Posted by R. John Howe on 11-08-2002 08:17 AM:

Scandinavian Textile?

Dear folks -

Early this year while traveling in northern Ohio, I bought the flatwoven textile below at a large antique coop in a booth that offered mostly North American Indian items.

Here is a somewhat closer look at part of it.

This piece is 47 inches wide and 67 inches long. It is entirely in wool and seems to have been woven in a species of weft-faced "dovetailed" or "comb-toothed" tapestry (there are no "slits.") The "handle" is “hardish,” has “substance,” and is much stiffer than that of a Navajo piece. The side “selveges” (which may in fact just be continuations of the weaving of the field but in a different color) are about six or seven “cords” wide and are in dark brown. The ends, top and bottom, are rolled over and sewn down. There are loops at the top indicating that it was used as a wall hanging but these seem to have been added sometime after the piece was woven.

The colors are an olive green, a rich, dark brown, a medium red that is abrashed in some areas, a lighter, brighter green, a mild yellow, an ivory, and a blue-green that is not quite a tourquoise (this latter color looks like a more straightforward blue, in the images on my monitor, than it is). I think the dyes are mostly synthetic, but the person who selected these colors and determined their use in the design was very familiar with the natural dye palette and the color harmony of this piece is very good indeed.

The design has a lot of graphic impact and features major ornaments similar to Turkmen guls that have a distinctive cruciform device at its center. (This device has prompted some to say that it’s Scandinavian.) The minor field ornament is a polychrome stepped diamond with a simple cross at its center. There is a single band of "tuning fork" devices horizontally at both the top and the bottom of the piece.

It is in excellent condition and shows no apparent wear of its materials. There is some sign that the red dye has faded (light exposure?) in some areas. I cannot estimate its age.

I would be interested in thoughts others might have about what this piece might be, and especially where it might have been woven.


R. John Howe

Posted by Wendel Swan on 11-08-2002 09:50 AM:

Hi John,

You have a Swedish rolakan, a type of tapestry that is found in various formats and designs: cushions, covers, Swedish khordjin that imitate their Persian prototypes and others that clearly copy rugs of the Holbein type.

Some rolakan bear dates in the 18th Century, but they are still made. It is difficult to judge their age by comparing colors to products from the Middle East. Even the older ones don't have the depth and saturation of color that we expect in our oriental rugs and textiles.

The cruciform shapes are really octagonal variants. You shouldn't read them as having any religious or geographic significance.

I'd like to see it.


Posted by R. John Howe on 11-08-2002 06:04 PM:

Wonderful Information Instantly!

Dear folks –

Every once in awhile we get a demonstration of the true advantages of this medium in which we converse and here is one.

The information flow about this little piece of mine has been nearly instantaneous and absolutely wonderful.

First, Wendel Swan wrote indicating that I have a Swedish textile called a “rolakan.” He knew quite a bit about this format.

Armed with that term, I went to Peter Stone’s “The Oriental Rug Lexicon,” whose entry says:

Then Filiberto Boncompagni sent me an email on the side alerting me to an article on page 86 of volume 86, of “Hali,” by Michael Franses, entitled “Wedding Textiles from Scania.” It seems likely to be a nearly definitive piece on “rolakans.” (Who knows more than Michael Franses in the rug world? )

Here is Franses’ first facing image.

Franses’ article continues through page 91 and I will “mine” it a bit in other posts in this thread just in case you don’t have ready access to volume 86.

Thanks, guys. Made my afternoon.

Look, Daniel!! “Chickens” in the border!!!


R. John Howe

Posted by R. John Howe on 11-09-2002 04:42 PM:

Structure of the Piece

Dear folks –

One of the things that impressed me about Wendel’s response above (after I had initially read the Franses “Hali” article) was its precision.

Franses says that several structures were used to make these Swedish wedding textiles. Some are made in a “double-interlocked” tapestry, some in “dovetailed tapestry,” some in pile, some with extra-weft patterning, and some are embroidered. Franses indicates that the term “rolakan” refers to the “double-interlocked” structure and that those made with “dovetailed tapestry” are called “flamskvav,” this latter term also referring to this latter structure. I knew from Marla Mallett’s book that there is also a seemingly similar structure, “single-interlocked” tapestry, that Franses doesn’t mention. Marla simply refers to it as "interlocked" tapestry. The word "single" is one used by others that I have adopted here.

