The Knitted Rug
( Originally Published 1914 )
The knitted rug is another rug which has reached the satisfactory standard of modern craftsmanship and is also a striking example of how successfully a rug based on a humble craft can be made if well-planned. Surely to paraphrase a familiar quotation, "The plan's the thing." The craft of knitting cannot be said to possess any technical difficulties. Almost any one can knit, though to be sure even so simple a performance as this can be done more or less well. But anything that is easy finds inexperienced enthusiasts, so the knitted rug of the hit or miss variety is more frequently met with than one which is care-fully planned.
Before the present revival in the handicrafts the old Colonial looms on which the farmer folk did their own weaving were discarded as old-fashioned and cumbersome and so when rugs or carpets were needed and there was no carpet weaver conveniently enough located to weave up balls of cut rags, the knitting needles were resorted to and the knitted fabric took the place of the woven one.
Like the braided rug, these rugs are made in several shapes. They are square, oblong and round; one sees the angular ones more often than the circular, possibly because the circular form is somewhat more difficult to make. The knitted rugs are also rather heavy and there-fore are practical for an entire floor covering. When used for this purpose they are made like runners in any desired length when laid side by side on the floor without being fastened. The lengths are not sewed together or nailed down, so they can be easily taken up and shaken.
The materials generally used for making knitted rugs are old rags of , either wool or cotton. This accounts to some extent for their somewhat uncared-for appearance as the design cannot be as well controlled as when just the kind and color of material wanted can be picked out. It requires much ingenuity and experience to make the best of what is in the house, and handicraft produced under such conditions is apt to suffer. Then, too, the preparation of these materials is often careless. They are indifferently cut or torn into strips of varying widths, sometimes even on the bias. This lack of care in the preparation of the material of course weakens the knitted fabric and sooner or later a thread will break and become unraveled with disastrous consequences. The experienced worker never takes risks of this kind but prepares all materials with that exacting care which will guarantee the rug a long career of usefulness.
Since the materials from which these rugs are knitted, make a thick thread when cut into strips, the fabric itself is heavy and to make it easier to handle the square and oblong rugs are made in bands from eight inches to ten inches in width, and are afterward sewed together. The oblong rug shown in one of the illustrations is made in this manner. It has a roughly chosen center and a border sewed on each side and at both ends. In the border a simple design has been attempted. It is a band of black interrupted at certain intervals by a bar of color. The idea in this simply planned border is a happy one, for the dark band sectioned by lines of bright color surrounds the hit or miss center, and by holding it in place adds stability to the appearance of the rug. The irregular effect of the center is balanced by contrast with the formal border.
In applying design to handicraft one always considers the surface of the object to be decorated, as a space for composition in spot and line. In this special case, the entire rug surface is the space for the decorative arrangement. It is a circular space divided into twelve wedge-.shaped sections or repeats by the peculiar technique of the rug. These sections are composed of knitted rows which begin at the center of the rug and run out toward the edge so that the effect is that of radiating lines. Decoratively speaking, radiating lines always suggest action, so the rows have a tendency to carry the eye of the observer in a direction of the outer edge of the rug's surface. In this case the action is so strong that an encircling line is especially needed to counteract the effect of the radiating rows and to hold them in the composition space. The encircling line when translated from terms of design to terms of handicraft, becomes the border which the craft worker adds to give the rug a necessary finish.
In the model rug this plan is successfully carried out and the appearance of the rug is improved by the narrow border surrounding it. These points of design may seem somewhat exacting, but in reality no detail is too small for consideration by the careful worker. Everything counts, and it is the attention given to minor points which distinguish the work of the experienced craftsman.
The type of knitted rug chosen for the model is a round rug because it is much more difficult to make than either of the other shapes, and cotton has been taken as the material in which to make it. This model can be used for either a bedroom or a sitting-room rug. It is de-signed in two shades of soft green.
If there is one thing above others for the student to remember, it is that in handicraft the conditions under which work is produced seldom repeat themselves. While this is true of any branch of handicraft it is especially true of branches like dyeing and pottery where certain chemical action is involved. Here many new conditions arise, and the original plan of work must often be changed to conform to them. While this makes some difficulties, it also adds charm and interest to each problem. The craftsman who is most successful in the dyer's art is one who possesses most artistic adaptability. The worker will not be discouraged by any new condition which arises, but will seek to adopt it by including it in the original plan, to which it often proves a valuable addition. All handicraft is largely experimental and while help and advice must sometimes come from outside, each handicrafter will find it more profitable to make original experiments and will in this way discover a peculiar educational value in the work.
