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Golden era of rya weaves

During the so-called Age of Utility of the late 18th century, there were attempts to conserve forests and to promote the construction of buildings in natural stone. The tiled stove, which stored heat and saved firewood, was also developed. This period also marked the beginning of a golden era of vernacular rya weaves. Rauma and Orimattila became centres of lace-making, and Turku became known for silversmithing. Glassworks and faience factories were established, and wooden churches were built.

Drawing: Suomen käsityön museo / Tuula Ollikainen

Text and images: Crafts – a journey in time -exhibition, if not mentioned otherwise.


The most flourishing and productive period of vernacular rya weaves was from the close of the 18th century to the middle of the 19th century. The rya (Fi. ryijy) was already used in the Bronze Age in the Nordic countries as a cover in boats. It became a coverlet for soldiers and upper-class homes in the 15th-17th centuries, and a multi-purpose textile for purposes of representation in the 18th century. The rya was used as a wedding rug, or to cover the bier at funerals. Popular designs included crosses, the tree of life, hourglasses, rowels, hearts, and human and animal figures. Carnations, tulips and even parrots appeared in farmer homes of the 18th century and as the designs of rya weaves.

Photo: Suomen käsityön museo / Karl Lahti


The oldest known spot-dyed yarns and chiné-striped fabrics are from the close of the century. Yarns were made spotted by tightly binding them together at the desired locations, thus preventing them from being dyed. The spot-dyeing technique was known throughout the country. The most impressive fabrics were made in Southern Ostrobothnia. Skirts, bodices, jackets, aprons, attached pockets and shawls were made from the fabrics. The ikat dyeing technique was known in Southwest Asia, Indonesia and India since the 11th century.

Photo: Suomen käsityön museo / Tiina Heinonen


A stiffened silk-covered cap came into use as headgear for burgher wives and farmer wives. It had a piece of lace attached to the front part. Most of the lace made in Finland was used for headgear. Rauma became centre of bobbin lace-making. In the 1780 some 200 inhabitants of Rauma earned their livelihood from lace. Men of Rauma traded in lace in Finland in addition to exporting it to Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Russia.

Photo: Suomen käsityön museo / Ismo Hannula 


Eight glassworks were established in Finland during the 18th century, with window panes as their main product. The works also turned out bottles, hip flasks, tankards, beakers, bowl, carafes, plates, glasses for spirits and beer and wine glasses, as wells as chandeliers as rare demonstrations of crafts skills.

Photo: Suomen lasimuseon kuva-arkisto.


With over ten professionally active master silversmiths, Turku was the centre of work in silver. Tea and coffee-jugs of silver were innovations of the period.

Suomen kansallismuseon kuva-arkisto / Ritva Jaakkola


In the 1770s the set masterpiece for aspiring cabinetmakers was the curved chest of drawers typical of the Rococo style. This was regarded as a particularly difficult test. Chests of drawers and side-boards were novelties in upper-class homes and did not become widespread items of furniture until the 19th century.

Photo: Heinolan kaupungin museon kuva-arkisto / Sirpa Juuti


The wooden church of Petäjävesi is an example of the church-building skills of peasant carpenters. It was built in 1763-1765 under the direction of Jaakko Klemetinpoika Leppänen. Petäjävesi Church is one of the sites of UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

Photo: Keski-Suomen museon kuva-arkisto / Seppo Turpeinen

FOLK COSTUMES               

Inspired by the romanticism of the period, clothing imitating folk costumes began to be made in manors and middle-class homes, where also “peasant weddings” would be staged. As folk costume became fashionable among the upper classes, it also became more valued among the common people. The genre paintings of the late 18th and early 19th centuries also reflected a folkloristic mythical image of the common people. A.Lauréus’s painting “Peasant Dance in Finland”.

Photo: Suomen taiteen museon kokoelmat / Antti Kuivalainen


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