A Challenging Rya–and the story behind it…


As most of you know, I’m not taking on any big design “jobs” until my rya book is completed.  But early Fall 2015, I received an email so intriguing that I had to find an excuse to tackle this challenge.  So I justified it by deciding to document this project as a lesson for the book.  Mission accomplished.  Here is a sneak preview.

paintingPolly Pook made ryas 40 years ago when she worked for a rya supply company in Illinois. The backing fabric she used was different from what I was familiar with, but she was excited to learn to knot on a backing I had from Sweden from the 70’s which was just the size she wanted.  She and her husband, Peter, live in Ontario.

Peter had painted an oil painting of a Canadian landscape. They wondered if this image could be drawn onto the backing.  I have often told people that pictorial images often do not become good rya designs, but this painting was strong enough in colors and design to hold its own as an abstract scene in rya.  So I said YES I could do it for them, if they would allow me to use it as an example in my book.  They were pleased with the idea and helped me along the way as much as they could.Acetate overlay Pook

First, they bought my yarn and backing samples on etsy so they could match yarn colors to the painting.  (Online photos often to not show the true yarn colors.)  Then Peter traced the painting on a sheet of acetate in order to make a line drawing for me to transpose onto the backing with a laundry marker. (Brilliant!)  I had never known anyone to do this before, but it is all part of simply figuring out in the most logical way how to get a job done.  I love it! They sent me digital images of the painting, the line drawing, and the line drawing with yarn color numbers written in each space–which was extremely helpful for me.Pook line drawing from iPad - cleaned up

I used the grid method to transfer the design from 8 1/2 x 11 paper to 34″ x 55″  backing.  I drew lines on the paper with a ruler and stitched the same proportional lines on the backing. Then with a laundry marker, slowly drew what was in each “square” onto the backing.  I’m not going to say that it was really easy because there actually is quite a bit of detail there, but in the end it came together very nicely. Pook line drawing with numbers 9-16-15Don’t worry–the book will have an easier example of how to draw on a backing.  All the same, isn’t it nice to know that this can be done?

working photoSince the backing being used was a traditional Swedish backing measuring 34″ wide x 55″ long, I knew that it had 85 knots across the row and 95 rows (I counted them).  85 x 95 = 8,075 knots in the whole rya.  Good to know.  I also knew that Polly wanted a pile length of about 1 1/4″ to 1 1/2″ which calculates to about 300 knots from a Rauma Norwegian skein of rya yarn (ryegarn).  So how many skeins would this rya need?  Very good: 8,075 knots divided by 300 knots per skein equals about 27 skeins required for this rya.  We round up to 30 skeins.  Helpful info, but how much of each color?  Aye, there’s the rub.

Pook painting divided into cmWas I in over my head? To figure how much of each color, I went back to a photocopy of the painting and with a ruler, drew lines dividing the painting into 1 cm x 1 cm squares.  It could have been any small size like that, but I thought 1 cm was good for counting the colors that fell within those squares.  I know this will sound like I’m from another planet, but I used math to make the calculations.  I’m going to write this more clearly in the book (I’m practicing on YOU!).

See if you can follow this–and tell me if you can (or cannot) in the comments below.  On my 8 1/2″ x 11″ photo of the painting I drew 18 vertical lines 1 cm apart.  Then drew 27 horizontal lines to the top of the picture.  I didn’t choose those numbers; that just happened to be the measurements of that picture.  Stay with me now.  So the photo now has a grid with 18 x 27 squares for a total of 486 squares. THEREFORE the yarn in 486 squares = 27 skeins, rounded up to 30 skeins for a little spare yarn for wiggle room.

So with great patience I counted how many squares of each color and estimated when a square was half one color and half another.  I had the yarn color cards to know which colors would go in which squares.  So I started counting:  Threading #1 was a dark green. There were a total of 16 squares of that color.  So how much yarn would that be? 16 divided by 486 = .033 x 30 skeins total = .98 skeins, rounded up to 1 skein.  Phew!  If anyone followed me, you are hired!!

Pook Threading cardHere is another:  The mustard color was filling 31 squares on the grid.  31/486 = 0.064. Multiple that times 30 skeins and you would need 1.9 skeins rounded up to 2 skeins. Piece of cake!  It is magic.  For you mathematicians out there, please explain this phenomenon in the comments section  My aging brain is having a hard time expressing why this works so well.

A54BD205-1B82-4D5E-B4BC-98EE675C29A6And finally for those who are very advanced out there, you are thinking, “But what if there are three shades of mustard in that last example?”  Well, you would simply divide the two skeins by three colors and realize that you would need about 3/4 skein of all three of those mustards.



Hopefully, you are still with me.  Peter and Polly came to the DC area to spend Thanksgiving with their daughter. They all came by the studio to pick up the rya “kit” and for Polly’s lesson since this was a new kind of backing for her.  She is now working on it at home in Ontario and I hope to share a photo of the finished rya wall-hanging in an up-coming issue of the Byrdcall Blog.