As the technical problem of the knitted rug is so simple, the design should be made an important feature in order to lift it out of the common-place and into the rank of dignified handicraft. The design must conform to the structure of the rug and take advantage of its technical peculiarities.
As it is always more interesting to plan a design which has some association with a familiar, natural object, the fruit of the gourd vine has been selected as a suggestion for the surface decoration. In the designer's terms it is the subject-matter or natural prototype which becomes the motif of the design when applied to handicraft. But since good design is not pictorial, the motif must become abstract before it is applied. It therefore only suggests decoratively the natural type because all its relatively unimportant features have been taken out for the sake of decoration. Only too often attempts are made to make a picture instead of an article of handicraft. It is manifestly impossible to reproduce natural form by the craftsman's skill, for many things which can be represented in paint cannot be reproduced in woolen thread. The result is always complicated and inartistic. Decorative art is the interpreter of natural form, not the imitator, and only truly serves the designer's purpose when it offers suggestion for conventional motif to be applied to handicraft.
For this reason, those unfamiliar with applied design need not feel necessarily ignorant if they cannot trace a motif to its source. It takes a practised designer to trace decorative subjects back to their prototypes in nature and one might not be reminded of the markings on a gourd when looking at the design of our knitted rug, yet when attention is called to it we realize that the two have points in common for each have lines which radiate from a center. These lines are respectively the knitted rows of the rug and the structure ribs of the gourd. The rug is a flat object and the gourd has a plastic body but the action of these two sets of lines is the same. It is because they have a certain correspondence of structural points that the surface ornament of the rug is developed from the ornament of the gourd.
The rug is knitted in twelve wedge-shaped sections, and by emphasizing certain parts of these sections its ornamental features correspond to those of the gourd. In knitting the rug, broad bands of dark color are used at intervals in the sections, while the rest of the section is knitted of a shaded thread. This renders the surface markings of the gourd decoration, and the effect can be heightened by using color which is similar to the greenish tones of the gourd. Thus in selecting motif for decoration, it is wise to take suggestions from natural objects which have some structural correspondence to the problem of handicraft in view, and to emphasize further these structural features by correspondence in ornamental features.
TOOLS, MATERIALS, DYESTUFFS, CHEMICALS AND UTENSILS
Tools: The tools for making the knitted rug are a pair of large knitting needles fifteen inches long and one quarter of an inch thick and a large crochet needle of the same size. These can be either of bone or wood. A pair of rubber gloves.
Materials: Materials needed are sixteen yards of the cheapest grade of unbleached muslin; one bunch of raffia.
Utensils for Dyeing with Indigo: An oaken hogshead or a cider barrel if sweetened by burning sulphur in it, will answer the purpose as a receptacle for the dye. One wooden skimmer, one long stick with a cross-piece nailed on it, for stirring the indigo vat, one small pulley, six yards of hemp cord and an ordinary cloth wringer complete the requisites.
Dyestuffs and Chemicals Needed for Setting the Indigo Vat: One pound of ground indigo; two and one-half pounds of copperas chemically pure, and three pounds of slaked lime.
Dyestuffs and Chemicals for Greening Over Indigo: One ounce of extract of quercitron bark, one pound of washing soda.
Utensils: One five-gallon copper kettle, two wooden sticks to lift the goods and a pair of rubber gloves.
PREPARATION OF MATERIALS
Take sixteen yards of unbleached cotton muslin, and after having washed and ironed it divide it into four lengths of four yards each, tear these four lengths into strips, three-fourths of an inch in width according to the method described for tearing surgeons' bandages in the chapter on the braided rug (page 41). These strips will be used as thread for knitting the rug. Divide the thread into sixteen equal parts and then wind these parts into hanks being sure to fasten the loops as one would a skein of worsted. Make the hanks about twelve inches long. Eight of them are to be dyed a plain dark green and the remaining eight, a mottled green and yellow.
The eight hanks are to be prepared by a method known to dyers as the reserve method, a process which is used to keep the dye from reaching certain portions of the fabric. The portion which is reserved retains its original color. In this case we wish to have a thread with green and yellow shadings, so parts of the unbleached hanks of thread must first be covered before it is dyed blue with indigo in or-der to reserve other parts which are afterwards to be dyed yellow. Thus the part of the hank which is not reserved becomes green while the reserve part will remain the unbleached tone, and on being uncovered and immersed in the yellow dye bath, will get its color from the yellow dye.
