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Notable Embroidered Rugs
Early in the Nineteenth Century American women of comparative means and leisure enjoyed the practice of embroidering rugs an art adapted from occasional floor coverings from Europe. A heavy foundation material would be covered with woolen yarn, using the tent or cross-stitch. The German settlements in Pennsylvania produced charming rugs of this type, and others were made in different localities. One of the most famous is the Pliny Moore rug, said to have been inspired by a French brocade. This hand-embroidered rug took four years to make (between 1808 and 1812)and was still in use and in excellent preservation after one hundred years. It was made by the young daughters of judge Pliny Moore for the drawing room of his home in Champlain, where it remained from 1812 to 1825. The wool for the crewels was sheared from judge Moore's sheep, carded and spun in his house and dyed with stuff that grew on his land. The rug was done in vigorous browns and greens which in course of time faded to softer tones.
At the death of Mrs. Moore it was given to her eldest daughter who in turn gave it to her daughter, Mrs. Martha A. Mygatt, who in due course bequeathed it to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Mrs. Mygatt's succinct story of this rug gives a wonderful survey of her life and times.
The plan of making carpet projected by, my grandmother, Martha Corbin Moore, wife of judge Pliny Moore of Champlain, who was a man of means, sent her daughters to Montreal to a Catholic Convent to study French and be instructed in needlework embroidery. Learned twenty-eight different stitches. At that time, no woven carpets were brought as far north as Canada so the grandmother conceived the idea of embroidering carpet for drawing room, about twenty feet square. Although every article to be used was raised on the estate, from wool on sheep through process of manufacture to coloring of soft, flexible yarn for embroidery, there was no canvas obtainable at home. Material was sent from Montreal. Frame made of planed boards; canvas tacked to edges; workers planned pattern; center being in squares about 18 inches across set diagonally, divided by six-inch bands of brown roses. After main breadths of carpet were done, workers perplexed for border, adapted design from cotton handkerchiefs, stamped with border of shells, which were the stock of a peddler. Four years occupied in making; begun in 1808, completed in 1812. Linen woven on loom in the grandmother's kitchen, made from flax grown on the estate.
There are said to be more than a million and a half stitches in this production.The so-called Caswell rug, which measures 12' x 13' 6" It was embroidered by Zeruah Higley Guernsey and completed in 1835 in Castleton, Vermont. It is embroidered entirely in chainstitch on a coarse homespun foundation. Miss Guernsey called this a double Kensington stitch and said she worked it "on a tamber frame" with a wooden needle made bv her father, who was a maker of spinning wheels. In 1846 she married a Mr. Caswell and continued to live in the same house at Castleton. The carpet was kept on the floor of her best parlor.
The Caswell rug is made in seventy-six separate squares of nearly eighteen inches each, and sewn together. Each square has a complete intricate design of its own. The exquisite designing of the separate squares is a delight to behold. No two squares are alike yet they are in almost perfect scale and harmony with one another. While floral motifs predominate, these are shown in many different arrangements, and variously combined with baskets and vases, birds, butterflies and shells. One square depicts a bridal couple, another some puppies, still another a group of kittens, and a cat in the bottom row for whose coloring Miss Guernsey introduced a note of humor, portraying it in blue.
For the most part the coloring is as beautiful as the design. The entire background is very dark, a slightly faded black. Most of the flowers and other motifs are in their natural colorings and show a large variety of tones produced by home-dyeing.
On one side of the rug there is a removable panel which was apparently invented so that in winter it could be taken up to leave the hearth uncovered. The panel has a fine design of a central basket of flowers and fruit, flanked by sprays of flowers on either side and finished with a narrow "tooth" border on three sides. The principal part of the rug has no border. Along the upper edge are the initials of the maker, ZHG, and the date 1835. Altogether this is an outstanding and rare example of early American handcraft applied to floor decoration.