The Hooked Rug In Cotton And Wool
( Originally Published 1914 )
We may safely say that the hooked rug or the pulled rug, as it is sometimes called, is the most important of the handmade rugs. It has been more successfully developed under new conditions of craftsmanship than any other of- the old-fashioned rugs. In nearly all the show rooms of the Arts and Crafts Societies there are examples of it in charming colors and appropriate designs. Two village industries have been started to make it; one in the mountains of New Hampshire and one at Cranberry Is-land, near North East Harbor, Maine. Besides these two industries there are many isolated workers making successful hooked rugs. The larger industries have been placed on a sound financial basis, and the workers who are mostly women are extremely well paid.
These women of the New England farms have been associated with this style of rug and its traditions for several generations. They are nearly all familiar with the gentle art of hooking and have therefore helped to revive this branch of craftsmanship in this section of the country. While they are familiar with the technique of hooked rugs, they have not been able to give their products a market value, be-cause they could not plan them from the standard of modern craftsmanship without the knowledge of design and color arrangement.
I remember the first time I saw a hooked rug. I at once realized that in its technique were the possibilities for the development of a crafts-manlike rug. Though certainly the appearance of the one I first saw was anything but hopeful. It came from Prince Edward Island, Canada. The maker had evidently been carried away by the enthusiasm for her skill in hooking and had ingenuously and likewise ingeniously, worked in a pattern of raised roses in the center panel of her rug. This pattern was padded from underneath to give the roses the appearance of reality. It was very solidly constructed and much above the average level of the rug's surface. It was a real obstruction, but there its reality ended. It made the rug inartistic and unserviceable. First of all, inartistic because nature cannot be reproduced in woolen thread. It can be represented only in any medium with artistic reality. Second, be-cause of this inappropriate plan the rug could not last well. The raised portions being more exposed than the lower portions would wear out sooner.
One of the greatest benefits which come from founding village industries is raising the standard of public taste. This influence comes directly through the individual worker, who in connection with rug-making begins to study a little design. So besides the benefit to the community, the individual worker has a keener interest in the work because of being able to plan it well.
The study of design is not a matter of technical complications. The workers are taught the application of decorative principles, learn line arrangement, placement of masses and the relation of tone and color values. They are also taught the use of reliable dyes which produce permanent and artistic colors. The workers themselves sometimes know of valuable old dye recipes. These can be made serviceable by a systematic revision replacing the rule of thumb by exactness in chemical proportion. One can never be too :exact in chemical combination for even with the greatest precaution the unexpected is likely to happen. There are always factors present which produce unforeseen results; it is therefore wiser to exclude all possible elements of chance. The results of experiments are not always practicable and may be costly.
One of the dye recipes which I found in use among the women of Cranberry Island, is the iron buff given in the chapter of the needle-woven rug. There it is called copperas yellow, and is used in the form of salts of iron and homemade soft soap. In the revised recipe with more exact proportion it will give better results.
Hooked rugs are made from either cotton or woolen materials. The same tools are used with both kinds, for there are only slight differences in their technique. The main point of difference being in the manner in which the loops of material are pulled up through the foundation on which the rug is made. The foundation is first of all stretched on a wooden frame. It is made of burlap or raw jute as it is sometimes called commercially. The principal technical feature of the rug is the hooking of the strips of material into the foundation, where the collective loops form the textile. The loops are crowded in between the meshes of the burlap and held by pressing one against the other.
The actual difference between the methods of making the two kinds of rugs is that in the cotton rug the loops are pulled up evenly; in the wool rug, unevenly. The woolen rug is clipped after it is hooked. Clipping improves the pile for the color in the flannel loop deepens when it is cut, and becomes velvety in texture. Another way to add variety of tone value or to get incident in color in the surface of the rug, is to dye the cotton and woolen strips some-what unevenly. The cut ends of the loops in the woolen rug mat together and this makes the pile more uniform. This is due to the nature of wool fiber; its physical structure might be compared to that of an elongated pine cone. The outer cells are placed in one direction only and appear as horny scales of irregular shape overlapping each other in the manner of roof tiles. When a number of wool fibers lying in all directions are brought together in close con-tact, the opposing scales become interlocked, causing the operation which is technically known as "felting."
Cotton rugs are not clipped because the cot-ton strip has no tendency to felt; it only frays and fraying would weaken the texture of the rug. Cotton rugs, however, have the advantage of being washable. Consequently they can be made in light colors and used in bedrooms and bathrooms where darker rugs would not be as appropriate. Then too, the cotton rug is cheaper than the woolen rug.
The wool rug in dark tones of blues, reds, or greens is sufficiently substantial to be used in dining-rooms and living-rooms especially if the rooms are paneled with wood in a .simple style and furnished with Norwegian painted furniture or in Mission furniture. In fact the woolen rug can be used in almost the same places as the Oriental rug, for in its revived form it is a dignified and artistic product. As it is not made with the fine silky woolen thread of the Orient it necessarily lacks a certain elegance and texture which is found in all Eastern rugs.
