Hooked Rugs & Rag Rugs
Hooked Rugs & Rag Rugs
As soon as people learned how to weave fabric for miscellaneous purposes, rugs and carpets were born and have accompanied our civilization ever since as perfect warmth bringers and space definers. Professional rug weavers created awe-inspiring pieces intended for crowned heads and the wealthy part of the society, however countrymen and poverty also took a huge part in the development of rug-making. The arcana of doing domestic chores by our ancestors are very often shrouded in mystery because the chroniclers were not especially eager to describe mundane details of everyday life, at least not until the19th century. Finding evidence on the origins of hooked rugs and rag rugs presents certain difficulties not only because there are few written records, but also because they were not precious fabrics hung on walls, but utilitarian objects which were thrown out after being worn out. Nevertheless, rag rugs and hooked rugs have been an important part of all households, wealthy and poor alike.
The History of Antique American Hooked Rugs and Rag Rugs
Cultures all over the world have always had ways of reusing materials since their production in the past required much more effort, time and, relatively, money than today. Rag rugs and hooked rugs are paramount examples of traditional recycling. They were (and still are) made from discarded clothes, leftover scraps or clippings of fabric. Little do we know about the craft before the end of the 18th century. According to Jenni Stuart-Anderson, the author of “Rag Rug Making”, these home-made textiles were first brought to Scotland by the Vikings, later to spread throughout the entire country. The author William Winthrop Kent believed that the earliest forebears of vintage hooked rugs were the floor mats made in Yorkshire, England during the early part of the 19th century. Workers in weaving mills were allowed to collect thrums, pieces of yarn that ran 9 inches (23 cm) long. These by-products were useless to the mill, and the weavers took them home and pulled the thrums through a backing or tied them together giving the remnants of fabric a second life full of purpose in the form of rag rugs or american hooked rugs.
Rug hooking in the present form might have developed in North America. The story likes to repeat itself, thus primarily this humble craft constituted the domain of the poor. About 1830, when weaving centers began producing machine-made carpets for the rich, the trend for floor coverings arose in the United States. Less wealthy had to use their skill and imagination to transform whatever they had into valid utilitarian object. Having no access to thrums, resourceful American women took all kinds of fabric remnants and created imaginative and beautiful American hooked rugs. Burlap was the most popular material for the backing of antique hooked rugs as old grain sacks were made of it and farmers had plenty of hemp fabric practically off charge. Although many of their creations were of great artistic value, rug hooking was not considered an appropriate craft for the wealthier part of the society. Girls from rich families went to embroidery or quilting classes while fashioning floor mats was never on the agenda. Popular ladies magazines from the 19th century never mention hooked rugs and the techniques for making them as it was regarded a “country” occupation in a derogatory sense. It was not until the beginning of the 20th century that the craft of rug hooking was popularized and spread all over the country, becoming one of the favorite pastimes of American housewives.
Motifs & Making Techniques for Hooked Rugs
Proliferating in regions where the winters were long, the climate cold and the economy limited, American hooked rugs were traditionally made by pulling a narrow strip of cut fabric up through a foundation material (typically burlap or linen) with a special tool. Settling in coastal New England and Canada, the fishermen, farmers and the womenfolk who emigrated from Northern Europe, brought with them traditional crafts and a common culture that led to the evolution of handmade rugs that are now considered a significant category of American folk art. Motifs for American hooked rugs were often inspired by the maker's natural environment consisting of sea shells, fallen leaves, animals, the family dog, buildings, flowers, baskets, seascapes and landscape vignettes.
From the early 1800's through the middle years of the twentieth century these original compositions allowed the rug makers an opportunity to freely express their creativity. Rag rugs were originally created out of necessity, with limited supplies and only the simplest tools used to braid and crochet useful floor coverings from scraps of discarded fabric. Nowadays, rag rugs and hooked rugs are not only perceived through the prism of craft but also significant art that has influenced the world weaving tradition in general. Because of their authenticity and beauty, antique American hooked rugs and rag rugs are keenly sought after.