Franses then says:

“…The ‘rolakan’ technique was used to create strongly geometric designs: the colours of these textiles are typically bright and vibrant and their patterns naïve, almost child-like. ‘Flamskvav’ textiles were generally woven on a black or dark brown ground, and usually small pictorial vignettes surrounded by naturalistic and semi-naturalistic flowers drawn in freehand manner.” He goes on to describe ‘flamscav’ designs as “curvilinear” and “realistic” as opposed to the “highly abstracted” designs of “other types of Swedish textiles.”

Here is Franses’ example of a cushion cover made in the “flamskvav” technique.

Well, my piece seems to fit the “rolakan” description and image better than the ones for “flamskvav,” so part of what was impressive about Wendel’s response was that he not only knew that this was a piece to be placed among these Swedish dowry textiles, he apparently also knew its structure accurately.

Still, we have now been trained to recognize that it is always useful to examine the piece itself. In preparation for doing so, I again consulted Marla’s book “Woven Structures” for the distinctions between “double interlocked” tapestry, “single interlocked” tapestry and “dovetailed” tapestry.

Here to refresh your own memories are the three drawings she provides:

So which of these structures does my piece have? Here is a close-up of a small area of vertical color change, the place where the distinctions involved here would occur.

Visually, this structure looks to me from this image to be “single-interlocked” tapestry, since I think I can see the wefts looping through one another, but cannot see wefts moving inside two loops as “double-interlocked” tapestry requires. But the handle of this piece makes it seem closer to that of “double-interlocked” tapestry, because I can feel (and in fact clearly see on its back) the “thickness” that Marla seems to say is a characteristic of this latter weave on the lines of the vertical color change. The edge at the vertical color changes is ragged, but I cannot seen the two lines of opposing color that ought to occur on both sides of a vertical color change in “double-interlocked” tapestry (consult the “double-interlocked” tapestry drawing again if it is not clear why I think these two “lines” should be visible). Despite some hesitations, I think this piece is woven using “double-interlocked” tapestry.

Franses warns that the various weaves used in these wedding textiles were often used “side-by-side,” so it would not be unlikely find more than one of them in a single piece.

I would welcome other thoughts and opinions, disadvantaged by distance as you are, about what, Wendel has called, apparently with great precision, a “rolakan.”


R. John Howe

Posted by R. John Howe on 11-10-2002 08:50 AM:

Michael Bischof Comment

Dear folks -

Wendel's suggestion that rolakan designs are often taken from oriental rugs and textiles and that the medallion in my piece above has echoes of "Holbein" usages has made us wonder whether Michael Bischof might have some thoughts about this piece, especially since he lives in Germany but visits Turkey often.

This morning he sent some by email. Here they are:

"...By the way: your Scandinavion textile, R. John Howe. Because of the many trouble I had with software from Bill Gates I actually have no access to it: there is an interesting book showing at as ealry as in the 11th and 12th centurey in Finland early textiles where made with designs that we would call "typical Anatolian early medieval" or "17th/18th century Central Anatolian village rugs". Apparently they were imported by the Vikings from some place far south at some time before that, what fits well to what we know about their movements .... I never had time to
research it further. When I read it I found it interesting for Dr. Hofmachers and mine "theory" that the later workshop designs evolved on this basis - and not the opposite way. Your piece in particular is a typical "geometrical" early medieval example for its design - how old it may be in reality I have no idea. Astonishing how conservative and tradition-keeping these Scandinavian place have been."

Thanks, Michael. I had been pushed by the seeming conventionalization of the design to see it as a fairly recent piece (and it may well still be that) but it is interesting to see that what seems like a simplification or conventionalization of design is actually that of a quite early period.


R. John Howe

Posted by Michael Bischof on 11-10-2002 09:15 AM:

Hallo everybody, hallo John Howe,

well, on a impression basis of "judgement" ( how old is it according to my feelings ) I would join saying it does not seem to be extreme old. A certain "flatness" of the dyes ( at least on the digi) adds to that impression, especially when compared to the citation of Franses. On the other hand: these big "fork" like motives in the horizontal separation stripes you find in many early kilims and in stone-work for example in the famous mosque in Divrigi - and this whole area was one huge yayla ground for Turcomans in the early (!) middle ages.

Whatever, thank you a lot for showing it !



Posted by Deschuyteneer daniel on 11-13-2002 02:57 PM:

Hi John,

Without seeing the back it is difficult to know what’s the sructure.

Here are two pictures (posted to Steve) which can help from a Bakhtiary Khorjin woven with the typical “double interlocked” tapestry technique. Viewed from the back it’s very easy to be sure what’s the technique.

