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Knitted And Tufted Rugs
Rugs were also knitted. Balls of cotton or woolen rags were knitted with large needles into strips of some six inches in width, and then the strips were sewed together to get a rug of desired dimensions. The knit rugs that made their appearance toward the end of the Eighteenth Century and the start of the Nineteenth did not find a period of peak beauty in rugs. It is probably for this reason that the knit rugs that survived appear to suggest a folk-art less truly decorative than practical.
The whole art of needletufting is said to have originated in an isolated cabin in the Blue Ridge Mountains, when a pioneer homemaker who was darning a homespun coverlet looked at the tufting of the darning strip and thought:"Why this patch is actually pretty." From this meager beginning others saw the possibility of tufting in designs, and before long a new fashion was born.
Needletufts have been developed in four basic types. Candlewick consists of single, decorative tufts which are very fluffy. Punchwork consists of' embroidery of tiny loops, often found effectively emploved in a wide variety of multicolor floral designs, Feathertuft is a delicate clipped tufting, in continuous lines, giving a velvety soft finish. rippletuft is an unclipped treatment which gives a different texture appeal.
Early American rugs were in the truest sense inventions born of necessity. During the Colonial period they showed little in common with sophisticated weaves of foreign origin.They were strictly utilitarian, due not only to the primitive surroundings in which they were evolved but also to the economic conditions under which they developed.
There where several reasons why the New Englanders in the rugmaking crafts. Primarily there was climate. Our forefathers endured long winters with icy winds and snows when rugs were needed for warmth. Then, too, the American colonies were supposed to have an obligation to the motherland of England in return for help in establishing them. They were supposed to supply England with new markets for her wares, and also furnish her with new products. This quite impossible in the first decades in New England. In contrast to this, the South had tobacco. This was something that could be exported to the British in exchange for products manufactured in Europe. Thus the planters of Virginia were able to surround themselves with almost the same luxury in both attire and home furnishings as did their friends and relatives abroad. Their floors were covered mainly with imported rugs and they had no problems of personal craftsmanship. The poorer families found that the general mildness of climate made the need for the warmth and protection of rugs practically nonexistent.
In 1791 the first carpet "factory" in the United States was built by W.P. Sprague at Philadelphia. The first carpet made by the Sprague factory was a handmade finger-tufted fabric showing the coat-of-arms of the new republic, and was designed for the United States Senate Chamber. There it attracted the attention of Alexander Hamilton and caused him to refer to the new home industry in his annual financial report. He recommended the imposition of a small tariff on foreign carpets, as an encouraging measure. As a result there soon sprang up in Philadelphia and elsewhere small factories for production of two-ply and three-ply ingrain and Venetian carpets.
The depression which followed the long war of the Revolution, however, retarded this industry. The northern Colonial women continued providing their floor coverings by their own labors.