Here is what her work was looking like in January!  Way to go, Polly!


Rug in progress 1-21-16










And here is what it looked like on April 11, 2016.

Polly Pook in progress


14 thoughts on “A Challenging Rya–and the story behind it…

  1. What a wonderful story and I took particular interest because Polly is my sister! I also live in the DC area and have been following the project since inception — so great to read your incredible description of how you did all that “figuring” and see this coming along… I have such fond memories of my father’s rya experience, and Polly’s earlier rugs, and loving Peter’s paintings, this is just great! Can’t wait to see the finished product and hope to get to meet you in the future… Mark Olson

    • Nice to meet you, Mark. I hope to meet in person someday. Thanks for your enthusiasm! I can certainly see why this blog is of interest to you! Stay in touch and thanks for the nice note!

  2. Is that the painting your holding while standing next to Polly? Are you related? (more than just the similar glasses)
    Also possible to ask photo copy place to enlarge to acetate.
    Will be nice to see the results.
    Thank you for the write up.

    • Hi, Lynn,
      Yes, that is the original painting I’m holding in the picture of Polly and me. And No, as far as I know we are not related and had never met before. (I thought we looked a bit alike, too!) And Yes, I have a hunch that a diligent person might be able to find a way to print directly onto acetate. I remember transparencies for overhead projects years ago…they must have been photocopied. But still you’d have to trace the outline with a black marker, unless there is a Photoshop program that could do that for you. Can someone else offer more info here? Thanks.

  3. All this new is so exhilarating indeed! I am all overcome with inner joy for all of you doing this! I am not good at maths, mind but it sounds all very logical indeed! Good luck with the project all round and I can’t wait to buy the book, when its available! 🙂

    • Hi, Anke!
      Thanks for the JOY! Keep taking photos of your rya project. It will make a great blog when you are done!
      Thanks for having faith in my math.

  4. I got it… I had to take some time to re-read it with paper in hand. It’s like doing math homework with my daughter 🙂 My difficulty was in the way it was presented – I’m a very visual person and it’s easier for me to follow bullet points or short paragraphs. I am also not very organized, more of an intuitive person, so I tend to ‘estimate’ a lot; but this is great because if I wanted to make sure I had everything to get to work, I now know how to do it. I look forward to seeing the finished Rya.
    This information should definitely be in your book! If I may add a request, please talk about what sort of designs work best with ryas.
    Thank you Melinda!

    • Angie,
      Thanks so much for those very helpful comments. And come to think of it, I am totally a bullet-and-short-paragraph learner, too. Much of the book is written that way. I’ll make this clearer in the book. But I’m glad it did make sense when you reread it and put it to the test on paper. You are very intuitive, and if you don’t mind having a little extra yarn on hand, it is always nice to have a little more than you need…then you can slip them into your next rya, as I know you do.
      Thanks. I knew I could count on my friends for helpful feedback…which will result in a better book for us all.


  5. Great idea for an approximation! I am a beginner, so take this with a heavy grain of salt…it does seem that the quick method for determining number of skeins for each color would work when there is a fairly consistent block of color within each square of approximately four rows x four knots: 8075 knots / 486 “color block” squares. Otherwise, it seems like a lot of fractional squares (multiple skein colors) to add up overall. It may be more challenging to do on a rug pattern that has more frequent and varied color changes within each 4×4 grid.

    [Do you have a sense what is the overall “waste” factor when the strand of yarn end measures just shy of 4″ and you can’t do another knot?]

    Of course, if Polly’s rya is almost finished, that would be the best test case of the method. Where is she at in the completion of the rug and is she running out of any color?!

    • You can be sure, we’ll be posting a picture of Polly’s finished rya when it is finished. Stay tuned. And your ideas sound very good. Good analytical thinking, Laura.

  6. What an exercise in calculation. I am in awe of your creative ability. The idea presented for a step by step bullet presentation makes sense to me as I am mathematically impaired. The entire process is exciting and challenging to me.

    • Yes, I know it was mind-boggling the way I presented it, but the blog was getting l o n g, so maybe I rushed the last step or two. I’m working on that section of the book now and I’m simplifying and making it more visual. I’m going to have a “worksheet” in there too so people can jot down their personal “numbers” to make calculations easier. Thanks, Marge. can’t wait to get you started on your rya wreath kit. Melinda

  7. Your method makes perfect sense – taking the color percentage of the small grid and then just finding that percentage of the yarn. The hardest part was probably the total number of colors that you had to manage! Sure hope I can get into your class at Common Ground on the Hill this summer!

    • Oh, Maria, I hope you can, too! And most people do smaller projects in the Traditions Camp class, so the math becomes even easier with a smaller size. But you seem to understand it already. Sign up!

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