The pictures of the khorjin as well as Marla’s comments are at the bottom of this page:

Good photo of single interlocked and double interlocked wefts in “twill tapestry” weavings are available on this other page:



Posted by R. John Howe on 11-13-2002 10:03 PM:

Daniel -

Thanks for the images and the links.

Yes, you show the reversal of color, I can see from Marla's drawing, should be in my piece too, if it's really double-interlocked tapestry. But I'm still not seeing it.

Here's another look and I made sure this time I was scanning the back.

I still don't see the color reversals here that are clearly visible on your Baktiari example. The size of the "stitches" to the left of the vertical color changes are wider, but that's all.

I'm still not entirely sure what the weave in my piece really is. I can see and feel the "ridging" clearly.

What do others see?


R. John Howe

Posted by Patrick Weiler on 11-14-2002 12:30 AM:

Dove Tailed


Your weaving appears to be dovetailed tapestry weave. Both colors share a single warp thread.
The interlocking varieties "interlock" with each other. The dovetailed variety, also known as "shared warp" just has both colors attaching to the same warp, thereby eliminating the vulnerable "slit".
I do not find many of these weavings on the "oriental rug" market, but they may be more common in other markets. Yours is a very lovely version.

Patrick Weiler

Posted by Richard Farber on 11-14-2002 12:34 AM:

Dear R. John Howe,

The colors seem on the computer to be of a very different --- looking for the term --- aesthetic ... than the different pallets one sees in various North African to East Asian textiles of different periods. If you had a comfortable room say 25 to 30 square meters and could furnish it as you wish, which other textiles would you hang in the same space as this textile and what would you put on the floor?

Best regards

Richard Farber

Posted by R. John Howe on 11-14-2002 08:17 AM:

Pat -

Your estimate is what I thought originally but it doesn't explain the definite ridges that I think are not characteristic of the dovetailed variety. Maybe Marla will rescue us, eventually.

Richard -

I don't have the spatial luxury you describe, and I live with someone who collects in a distinctive area, so competition for space is keen.

I think part of the distinctive "palette" as you politely describe it, may result in part from the fact that at least some of the dyes of this piece (the red in particular) seem to me likely to be synthetic. And it may not have much age at all. Wendel indicated that these pieces are still being made.

But I do have a kind of answer to your "what does such a textile 'go with'?" question.

At the moment the upper part of the wall behind my computer is taken up with a number of bag faces, mostly Turkmen. Against the lower part of this wall there is an antique drawing board with its table surface nearly upright rather than flat. Over this board I have hung several pieces overlapping one another (initially, I was considering what I wanted to take to the TM on a particular Sat morning, but this use has persisted).

The Swedish "rolakan" is one of these pieces but also on this board is a Turkish yastik; a Siirt piece, very hairy, with a "faux knot;" a Navajo piece; a Kurdish or Afshar "sofre," from Khurassan; and the striped back of a set of Persian khorjin of unknown attribution. On the floor are two contemporary Ersari Turkmen rugs, one of which is a Yomud jewelry asmalyk design. The small wall to my left has two "tent pole covers" on one side of a window and on the other side an array of small items, including an old Central Asia ikat fragment, a small hooked rug, a front tab from a Kurdish horse covers, a knitted doll's sweater, a small contemporary Navajo mat and an off-white knitted doll's blanket.

So one answer to your question is that the rolakan seems compatible with this very eclectic array of items. It does not jar but rather adds it distinctiveness in a harmonious way.

I'm sure one could envision a room, such as you describe, with quite spare furnishings such as more modern Scandinavian ones often are or even a room furnished with American Amish or Shaker pieces. If there was a second blank wall, a nice, dark American quilt from Pennsylvania, Ohio or Indiana would be compatible. The rug on the floor might be braided wool or, better, one of those commissioned by Stickley early in the 20th century to go with his "Mission Oak" furniture. I think the rolakan would feel quite at home in such a setting.

But it doesn't seem unhappy "cheek and jowl" with the variety of textiles described above.


R. John Howe

Posted by Vincent Keers on 11-14-2002 06:22 PM:

Hi John,

Dhurry rugs from India are all made in dovetail, and this looks like it. But no thick joins.
It seems as if the weaver closed the splits, after she'd woven the two joining squares.
Like: Weave the yellow, then weave the blue. Go back along the joining parts and close the split? It seems as if the yellow goes "over" the blue and the blue goes "over" the red.

Best regards,

He! Patrick. I've missed your happy postings for a while.
Great to see/read, you back

Posted by R. John Howe on 11-14-2002 06:31 PM:


Dear folks -

When I took this piece to a rug morning at the Textile Museum, David Zahirpour, a local dealer and experienced reweaver and rug expert, thought that he saw some indication in the warps of this piece that suggested that it was quite recent.

