Ruth Koski was born in Finland in 1928 and came to the US with her parents when she was 18 months old. Because her father was a minister, she moved with her family first to Cape Cod, Massachusetts; Menlo Park, California; Hancock, Michigan; and went to college at Michigan Tech where she met her husband. She and her husband settled in Virginia, Minnesota.
Her parents gave her a wonderful traditional rya rug that was commonly used in Finland during the wedding ceremony which involved the bride placing the rug on the floor for her and the groom to stand on.
What is so inspiring about Ruth’s journey in spinning and weaving is that her Finnish heritage drew her to teachers that had a similar background that are shown in her techniques. Ruth’s reminisces about her life in spinning and weaving, and said “This has been an interesting saga -- thinking back, how did I want to do this? I can remember as a child my father saying to my mother, ‘she’s like Aunt Marie’ . . . so it’s in the genes. And we can’t get away from it and we shouldn’t want to”.
Ruth became friends with Katri Saari and was able to learn spinning from her. She went for lessons four or five times a year and had to speak Finnish with Katri! Ruth got along very well with Katri who was from Finland.
Ruth learned to weave through Carol Sperling, “who was always in touch” and invited Ruth to join the Range Fiberart Guild. They met for the first time in the Women’s Club Rooms in the basement of City Hall in Virginia. The Guild provided all kinds of opportunities and she took advantage of everything that came along.
The Range Fiberart Guild Ethnic Weave Study Group wove for many years at “Ironworld”, now known as the Minnesota Discovery Center. Every year they would study a different pattern that would be the threading for the Katri Saari loom which was used to weave rugs while another was for weaving towels. Ruth said she was terrible for “designing on the loom”. She would come in with a preconceived idea, but once she was at the loom, she would change it!
Ruth’s method of preparing rags for her weaving was different than most weavers who would prepare their rags and make balls out of them. She said, “There is the math that you have so many square feet and would need ‘x’ pounds of fabric.” That simply didn’t work for her since she had so many colors. “She decided on the table in front of her with the yard stick, she knew how long her rug was going to be, so she would go back and forth with her strips counting how many picks she would need, and would know how many strips for each color, and then she would have nice little bundles of rags that she would put on her shuttles and was ready to weave her rug.”
Ruth said she always used cottolin (cotton and linen blend) for her weft, and often she would use her own handspun linen, spun and dyed, using chemical dyes.
Katri’s loom has been loaned to the Minnesota Discovery Center by her granddaughter, Jeanne Maki, under the condition that it remains in use.
This original krokbragd piece was at Ruth’s father-in-law’s cabin on Deer Lake. There were actually two that were on the floor as rag rugs. She took them home yearly to wash and return, but as they became fragile, she would flip them over to use the other side where the natural dyes had not faded. To learn krokbragd, she had to graph the pattern out on paper in order for her to weave it.
Ruth’s connections to other Finnish artists, the Range Fiberart Guild, and the Minnesota Discovery Center were a path to her own tradition of passing on weaving and spinning knowledge to others, including her grandchildren. Ruth continues to be an inspiration and teacher of spinning and weaving through the Range Fiberart Guild and the many years she has demonstrated weaving on the Katri Saari loom at Minnesota Discovery Center.