RAGS BEAUTIFIED INTO RUGS
WOMEN and THEIR WORK
An Interesting and Useful Occupation for the Home That Gives a Profitable Employment for Idle Moments. Home-made Frame and Steel Hook the Only Tools Needed
GERTRUDE E. S. PRINGLE
"TO MAKE a Rug is Craft; to Design a Rug is Art." Many years ago Colonial women thriftily made rag rugs and vied with each other in the production of original designs. Some of these old rugs still exist and are very beautiful because time has had a softening effect on their colouring. When carpets became cheap and available, the homemade rag rug went out of style and became associated with the poorer class of dwellings. But recently there has been a revival of this old handicraft, and women are realizing the great possibilities of the rag rug for beauty, comfort and economy. To-day the wealthiest homes often contain rag rugs, bought in some small centre of the industry, else
centre of the industry, or else at a department store where they fetch good prices. In nearly every household there is a lot of good material in the shape of discarded clothing that could be converted into luxurious rugs at the expense of time only. To be able to add beauty to a livingroom or bedroom without cost, and to find an interesting occupation to follow in leisure hours, are the reasons that are causing women all over the country to take up the making of rag rugs.
At the Canadian National Exhibition, in the booth devoted to the Charlotte County Cottage Craft of New Brunswick, —with Miss Helen Mowat herself presiding,—I saw an interesting demonstration of bow a “hooked” or drawn rug is made. This guild of craftswomen, it will be recalled, originates a variety of beautiful things, among them most attractive rugs which one can hardly believe are made out of rags, so thick and velvety are they.
Each of the farm women belonging to this guild, and there are about 300 of them, chooses the task that appeals most to her, whether it be the weaving of homespun or the fashioning of bag, quilt or rug. A woman whose tastes lean towards rug-making, goes to nature to seek an original design. When she succeeds in producing something new and pleasing, she makes a specialty of this one pattern, repeating it over and over, but changing the colour values to achieve variety.
While Mrs. John Morrison, an expert rug maker, was busy at her frame, a throng of people attentively watched her hook the rags through the burlap, and now and then quickly snip the loops thus formed so as to produce the thick, velvety surface desired. Beneath her skilful fingers one saw rapidly being developed a conventional design of a basket piled up with fruit in purple, orange, mauve, blue and green against a black background. “I love to do it. I never get tired of it,” declared this indefatigable worker, who further said she thought nothing of turning out a completed rug in four days, as well as doing all her housework. Mrs. Morrison also does
her own dyeing, and as her home rag-bag could not possibly keep her industrious fingers supplied with sufficient material, she buys clean, washed wool rags at five cents a pound.
THE first step in making the “hooked” rug, one learned from this experienced worker, is to construct a frame,—on the principle of the curtain-stretcher, consisting of four pieces of light, smooth narrow wood, fastened together with iron clamps, which allow of its being made larger or smaller at will. Holes should be punched in the frame-work at regular intervals so that the burlap, or foundation which fits inside the frame, may be attached by cord threaded into these holes.
An easier frame for a beginner to make that will answer quite well is one merely nailed or screwed together, the burlap being tacked on. In this case the hemmed edge through which the tacks are put should be turned under and sewn flat on the completion of the rug.
The size of the rug is a matter of personal preference. Mrs. Morrison finds a piece of burlap three feet long by two-
and-a-half feet wide a good size. It is well to cut a paper pattern the exact size the rug is to be and draw thereon the design, colouring it in the desired shades. Measure the paper pattern carefully and divide it with dotted lines into halves and quarters.
Then draw lines diagonally across from corner to corner and measure off an even border all around. These lines will act as a guide in keeping the design regular and symmetrical. Before copying design on the burlap, rule it also into halves and quarters, using colored chalk to keep the guide lines distinct from the design, which should be sketched on with white chalk mixed with a little mucilage or glue. Mrs. Morrison, however, uses ink traced on with a camel’s hair brush which answers the purpose equally well. Before the burlap is fastened to the frame, it must be given a narrow hem to keep it from ravelling. The hook used is of steel set in a wooden handle and shaped like a coarse crochet hook, and is obtained at large stores. A new hook should be rubbed down with sandpaper.
ALTHOUGH beautiful effects can be obtained from old fabrics that otherwise would be wasted, badly worn or weak materials should not be used. It is not the cost of the goods employed that gives the rugs their value, but their artistic design and colouring, and the precision with which they are made. Discarded woolen and cotton garments should be carefully gone over and sorted as to colours. These should be washed thoroughly, and some of the pieces laid aside to be dyed according to the shades required. In buying dyes it is well to specify whether they are to be used for cotton, or silk and woolen goods, as there are proper dyes for each of these fabrics. Some expert rug-makersnot only do their own dyeing but find their colours, as well as their designs, in nature, usingsaffron, butternut, mulberry, onion, beetroot and other natives of the vegetable kingdom. The prepared dyes give good results if the directions are properly followed, and have the recommendation of being far less trouble. Mrs. Morrison uses both cotton and wool goods in a rug so long as their colours blend harmoniously. Supposing one had an old woolen suit of soft bluegrey, a cotton dress of blue, an orange or rust coat and a cream serge skirt, the body colour of the rug could be made of the grey suit, with the design in blue, touched up here and there by dots of orange and cream, while a hint of black in the border would look well. However if plenty of woolen fabrics are on hand, it is better to make the rug of wool only, as the colours last better.
