Monday, October 19, 2009

Thoughts on Rugs

DH and I were running around on Friday afternoon taking care of appointments and errands, and when we stopped for lunch I saw this on the wall of the semi fast-food restaurant. I couldn't take my eyes off it.

This is a hooked rug. The strips of fabric were cut at least 1/4 inch wide, and some were wider than that. It's worn, it was obviously used. But I think it is beautiful, and I'm so grateful someone rescued it and is sharing it for so many people to see. The colors are a little drab, except for the accents of red and pink.


I keep picturing the maker in my head, finally being able to sit down after all the chores were done, and planning how to use all the scraps she had collected. It would have been so much easier just to make stripes all the way across, and make blocks of colors, but that would not have been nearly as interesting. She planned out the design, probably marked the squares on the backing fabric, and started hooking. I can see her picking out the colors, hoarding the red so there would be enough to go throughout the pattern, and playing with the rest of the colors. There are a dozen or so blocks in the center top with a different color palette, and I wonder if that is where a piece of furniture went, or if there was some other reason. You can feel a connection to a crafts person through their work.

I've seen supplies for hooked rugs before, but there was nothing scrappy or make-do about it. The fabric was pre-cut into 1/16th inch widths and there was a wide selection of colors, and patterns pre-drawn onto burlap. That in turn reminded me of latch-hook rugs where you cut up perfectly good rug yarn to incorporate into your masterpiece.

My grandmother used to make rugs from old woollen clothing, but she didn't do rug hooking, she used to do a 4-part braid. I can remember once hearing her talk about picking up several wool coats from the thrift store for making rugs. You would have to deconstruct the coats, taking out the seams so you wouldn't waste any fabric, cut them in strips and then fold them for braiding so no raw edges showed to cause premature wear. The finished braid didn't get sewn together so much as laced together. I wish I could show you a picture; they were beautiful, but I don't think there are any in existence any more. One of my favorite ones had a lot of purple in it. You could tell she planned the color placement very carefully, saving up colors to use for the centers and the outside edges. One time she tried to use nylons for the braiding instead of used wool fabric, but that one was not successful. Braiding the nylons didn't work, because either the braid was too loose and would develop holes, or it was too tight, and the rug did not lay flat.

I never had the chance to learn rug-making from my grandma. I can do a 4-strand braid now, but I never learned the process, planning out your colors and sewing up the rug. I was more interested, when I was a kid, in the loomed rugs. I can remember expressing an interest to my mom in learning to make them. She did not encourage that ambition, explaining that it required a loom, which was very expensive, and which took up a lot of room.

Twenty years after that, I had the opportunity to use a loom to make rag place mats. My pastor at the time had a loom, and when I expressed my interest he very graciously let me weave the warp he had already installed on his loom. It was place mat width, which is why I ended up making the place mats, and I didn't use rags, I used inexpensive new sheets which I tore into strips. Because of that, I didn't have multiple colors to work with, just a set of brown place mats and a set of blue ones. I still have my set. They are kind of plain but very serviceable; but even though I enjoyed the process of weaving it wasn't very creative. I think if I had to work with used clothing it would be a lot more creative, with making color and pattern choices for the rugs.

Anyhow, seeing that rug mounted on the wall as artwork opened a whole train of thought and a lot of memories for me. Thank you for listening.

1 comment:

MOM said...

what memories!! I think there are several of those rugs still in existence in your uncles and aunts houses. Mine did eventually wear out, but they wore like iron.

My memory tells me they were five strand braids, hon. All that was involved which you mentioned, but SHE ALSO SEWED EACH STRIP THE WHOLE LENGTH BEFORE BRAIDING; this kept the fabric from fraying. I wish she had kept a log of the things she made, don't you?