( Originally Published 1932 )
It is quite possible that hooked rugs originated in the British Isles, where English and Scottish farm houses abound with them. They are called "pulled" rugs there—a literal description of the process involved in pulling the bits of goods through a foundation material.
While we are well aware that they were in England long before our forefathers gathered on these shores, their history—to us Americans—starts from the days of our original Thirteen Colonies. They may be just rugs in England, but here, they spell history and romance. Their threads are too closely woven with the hardships our forefathers endured in the cause of freedom, to be anything but precious to us.
Their mere mention brings visions of other days. We see our great-grandmother sitting before a roaring log fire. Flickering candles cast truant shadows across the oaken floor as she patiently works with the bits of cloth from her well-filled rag bag. How quietly she sits, and how skillfully her fingers work ! Even as we watch, a lovely rug takes form from out of that chaos of insignificant scraps. Is it any wonder that we Americans have annexed hooked rugs as a part of ourselves, and tend to date their history with the start of our own?
In the early days, the simplest form of rag rug was made by sewing pieces of cast-off clothing on a bur-lap or gunny sack. The largest pieces were placed in the center, while the smaller ones were arranged around the outside. These were appliquéd to the foundation and later this form of rug was garnished with stitches of wool left from homespun weaving.
Many of our early American hooked rugs show an attempt to imitate the florid and intricate designs of French carpets, which were brought to this country at that time. Later, variations were introduced in portraying scenes from domestic life, and we find the New England rug makers embellishing their rugs with outlines of ships, compasses, and even the moon and stars.
It is this human interest that centers around the making of these rugs, and whether you are conscious of it or not, something of one's self goes into the warp and woof in the making. Such a rug may prove to be an actual memory book. There—a bit of your favorite dress you wore when . . . , here, a colorful scrap mother donated, and over there, that lovely piece the "lady next door" gave you.
In the old Colonial days, hooked rug making was an art, and it is an art now, and luckily one that can be pursued without any great expense. A quantity of old woolen rags, an old potato sack, a crochet hook, and an old picture frame are all the necessities required for making hooked rugs, although a few manufactured refinements of these things will aid the rug maker.
A piece of burlap, slightly larger than the size of the finished rug, is needed to form the base on which we work. As has been said, a potato sack can be used, but such burlap is so reasonable that the beginner would do better to purchase it from her nearest dry-goods store. These foundations can be secured with designs on which proper color tones are indicated, and for one's first attempt, such a pattern should be bought. As skill is gained, the rug maker may trace her own individual designs on the burlap and select her own color schemes. The designing and execution of one's own ideas is desirable, as individuality of expression in hooked rugs is their greatest asset.
When tracing the design on burlap, mark the out-side lines of the rug first with a soft pencil, letting the threads of the burlap act as guides in making straight lines. The design is then drawn free-hand, or traced on the foundation with carbon paper.
While cotton underwear or silk stocking rags or woolen yarn may be utilized for such rugs as these, it is best to use only good woolen rags. These should not be so old that they will easily pull apart, and should be carefully washed before being used.
Color is of great importance in hooked rug making. While it is possible that the original rags are of the desired colors, this is seldom the case, and so they must be dyed. Rag rugs must be washable to be of service, as they soil with use. This is especially true if light colors have been used. So the dye used must leave the rags color fast. Not only color fast to washing, but also color fast to light, as we may wish to have our rugs in sunny rooms. For these reasons, it is important to purchase only fast color dyes. The writer can recommend Sunset Soap Dye, which is manufactured by the North American Dye Corporation of Mount Vernon, N. Y. When using any such dyes, follow closely the manufacturer's directions.
When the rags have been dyed the desired colors, and while they are still damp, press them with a hot iron. They are then cut into strips about one quarter of an inch wide, which allows them to be hooked through the burlap easily.
The hook is made expressly for rug making. This may be used, or an ordinary No. 1 crochet hook, either of which can be purchased at any department store.
To complete our list of necessities, we will need a frame to hold the part of the rug on which we work. Any old picture-frame, with glass, nails, and back removed, will do perfectly, or a regular hooked rug frame may be bought. Spread the burlap over the frame, and fasten it along one side with thumb-tacks. Now stretch the burlap tightly, and tack it in place on all four sides. Some rug makers do not use a frame, but the beginner should do so. We are now ready to begin work.
Starting from the outer edge of the rug, the pull stitches are made around the entire edge, and slowly worked toward the center. Poke the hook through the burlap and, wrapping the end of the rag strip around the hook, pull it through the mesh so that it comes out on top of the burlap in the form of a loop. This loop is allowed to extend above the burlap, while the hook is thrust through the next mesh, "picks up" the strip again, and pulls it through the mesh in another loop. The height above the foundation burlap of these loops is almost entirely a question of choice, although they should always be higher than a quarter of an inch. Each of these loops should extend out from the burlap an equal distance, so that the finished rug will have an even surface throughout.
When a loose mesh burlap has been used, a loop may be drawn through it between each strand, but for finer weaves, about four or five loops to the inch are best. It will be seen that the worker faces the upper surface of the burlap as the rug is made, while the strip remains on the under side of the frame until pulled through the mesh by the hook.
After a little practice, it will be unnecessary to look on the under side of the work, for the left hand will automatically feed the strip to the hook, as the right hand pulls it through. When the end of each length of the strip has been reached, allow it to hang down from the under side of the frame, so that the loose end will not show on the top of the rug, and proceed with a new piece as before.
When the entire rug has been hooked, each loop may be clipped to obtain a clipped yarn effect, which gives a rich, soft, and velvety pile to the rug. However, the loops may be left unclipped, which, while giving a more coarse appearance, will stand much harder usage.
To clip the loops, run the blade of the scissors through three or four of the loops at a time and cut. Such a rug should be finished by combing. Obtain a wire wool comber, and carefully comb the entire surface of the rug. This draws the warp threads of the rags from the surface and leaves the woof threads forming a soft pile. When finished with this combing, shear off the fuzz from the top of the rug to give an even surface.
When either of these methods has been completed, the excess burlap around the border of the rug is cut away leaving a one-inch border. This is hemmed, turned under the rug, and sewed to its back. A good pressing on the back of the rug, after it has been dampened, completes the work.
Hooked rugs need not be used exclusively for floors. They make fine chair-seats, wall hangings, footstool covers, or even table covers. Small round or oval pieces make welcome gifts, and any girl—handy with her hook and the owner of a rag bag—can forever solve that troublesome problem.
But above all, remember that your hooked rugs must be an expression of yourself. When they are, you may rest assured that you are a successful rug maker. Then you have reached the path pointed out by our Colonial ancestry.