The hanks of thread kept apart for the mottied effect must be wrapped tightly with the raffia. The part covered with raffia must come within three inches of each end of the hank; this leaves six inches of the center wrapped around with the raffia.
When this is done the hanks are ready for the indigo vat, both those that are to be dyed plain green and those to be dyed green and yellow.
In Colonial days our great-grandmothers made their shaded wool by this method. They wrapped part of their skeins of woolen thread with corn husks and tied these about tightly with linen thread to give the necessary pressure. The portions covered with the husks retained the original color of the wool while those exposed became the color of the dye bath into which they were put. Hundred of years be-fore, the ancient Greeks used the same principle to produce undulating lines for borders on their garments by twisting and tying the cloth. Some patterns were even made by knotting the fabric in certain ways.
As the corn husks which our grandmothers used are not a commercial commodity, an available substitute can be found in raffia, which is used by florists for tying their flowers and by the market gardener to tie up asparagus.
This can be had at any firm keeping garden supplies.
Grounding with Indigo and Greening with Quercitron: The material ready for the dye bath must be dyed blue or grounded with indigo before it can be greened with quercitron bark, the yellow dye. When overlaying one color upon another to produce a third, the color which has the darker value must be dyed first. For instance, while dyeing yellow over blue to make green, the blue is dyed first, for though the yellow changes the color of the blue it does not alter the tone value which has already been fixed by the depth of tone in the blue dye.
Dyeing with Indigo and Setting the Indigo Vat: For the craftsman indigo is not only the greatest of all blue dyes, but the greatest of all dyestuffs. It has the invaluable quality of being the only blue dye which does not lose its tone or color value in artificial light. It is a vegetable product and a very beautiful and permanent color which with varied treatments can be applied to silk, wool, cotton or linen. the vat method being preferred for all fabrics.
Indigo in its natural state is insoluble and consequently must be made soluble by certain chemicals called "reducing agents." Indigo dyeing is a process of oxidation and what actually happens is that the indigo in the vat becomes soluble and loses its color by the use of lime and copperas which dioxidize or reduce it to what is chemically known as indigotin or indigo white. Therefore when the fabric dipped in the vat is first taken out, it is usually a greenish yellow tone. When ex-posed to the air it rapidly regathers oxygen and becomes indigo blue. By this process the oxidized indigo becomes deposited on the threads of the fabric.
To set the indigo vat begin by mixing one pound of ground indigo with enough water to form a paste. This is done because the powdered indigo is so light in weight that it does not mix readily with large quantities of water. After it has been rubbed into a paste it can be easily diluted with more water, and two quarts may be added before it is poured into the hogs-head. Before pouring it in make sure that the hogshead is perfectly sweet. If it is in the least sour or moldy, it will effect the fermentation in the vat. Sweeten the hogshead by burning some sulphur strips in it, the kind wine merchants use to sweeten barrels.
Now dissolve two pounds and a half of copperas in boiling water, afterwards adding enough water to cool it. Then add it to the indigo in the vat and stir these two ingredients thoroughly together. Next mix the three pounds of slaked lime with ten quarts of water or enough to make it the color of milk, and add it to the mixture already in the vat, stirring it well with a wooden rake all the while.
The copperas or as it is chemically known ferrous sulphate, which is one of the agents for reducing the indigo to indigotin must be chemically pure, because foreign ingredients hinder the chemical action of the vat, and the process of dyeing.
Now we have in the vat, one pound of ground indigo, two and one-half pounds of copperas, three pounds of slaked lime to which in all about twenty quarts of water have been added. To this twenty-four more quarts must be added and the vat stirred vigorously. There should be about forty-four quarts of water in the vat in all.
Let the vat stand for forty-eight hours before using, giving it at intervals a vigorous stirring with the rake. The vat should stand in a moderately warm place as the chemical action in it then goes on more easily. In summer, which is the ideal time to set an indigo vat and to use one too, for that matter, it can stand in the cellar or barn or even in the summer kitchen. It must not be exposed to the hot sun for it might become sour and it is well to have it stand where there is space enough around it for convenient working. In the win-ter it can stand in the cellar, if the cellar is heated.