The cotton and wool rugs can both be made ' in large sizes; as they can be hooked in sections and sewed carefully together afterwards, the seams do not show. Hooked rugs can also be made of odds and ends of old materials. If there are not enough of some colors, whites and gray can be dyed in brighter shades to help out. It is wise to plan the rug carefully in the beginning and find out as exactly as possible just what quantities of material are needed for each color in the design. It is trying to stop work and hunt up material to dye some special color which has unexpectedly given out, before the rug is finished.
Perhaps it is less limiting to one's inventive faculties, to .start out to make a rug of entirely new materials; to make an attractive plan and buy the materials to carry it out. With old materials one must cut one's coat to fit the cloth and it requires much patience and skill to work out a scheme to fit the different amount of colors on hand. Then too, it takes a great deal of time to prepare old materials whether in cot-ton or wool, for they are usually more or less tender and must be cut or torn strip by strip. The hooking cannot be done as quickly either, for old materials are liable to break when hooked into the foundation and must, therefore, be carefully handled. However, some interesting and original rugs are made in this way and if they are for home use all trouble is repaid.
A plan is given here for a rug made of old materials, though it does not pay to make rugs usually of them if one is pressed for time on orders. It takes longer to prepare them, and then rugs made in this way cannot be duplicated. When rugs are made professionally, orders for duplicates often come in. A customer has seen a rug in the house of a friend and must have one exactly like it, or wants to match a piece of furniture already in use. When told that the rug cannot be duplicated, she is quite naturally disappointed and not likely to come again.
There is so little essential difference in the technique of the two kinds of hooked rugs, that the same type of design can be applied to each, but in order to have as much variety as possible between the plans, a design of a quaint-oldfashioned kind has been chosen for the hooked rug in cotton. This design has a blue border and a basket of gaily colored flowers, falling on a background of cream-white.
Practically the only limitation in the technique of the hooked rug, is the coarse strip of woolen or cotton material which forms the thread which makes the loops. In this medium designs with much fineness of detail cannot be successfully carried out. The loops make the pile of the rug and while they are, decoratively speaking, the units of its structure, they are not particularly constructive in character, for they suggest surface ornament rather than line action. With the medium of the coarse strip, therefore, arrangement of large masses of color can be used successfully. These masses of color should be as nearly as possible the same degree of tone value. If there is much contrast, the effect of large masses of different colors is too striking.
If the design is to be carried out in several colors, an outline will help to harmonize and bring the various tones together. Sometimes two outlines may be used with good effect: One in a lighter tone value and the other in a darker tone value, than any of the other colors in the design.
The treatment of the hooked rug differs radically from that of the Oriental rug. The Oriental rug is made on a loom and is really a woven fabric. The fine woolen thread of which it is made is knotted piece by piece into the woof which forms the foundation of the rug.
In this medium, designs with great intricacy of detail can be worked out. Formerly the Oriental rug-maker used only camel's hair and goat hair in rug weaving, and to this fine silky hair is due the great elegance of texture in the Eastern rug. It is also said that these rugs grow more lustrous from the clay dust which is trodden and rubbed into their surface by the bare feet of the Orientals. These facts make the antique Oriental rug vastly superior to the modern Oriental. The effect of hundreds of years of wear cannot be artificially reproduced in the texture by commercial means.
American handicrafters cannot produce rugs similar to the Oriental unless working under like conditions. Neither can the modern Oriental do it. Each must take advantage of his circumstances. Oriental design cannot be successfully applied without using Oriental material and methods of working. The long and tedious process of knotting each little bit of woolen thread into the woof of the rug, does not appeal to our handicrafters especially because they are not familiar with the conditions which produce this method. Conditions in this country are not conducive to years and years of work on the same piece of handicraft. We are not living here from the Oriental standpoint. Besides a rug like the Oriental cannot be made in this country at a cost which could sell with profit. The experiment to make them in a village industry established for the purpose made the cost $5.00 a square foot of rug. This fact alone makes this variety of rug unmarketable.
There are minor rugs, the rag-bit rug and the raveled rug which might be called forerunners of the hooked rug. These rugs are chiefly interesting because they show how a real technique may grow out of small beginnings. They deserve mention in this connection only, for their methods are far too crude to suggest constructive design.
The rag-bit rug is the most primitive and is made by sewing small bits of woolen cloth on a foundation. This foundation is frequently made of a piece of old carpet with the nap worn down. Odds and ends of cloth of all shapes and kinds are used and consequently no effect of texture or design is produced. These minor examples of rug-making demonstrate the idea of using what one has on hand carried to an extreme of thriftiness. Though no doubt it was in this same way that the more important hand-made rugs were developed.
In some instances the center of the rag-bit rug is found surrounded by a border made of narrow strips of carpet.
The raveled rug is made from thread raveled from old pieces of carpet. These threads are drawn through the meshes of a loosely woven foundation with a crochet hook. The crowding of the threads between the meshes of the cloth holds them in as in the hooked rug. Sometimes the groups of thread in the raveled rugs are merely caught down with a thread and needle on the foundation.
There are several other instances of these simple methods of rug-making but they are quite similar to the ones here mentioned, and only serve to emphasize the origin of the hooked rug.