What is Swedish Flat Weave?
Swedish flat weave, commonly called Swedish kilim (röllakan or rollakan in Swedish) is a flat weaving technique to make carpets. As the technique has been used since the early eighteenth century in Sweden, it is seen as typically Swedish. These carpets are becoming increasingly in demand, with Märta Måås-Fjetterström‘s rugs being the most sought after and expensive.
Origin of the name röllakan
The Swedish word röllakan comes from the old norse word ryglakan, originating in a corresponding German word, ruggelakan. The word means back cloth, and was used as many of these carpets were hanged on walls, behind people’s backs, and on the backrests of chairs. The spelling is most commonly röllakan, but you will also see the spelling with only one “l”, i.e. rölakan.
The history of Swedish flat weaves
The flat weave technique is very old and known from the cultures in the Near East (kilim is actually the Turkish word for carpet) and Egypt. It also occurs in South and Central America indicating that the technique has occurred multiple times independently. Findings of textiles in the flat weave technique have been done in graves in the Swedish viking communities Valsgärde and Birka, but there is no evidence that the country of origin is Sweden. During the Middle Ages the technique was not known in the Nordic countries, but was being used in Germany. The oldest dated röllakan in Sweden is from 1710. In Sweden the technique is most widely used in Skåne, the southernmost province in Sweden.
The Swedish kilim technique
The flat weave (röllakan) weaving technique is somewhat simpler than tapestry weaving. It is characterised by the fact that all seams between the colour blocks can make the fabric either look the same on both sides or not, depending on the weaver. At the colour changes the threads are twisted, so called double twist, resulting in characteristic braidlike stripes on the back side. Because of this, Swedish flat weaves are often reversible.
The technique is based on the simplest weave, called plain weave. The warp and weft threads cross at right angles, aligned so they form a simple criss-cross pattern. Each weft thread crosses the warp threads by going over one, then under the next, and so on. The next weft thread goes under the warp threads that its neighbour went over, and vice versa. It is strong and hard-wearing, and is used for fashion and furnishing fabrics. In past times, the technique was used for quilts as well as rugs.
Swedish flat weaves are made primarily with linen warp and wool weft.
The shapes and patterns of röllakan rugs
A typical Swedish kilim will have a folklore pattern. The Swedish flat weave can be divided into twelve main shapes, the star, the rose, the octagon, the bird, the lily, the tree, the hourglass, the palmette, the human, the deer, the brook horse and the lightning.
- The star permeates the entire weave as it can be combined in many different ways.
- The rose is also frequent, and can be compared to the star, except that it has rounded edges, and the entire flower is divided into four heart shaped fields.
- The octagon is also prevalent and is used for filling or framing motifs.
- The bird is less common as a comprehensive motif and is more often found in the edges.
- The lily is usually found as filling with roses.
- The tree is woven in many different sizes, as central motifs or as edge decoration.
- The hourglass is rare as a central motif, but rather combined with crosses, stars and trees.
- The palmette is the most generic motif and is almost always found diagonally.
- The human is almost exclusively represented as women, and just like the bird and the deer primarily in the edges.
- The kelpie is always woven within two octagons and often as a solitaire motif.
- The lightning is the most recurring pattern.
How to care for and clean a Swedish kilim
The reversibility as well as the wool material make the carpets easy to care for. You can vacuum clean your rug on a regular basis, but please make sure not to vacuum the fringes. The vacuum cleaner will extract the fiber from the linen in the fringes, causing them to dry up and break over time. When needed, just shake them gently.
If you spill on your rug, spread potato flour on the stain and rub. When rubbing the flour, it warms up and will better extract the stain. Normally, even the worst stain of red wine will be removed if you address it quickly.
Sweets of different sorts will generally cause the worst stains. Sugar won’t normally show at first. However, the sugar will bind other kinds of filth over time, creating a stain later on.
Wash older stains with warm water and a clean dish cloth. You can even use gentle soap when needed. Should you decide to leave the rug to a dry cleaner, please make sure you find a professional rug cleaner.