Heavy material should becut into strips half an inch wide, and light weight goods a little wider. The lighter woolen fabrics give a softer effect than the heavy ones. The longer the strips are the better, but it is not necessary to sew the lengths together. Cutting-
the material into strips is work that can be done at odd moments until a sufficient supply is on hand.
Some Methods of Working
THE rug frame with the burlap stretched on it should be in a horizontal position, resting on the knees and table. Each strip is pulled or “hooked” through the burlap from the under side and drawn into little, even loops on top, about one-half to three-quarters of an inch high, care being taken to have these tight and very close together. While working, the left hand is underneath holding the strip, the right hand being on top of the burlap to hook the rags through. As the worker proceeds, and a fair-sized area of loops is completed, she snips off with a sharp pair of scissors the tops of the loops to give a soft velvety surface, but this must not be done too soon or the work becomes loose. Another thing to remember is that unless the strips are pulled through very tightly and put close together there will be danger of them working loose.
Choosing a Suitable Design
SOMETHING very simple should be chosen for the first rug. The geometrical drawings given in drawing exercise books as used in the public schools, might furnish some ideas. Rugs are good in a soft, solid colour, with a darker border having narrow lines and touches of brighter colour. Then it is always interesting to take a “motif” from nature as do the Charlotte County Cottage Craft workers. For instance one of their rugs depicts a pair of bunnies, another has two white ducks outlined in black; a third shows two squirrels on a bare, brown bough, while scenic views of a farm-house in apple-blossom time, and again with snow and leafless trees, are clever adaptations of local surroundings. In such cases there must be as little detail as possible, broad effects being best. The beauty of these rugs is in their thick softness of texture and even surfacejio less than their artistic design and colouring.
Some Notes on Colour Harmony
THE best rug makers, whether Turkish, Persian, Chinese or British, have always put real art into their work, and for those who are ambitious to do the finer forms of this craft, I here include some notes as a guide to colour harmony and design.
In seeking to find a design, look to nature for something to express,—the form and colour of spruce trees against a dark sky; the pattern of undergrowth against the ground; water lilies in a dark pool; a birch tree in autumn; the ripples on a blue lake,—all these provide motifs or ideas, and without ideas your rugs will be lifeless, a mere jumble of rags.
Take one of these subjects, water lilies on a pool, for instance, and decide where the emphasis is to be put, whether your design is to be dark on a light ground or light against a dark background; whether it i§ to reproduce the identity of the lily and leaf intact so that it can be recognized as a water lily, or whethèr it is to be merely an abstraction or conventionalized suggestion of the form and colour of the lily. The natural form is easier to work into a design, but is less interesting in its possibilities. For instance, an Oriental rug has no recognizable form in its design except flower motifs, but how wonderfully it fulfils its purpose as a rug.
The Importance of Colour
AS a rug is primarily an object in the background, it must be kept unobtrusive; its presence should therefore produce a feeling of restful comfort and harmony with its surroundings. This is only possible when the right colours are used together. Any colour that is violent or in very strong contrast would be too assertive to produce the refined and pleasing effect aimed at. Usually a good design will inspire an equally good colour scheme. “To make a rug with pleasing and significant colours is to stimulate the senses to the enjoyment produced by the subtle weaving of sounds in fine orchestration.” William Morris, the poet and apostle of art in the home, devoted much time to the fashioning of rugs, having a frame at hand ever ready to take-up, and also
dyeing his material in order to obtain I beautiful and unusual colourings.
Careful selection to choose the right : color combinations therefore is necessary; the values must be harmonious. By ¡ value is meant the light and dark of a color. A general rule making for harmony is that the stronger and more intense a colour, the smaller the area of the design it should occupy.
The following simple rules are safe to
f. Do not use widely separated values.
2. Do not use sharply contrasted in-
3. Always use a dull grayed area of
colour as a background, and brighter and more intense colours for the design.
4. Restrict a colour scheme to two
colours,—at most three,—and vary these colours by using them in a harmoniously contrasting scheme of different vaines and different identities.
Example:—A rug in blue and orange—
Background: Blue gray, middle value; Border: Orange-brown, dark value;
Flower or design: Orange (fairly intense) light value; Smaller spots: (intense): Red and yellow (orange).
Or the reverse scheme:—
Background: Grey-orange, middle
value; Border; Blue gray, dark value; Design: Intense blue; Small spots; Brilliantorange.
The first scheme would be bluish and cool. ,
The second scheme would be warmer and more orange.
Other Kinds of Rugs
RUGS are made in a number of ways.
There is the Oriental rug which is woven on a frame strung with cords'on which short strands of wool are knotted, —a method that calls for endless patience but productive of wonderful results. Then there is the loom on which the professional weaver turns rags into neat, symmetrical carpeting, supplying a warp of varying colours to make the body of the fabric.