The warm season is the best season for the dyer. First and foremost because the work can then be done in the open and the dyeing of fabrics, then becomes a simple matter. Second, because all chemical action in dyeing takes place more readily in a warm atmosphere and in fair weather. This may sound like an old wife's tale but any one who has tried to dye in damp or rainy weather will know from experience how difficult it is to get the dye to "take." The dyer of threads or fabrics for handicraft will therefore find it quite worth while the forethought it may cost, to plan care-fully for summer work, including in it all the setting of vats and the actual dyeing of materials for use in the studio in the winter. Apart from any practical value this plan may have, there is the pleasure of working out of doors which is in itself an inspiration to the creator of color.
After the vat is in a position, the pulley and the pulley ropes may be placed directly above it, and the fabrics to be dyed with indigo let down easily and dipped into the vat. They can also hang directly over the vat, and drain off before they are passed through the clothes-wringer. Make a slip noose at one end of the rope, so the hanks of thread and pieces of material may be slipped through it and held while dipped in the vat. Take the hanks of thread in-tended for the dark green and wet them. Put them through the clothes-wringer so that the moisture may be evened up. Then slip them in the noose and dip them in the vat letting them stay there for five minutes. Next draw the pulley, and drain them for a few minutes before they are hung out of doors to oxidize.
When well oxidized they can be dipped again into the vat, wrung out and hung out again. This process if repeated three times will make the color deep enough when the vat is fresh and strong. If it is not a fresh vat you will have to repeat the operation of dipping until the desired color is reached.
The depth of tone in indigo dyeing is always made by overlaying tone after tone of color on the fabric. Take the hanks of thread, prepared by the reserve method for dyeing the mottled green, and dip them in the vat in the same way only do not dye them as dark as the thread which is to be kept plain green. All thread must be rinsed thoroughly, or until none of the dye runs off in the rinsing water. A thorough rinsing is one of the most important processes in dyeing because it prevents what is mistakenly called fading. Fading is actually due to the action of light on dyestuffs. Loss of color on fabrics which have never been properly rinsed, is caused by the loosening of dye particles not actually attached to the fiber. The loose particles of dyestuff are taken off in rinsing or, as the professional dyer would say in the "milling" of the fabric, and later loss of color, or fading is thus prevented. When the action of water on dyed fabrics causes loss of color and the dyestuff runs "bleeding" is the proper term to use. Technically speaking there are only two terms to apply to the nature of dyes. They are either "fast" or "fugitive." Fast if they resist the action of light and water, and fugitive if they do not.
When "She" as the craftsmen of long ago preferred to call their indigo vat is in good condition, the liquor in it is a dark amber color, and becomes covered with a dark blue scum of "flurry" when stirred up with the rake. If the liquor in the vat is greenish, it shows the presence of unreduced indigo, and more copperas must be added. If on the contrary, the color of the vat is brown, more lime is needed. After using a vat always stir it up with the rake, and after allowing it to settle test the color of the liquor, adding the necessary ingredient and stirring again. After a final settling it will be ready to use. Before using al-ways skim the flurry off the vat with a wooden skimmer.
Greening with Quercitron Extract, over Indigo Blue: "Greening" is the dyers' term for dyeing green with any yellow dye over blue dye. The extract of quercitron, which is our yellow dye, is the inner bark of a tree called the quercus tinctoria. When soaked in water it gives out a yellow dye for cotton fiber.
Unwind the hanks which have been wound with raffia and reserved for the mottled green. Soak them all in a solution of washing soda made of one-fourth of a pound of washing soda and one gallon of water. Put the hanks in this solution when it is hot and let them stay in it all night. Tie up the extract of quercitron in a cheesecloth bag and let it soak in an earthen-ware bowl over night in a quart of water. The extract which comes in the form of a dry paste contains a certain amount of tannin, which turns the dye from clear to muddy yellow if dissolved by long boiling. So it is necessary to soak the paste beforehand, and have it ready to pour in the dye kettle when this has been brought to the boiling point.
Fill a copper kettle with four gallons of water, bring it to a boil; pour in the quercitron juice but do not drop the bag with the extract in the kettle. Then taking the hanks out of the soda solution, drop them into the boiling dye kettle, two at a time, let them stay there only a few minutes or until they are turned green. If the yellow dye in the kettle becomes exhausted, pour some boiling water into the bowl with the cheesecloth bag, and add the extract to the dye bath.
When the greening process is completed, wring out all the thread, the plain green, the mottled green and yellow and after rinsing it thoroughly, dry it. Then undo all the hanks and wind them into balls. Now the material is all prepared and the knitting of the rug can be begun.