He hasn't seen it since but I think he thought that he saw some trace of a "man-made" thread in the warps.

I hadn't really looked that closely at them but here is a direct scan of an area where they are exposed.

It seems to me that they are probably wool and although they are very regular and seem likely to be machine spun, I don't see any trace of anything that looks "man-made." I think David said he saw some "blue-ish" threads but I'm not seeing that.

I don't know what machine spun warps suggest about age but clearly younger rather than older. I remember Eiland saying that machine-spun cotton warps began to appear in goodly numbers in Chinese rugs after 1850 and machine spinning technology was likely available in Western developed countries before that. But it's also what a contemporary piece would most likely have.


R. John Howe

Posted by Vincent Keers on 11-14-2002 06:38 PM:


Dear John. Think the guy wanted to say that the wool wasn't wool. It looks glossy as if some plastic is involved. Akzo, Basf etc. If it is VERY soft this is probably the case.
Burn it! John. Burn it! This will help.

Best regards,

Posted by R. John Howe on 11-15-2002 04:51 AM:

Vincent -

I've taken your advice and clipped a few strands of this tan warp into a white china dish and lit them with a match.

Here's what the results look like:

As you can see, the warp burns with a dark ash. It smells like burned newpaper which suggests that it is cotton. But it also leaves an orange stain or residue which may suggest that the cotton is coated with something. Could a dye leave such a residue?

This warp before burning does not seem particularly "soft" to the touch.



R. John Howe

Posted by Vincent Keers on 11-15-2002 08:45 PM:

Dear John,

This image of yours is real Art.
I've copied it and it's on my monitor now for a while. Next time, shoot as it burns.

Mercerized cotton?

What about the split-work I mentioned in my previous posting? Not right?
You should see some thread ending at the corners, or the weaver pulled the thread through at the next level.

Best regards,

Posted by Daniel_Deschuyteneer on 11-15-2002 09:29 PM:


Hi John,

Your picture of the back side is very clear and I am thinking without handling the rug that you are feeling unusual ridges at the back side because the wefts don't interlace all the warps as in Marla's drawings but jump at the back side over three warps



Posted by R. John Howe on 11-16-2002 08:08 AM:

Daniel -

The possibility that you mention of the wefts traveling over more than one warp at the devetailed joint is plausible. If so, it appears to me in the photos not to move over more than two warps. And its not clear to me why the ridge and the "wide" stitch is on the left side of the color change and seems separate from the ones that actually dovetail together.

(Marla must be at least smiling at my attempts to describe this structure.)

Vincent -

I'm not sure I'm taking in your "split weave" suggestion fully. Are you thinking that perhaps this structure is basically split weave tapestery on which the weaver has closed up the slits afterward? I have not heard of such a weave and there is no sign that the threads in the thick areas are anything except the basic wefts being used in the piece.

The warp may well be cotton but it is not, I think, mercerized cotton of the sort that sometimes poses as silk. It is not soft and silky to the touch.

Thanks for both of these suggestions.


R. John Howe

Posted by Brenda Zimmerman on 11-16-2002 04:46 PM:

This piece came to the southern part of the USA through Minnesota or Wisconsin. I am interested in the age, significance of the design and colors, actual place of origin if it may be known, are there others that I could look at, is there any literature available, etc...


Brenda Zimmerman

Posted by R. John Howe on 11-16-2002 07:48 PM:

Ms. Zimmerman -

Welcome to our conversation.

I can see why you might feel that this piece might be considered usefully in this thread. It is possible that it is one of these Scandinavian wedding textiles too.

If it is, it comes from, or is made in the style of the work of weavers in two very southern districts in Sweden, called together with the name "Scania."

From what I can see in the two images you provide, it does appear that your piece is made using a "dovetailed" species of tapestry. It seems somewhat different from the piece with which I started this thread in that there seem no areas of noticeable "thickness" to the left of the vertical color changes. But I don't know if the second image is of the front or of the back. (Ridges would show on the back.)

You say this piece likely came through states with goodly numbers of Scandinavian folks and that may be significant.

Again, only, if this piece is one of the group we have been discussing here, the literature most accessible is the Michael Franses article in "Hali" cited above. Franses says there is some other literature on such pieces but that most of it is not in English.

If you can describe the materials in your piece in more detail, some members of the Turkotek community might be able to give you some further useful comment.