Popular types for home workers are the braided rug, the crocheted rug and the knitted rug.
This is a very familiar type of rug, always found in round or oval shape and often associated with good old pieces of ¡ Colonial furniture. It looks well in a bedroom, and being extra soft and thick makes a comfortable addition to a bathroom floor. It is one of the hardest kinds to make because of its tendency to curve upward instead of lying flat. Then, too, its weight keeps increasing with each row of braiding so that it becomes heavy and tiring to handle before it is completed.
Large pieces of material, such as soft old blankets, sheets and draperies, work best into these rugs which must be thick.
If light in weight the goods may be torn into strips one-and-a-half inches wide; if the material is heavy it can be a little narrower. The edges of these strips are turned in nearly to the centre and pressed,
then the two outer edges are placed together, edge to edge, and pressed so that no raw edges are seen. Some people however manage to keep the edges turned in without going to the trouble of pressing them. The strands are braided three, four or five together, the latter being productive of a thick texture. When about to braid, securely fasten the ends of the strips to something so that they will stand the strain of being pulled. Care is needed to keep the braid flat and keep it from twisting.
When you come to the end of the strip, you unfold it and sew on another so that the seam turns inside. Continue this way until a fair quantity is done, or enough for the first few rows of one colour. Sometimes however several shades are braided together, such as pink and grey, or blue and ecru, or again bands of contrasting colours are employed. The hit-or-miss way is to braid the rags together as they come, without a special colour plan, and in this way odds and ends can be used up. When one colour is finished, slope it off gradually and bring the next colour in from underneath the rug, being sure that each colour used completes an entire oval or circle. A border that is darker than the body of the rug makes the best finish.
The crocheted rug is the easiest to do because it can be picked up any time and a few rounds of crochet added. It is nicest to do and prettiest in its results when made of silk. The first thing to do is to collect all your silk scraps and cut them into strips that are wide enough to allow of the edges being turned in. About an inch and a half for most silks would be ! right. Sew these strips end to end according to their colour, then wind into balls, each ball of one colour only. Old silk stockings are excellent for this kind of rug. They should be cut in circular sections, all in one long piece as we peel apples, without breaking the curl. Now for the putting together. A strong, coarse steel crochet hook is needed. Select silk of the colour you want the centre of the rug to be and crochet from the centre out, widening carefully so that the silk will lie flat and not curve up. One pretty rug I saw this summer was made of single crochet, although the double or treble stitch is advocated on account of its being more firm and lasting. This particular oval rug was composed of bands of colour that were in pleasing contrast, dove-grey in the centre, then dull blue, then buff, then soft rose and lastly a border of black, and the whole thing was made of old silk stockings. Such a rug is pretty enough to grace any room.
Commercial Possibilities of RugMaking
IT MAY be wondered if a market can be found for the home-made rugs for which the directions are given in this article. The answer to this is that if they are well made and show pleasing design and colour there should be little difficulty in
disposing of them at a fair price for the labor involved. But to succeed such rugs raust be artistic, therefore their ultimate fate rests with their makers. The Charlotte County Craft workers, for instance, are kept busy turning out orders, and the reason for this is the superior merit of their product. I saw two men, worldtravelled and art connoisseurs, examine one of the farm-house scene rugs turned out by this guild, and they expressed great admiration for its originality and thick, deep texture. Therefore these rugs can be made in such a way as to command the respect of lovers of art. To attain this end involves hard work, study and care for detail, but perfection is made up of trifles. Then again the most simple design, if it is original, wins out over the stereotyped pattern.
If our sisters on the farms, who have so much leisure in winter, were to get together and form clubs to make rugs, the effect of all striving together towards the same end would tend towards better work than isolated and detached workers could produce. To quote another saying, “In unity is strength,” so when it came to marketing the rugs it would be easier to sell a dozen than an odd one or two. The parcel post or express service would have to be called upon to act as deputy salesman in a distant city, and correspondence would do the rest, for happily no one— provided she can produce what is saleable —is too remote these days from a market to keep her from supplying it. But even if no financial returns were the result of such meetings, the pleasure of doing interesting creative work, inspired by the companionship of others similarly engaged, would be ample reward.
Last summer a married woman amused herself in her lakeside cottage by doing two “hooked” rugs, and as she was moving to a distant city she decided to put these up for auction, with the result that they fetched prices that surprised her, fifteen and eignteen dollars respectively, wnich shows the demand for such rugs when they are well done.
Those desirous of pursuing the subject further, will find of interest the following list of books, recommended by Mr. John W. Chester, Director of Manual Training in the Toronto Public Schools:—
Handloom Weaving, Mattie P. Todd, Published by Manual Arts Press. Handloom Weaving, Plain and Ornamental, By L. Hooper. Published by Manual Arts Press. _
Foot Power Loom Weaving, By E. r. Worst. Published by Bruce Publish-
The Craft of Hand-Made Rugs, by Amy M. Hicks. Published by Manual Arts Press.
In preparing this article on rug-making I am indebted to Mr. Arthur Lismer, Vice-principal of the Ontario_ College of Art, for kindly giving me the information on colour harmony.