KNITTING THE RUG
The round knitted rug is made of wedge-shaped sections in the same manner as the circular shoulder cape. The sections are knitted continuously and twelve are needed to complete the circle. There is only one seam which comes where the sides of the first and the last section meet and are sewed together. The sections are shaped by leaving one stitch unknitted in each row of stitches. These rows of stitches form the knitted ribs which radiate from the center of the rug and give it the characteristic appearance.
Begin the rug by setting up forty-four stitches of the plain dark green thread on a needle. Then knit all of them off on to the other needle except one stitch, leave this last stitch. It is never taken from the needle on which it is first set up. It is the center stitch of the rug from which all the knitted ribs radiate, the pivotal point. The rows are knitted from the center of the rug toward the edge and back again and it is important to remember that the stitches are transferred from one needle to the other, at the center of the rug and not at the edge. Of course by the center is meant the point relatively nearest to the center at which each row is started. The unknitted stitches are transferred in the following manner:
When knitting a row which goes toward the center of the rug,, always leave the last stitch on that row unknitted. Also, after having turned the knitting to begin a row which goes toward the edge, begin it by first transferring an unknitted stitch to the other needle. The stitches which are transferred are not reknitted again in that section. In order to make sure that one has not forgotten to transfer an unknitted stitch for each respective row, it is a wise plan to tie a piece of cord around the needle and to move it, always keeping it next to the last unknitted stitch which has just been transferred. For the sake of convenience, we will call this cord the marker, and it should be made of a different color from the color of the rug, so that it can be easily seen.
At this stage of the rug there is one stitch on one needle and thirty-nine on the other and we are at the center of the rug. Transfer an-other unknitted stitch to the first needle, and placing the marker above it, knit off the other thirty-eight stitches. Repeat the knitting of rows and transferring of stitches until ten rows have been knitted in the (lark green thread. These ten rows will form five ribs in each section of the rug. They make the dark center and the dark bands which correspond to the surface ornament of the gourd.
Now change the color of the thread and using the mottled green thread, finish the section by knitting the thirty rows of it, which will make, of course, fifteen ribs in each of the sections of the rug. These rows make the wedge-shaped figures in mixed greens which appear on the rug's surface.
There are now four stitches which have not been knitted on the last row, but the four last stitches on the last row are left unknitted in each section. Change the thread to the dark green and begin another section by the ten rows of dark green as before, followed by thirty of the mottled. This is repeated twelve times, or until the circle is complete. After all the sections are finished, knit the last section off the needles and over-hand it to the first section with a coarse linen thread. After the first and last sections are sewed together, crochet a narrow border around the whole rug. Go twice around, first with the plain chain stitch and then with a scallop stitch. It is this border which gives the finished edge to the rug.
Another suggested rug would suit either a bedroom or a bathroom. The pattern be-cause of its structural character, works out most effectively in a combination of simple tones. A medium blue and a cream-white has been chosen here but there is no objection to its being carried out in any two harmonious colors of contrasting tone or of contrasting tone values of the same color. If the blue and white scheme is selected, the blue can be dyed in the indigo vat or a commercially dyed blue calico can be used. The cream-white is the usual unbleached muslin. These materials are pre-pared as directed in the plan for the round knitted rug, and the same size of needles is used.
Begin the rug by .setting up fifteen stitches in the blue or in the colored thread selected for the dark tone of the pattern and knit sufficient length to form a square of dark or about twenty-two rows of the knitting. The precise number of rows cannot be exactly estimated because different workers knit more or less closely. This number is counted for rather close knitting and is approximately correct. Now change the thread to the cream-white by sewing it on to the blue thread and knit a square of it. Continue alternating with blue and white squares until ,seven in all are completed. This makes a strip of knitting about six inches wide and forty-two long.
The next strip must be begun with a cream-white square and continued likewise with alternating squares until the desired number is produced. Five strips are needed to complete the rug; three beginning with the blue and ending with the blue, and two beginning with the white and ending with the white. These five must be sewed together to carry out the pat-tern. They form the body of the rug; the borders are added later.
The strips which form the borders are made in the blue thread and are set up of nine stitches. Two strips are needed for the sides of the rug and they must be forty-two inches in length. Two strips of the same width are needed for the ends of the rug but these are only thirty-six inches long. These four strips sewed on each side and at both ends, form a complete border around the rug. The size of this rug finished is thirty-six by forty-eight inches including borders. The center measures thirty by forty-two inches. The rug can be enlarged in relative proportion by adding two squares to the length and two to the width. The borders then also must be proportionately enlarged.