Most of us collect oriental rugs and textiles and the "groping" you see in our conversation in this thread (although Wendel Swan's initial response was very knowing) is in part the result of that.

So we may not have much to share about your piece.


R. John Howe

Posted by Marla Mallett on 11-16-2002 11:34 PM:

Dear John,

OK, so I smiled at reading your descriptions. No matter. I’ve sometimes looked at kilims, and then later wished I’d examined them more closely to see what the structure was for sure.

What your weaving is definitely NOT, is double-interlocked tapestry. Once you’ve seen that construction, you’ll never confuse it with another. That interlocking occurs on the surface of the back side, and is very prominent. From the FRONT side, double interlocked pieces can be confused with other tapestry structures.

Single interlocked and dovetailed tapestry require either very close examination and probing with a needle, to determine if the yarns actually interlock with each other, or if instead they share a common warp. Only with a really practiced eye can one tell at a glance. With single dovetailing, the fabric will be a thicker along the join, as twice as much yarn is being squeezed into a small area. Interlocking doesn’t produce as much extra bulk, but the design outlines are usually more ragged and uneven. Among Middle Eastern pieces, interlocked tapestry is fairly rare.

Theoretically, the crucial, visible difference is this: When you are looking at the ribbed surface of the fabric, if joins occur BETWEEN the ribs, the wefts are interlocked. If colors zig-zag ACROSS a single rib, it’s dovetailing.

With your piece, John, this is confused, because the maker used what most weavers would consider improper sequences, meaning that to make the dovetailed joins there was an extra warp to cross on one side of each join. It’s very difficult to see with Brenda’s piece, and a closer view would be helpful—of both front and back. It is so regular that in any case, this was a very practiced weaver.

As for the warps in your piece, John, is the material possibly linen or hemp? Those are popular warp materials among Scandinavian weavers.

Hope I haven’t confused things further.



Posted by R. John Howe on 11-17-2002 06:51 AM:

Marla -

Thanks for this response.

Your suggestion that the warps on my piece could be linen is plausible. They do have a linen-like look and feel.

If "hemp" is the same as "jute" I think that less likely. I worked with (larger) strands of jute frequently in my macrame knotting days and that fiber is much rougher in finish. It actually "burns" one's hands if you tie knots with it for a few hours. There is a "waxed jute" but that has an entirely different appearance and handle, almost like very thin licorice sticks. (I have used the latter sometimes to restore the plaited "hair" on wooden antique African masks.)


R. John Howe

Posted by Marla Mallett on 11-17-2002 12:46 PM:


Hemp is quite a bit softer than jute. It’s often used as a cheap substitute for linen, and sometimes is confused with unbleached linen. It's a shorter and less durable fiber however. Soft brown burlap bags are usually hemp.


Posted by R. John Howe on 11-17-2002 01:41 PM:

Marla -

Yes, I should have consulted some source before I wrote.

I see that hemp "Cannabis sativa," and is distinct from jute "Corchorus capsularis" or "Corchorus olitorius."

I can't say that I've seen hemp of the sort you describe (I've seen large naval ropes of hemp), but if it is used as a substitute for linen, then it does seem a possible alternative for the warps of my piece.


R. John Howe

Posted by R. John Howe on 11-21-2002 10:14 AM:

Dear folks -

While searching for something else early this morning I ran into a book by Jack Franses, "European and Oriental Rugs," 1970, in which he gives brief descriptions of rugs from many parts of the rug and textile producing world.

In it he has entries for Norway, Sweden and Finland. He indicates that various kinds of "tapestry" weaves have been employed in these countries for centuries.

Surprising to me, he says that "rya" rugs, (they originated in Finland) which are very shaggy nowadays with lots of wefts in between rows of long pile knots, were originally made in a flatweave. Not the sort that we have been talking about in this thread but something more like sumack, since the weave had lots of threads hanging loose off the back.

He also confirms Marla's indication that the warps on Scandinavian tapestries tended to be wool until the latter part of the 19th century when cotton and hemp began to be used.

Here is one black and white image of an old Norwegian "rya" tapestry whose design and format seem somewhat similar to the one with which I began this thread.

He gives the date of this piece as 1635. He says that the earliest evidence of a rya rug occurs in an inventory in Finland in 1495.

Franses also says that "rya" rugs were not just dowry pieces (he calls them "the maiden's bottom drawer") but were the wife's absolute property. They belonged to her at her husband's death regardless of what the "will" said. These weavings were part of the goods she inherited automatically and were called the "Widow's Bed."

Interesting things in the middle of the night.


R. John Howe