandinavian flatweaves especially.

To the Modern Era

There was a shift in Scandinavian-style rugs with modern design in the early-20th-century. Simplicity in color, functionality, and recurring geometric prints rise to popularity. Natural fibers and dyes prevailed streamlining end-to-end production.

By mid-century, Scandinavian flatweaves garnered global notoriety. They were especially beloved in the United States. Marianne Richter designThe iconic designs of Märta Måås-Fjetterström, Marianne Richter, and others became highly-desirable collector's items. (And their timeless charm continues to delight people around the world today!)

Scandinavian design in general, and flatweave rugs in particular, remain crowd favorites after all these years. However, Mid Century weavers and designers like Maj Svanstrom and Anna-Maria Hoke bring their own talents to the loom, putting their own spin on rug making, continuing to innovate and experiment with new materials and patterns in the name of tradition.

The Making of Scandinavian Flatweaves 

The Production Process

Most Scandinavian flatweave rugs are made using the rölakan technique. This is a method of handweaving in which the weft fibers are horizontally laced through the vertical warp strands. Because of how the threads are woven, the rug has a ridged texture and the pattern is the same on both sides (making the rug reversible). 

This way of flatweaving is thought to have been carried over from ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, or North Syria. In the harsh Nordic climate, flat-woven textiles were more suitable for everyday use than those of hand-knotted pile.

Materials from Mother Nature

Traditionally, Scandinavian flatweaves were made with wool yarns. However, it’s also common for other organic fibers to be incorporated into the rug — like flax, linen, and silk, with the backing frequently being made of cotton.

Colorants are also usually derived from natural sources! In Scandinavian rug-making, dyes from plants (e.g., indigo, woad, and madder), fungi, minerals, and animals (e.g., cochineals and purple snails). Natural dyes are so important because they don’t contain harmful chemicals, are more eco-friendly, and achieve rich colors.

Evolving Over Time

Commercially available Scandinavian flatweave rugs were originally produced and sold in studios, like the one founded by the great late Ms. Måås-Fjetterström.

Eventually, though, the making and marketing of these rugs diversified. Craftspeople outside of Scandinavia began designing and producing Nordic rugs. 

Distinctive & Divine Design

This is where practical meets pretty. Not only were these Nordic rugs incredibly utilitarian in the days of yore, but they also served as beautiful decorative heirlooms.

Traditional Scandinavian flatweaves heavily featured elements drawn from regional lore and legends — flowers, fruit, animals, with earthy hues bringing these motifs to life.

It’s easy to imagine how their hallmark patterns and lively color schemes lent some flair to any home. A splash of red, blue, and green can go a long way to brightening up a long and dark winter’s eve!

The modern take on these Scandinavian area rugs yields a kaleidoscope that reflects changes in tastes and trends and the influence of other cultures. For example, the incorporation of asymmetrical designs and subtle color variations is attributed to Japanese design.

 

The motifs run the gamut with nods to art deco, tribal, geometric, and naturalistic themes. In addition to the folkloric details, things like chevrons, checker boxes, stripes, and zigzags made their way into the röllakan style vernacular.

Alongside the pattern style, over the years the traditional color story morphed as well. Understated shades and gradient-based monochromes are now completely acceptable. You’ll still see the bright and brilliant tones — but you’re just as likely to find Scandinavian flatweaves in calm and muted colors.

Regardless, today’s Scandinavian area rugs tend to favor simple, clean lines and minimalist color palettes. Many pieces showcase the mid-century mod aesthetic quite well. Others seem more timeless or hard to pin down to any specific era or genre.

Signs of Quality: What to Look When Choosing Your Scandinavian Rugs

Scandinavian flatweaves are so cherished that the Swedish commissioned them for many of their governmental offices and embassies. While you may not be royalty or a diplomatic corps VIP, you still want a rug that’s fit for the feet of the elite to tread upon.

Indicators of Authenticity & Quality

When shopping for your own Scandinavian flatweaves, make sure your selections:

  • Have uniform, secure weaving
  • Have well-balanced, well-set colors 
  • Are in good structural condition
  • Were made from premium materials
  • Fit in the dimensionally in the space 

Finding Value

Another attribute that may add value is a maker’s signature woven directly into the rug (especially if it’s from a celebrity Scandinavian rug designer). Vintage Scandinavian rugs in mint condition are highly sought-after.

Röllakans are available at many price points, ranging from everyday affordable to high-end investment-worthy pieces. Cost depends on factors such as provenance, age, condition, and scarcity.

 

Before purchasing, always look for signs of wear and tear or damage. For instance, holes, fraying edges, stains, and fading can detract from the value of the rug.

 

Landry & Arcari, Your Source for Exceptional Scandinavian Rugs

Scandinavian flatweaves are eternally distinguished and adored rugs. Every rug enthusiast, collector and person with a bare floor or wall will appreciate the unique beauty, durability, movement and heritage of Scandinavian-style rugs.

Given that these Nordic carpets are so diverse and versatile, they’re well-suited to a variety of tastes and environments. When you’re ready to get your own Scandinavian flatweave, we’re here to help. Our knowledgeable team has the expertise you need to find the perfect Scandinavian rug for your space. Browse our full collection of Scandinavian Flatweave rugs here.

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