The art of rug hooking is centuries old, although just
how old is debatable. Some historians believe that descendants
of the ancient Egyptians made the first hand-hooked rugs
between the third and seventh centuries. Others maintain
that rug hooking originated in China or Europe.
What we do know for certain, however, is that rug hooking
experienced a major resurgence of interest in the mid-nineteenth
century in New England, USA and the Maritime Provinces
of Canada. Born initially out of necessity, hand-hooked
rugs were created by rural women to cover the bare floors
of their homes. Later, people began selling hand-hooked
rugs and cottage industries sprang up across the continent.
Painting with Fabric|
Rugs made from rags have been used as a form of insulation
on cold stone cottage floors by the poorest people in
Britain for centuries. When Heather Ritchie moved
into just such a cottage in Yorkshire, a neighbour showed
her how to make a rug using hessian sacking and worn out
clothing: Heather was immediately inspired by the idea
and, 30 years later, she still makes useful rugs, cushion
covers and bags. However, most of her work is designed
to hang on the wall - she has developed the technique
into an art form: some of Heather's most complex work
has been described as 'painting with fabric'.
The basic technique is very simple and can make use of
items which would otherwise be discarded. Hessian forms
the backing of a rug: sacks (which are generally too rough
for any other domestic use) are perfect for this, whilst
almost any piece of 'material' which can be made clean,
from new to well-used (ideally knitted textiles or plastic
sheet - woven textiles can also be used), is suitable
for cutting into strips to form the pile of the rug.
'Hooky' or 'Proddy'|
There are two methods of working which can be used together
to produce a piece of work with different textures. 'Hooky'
uses a long strip of material to produce a smooth, flat
surface and is worked from the front of the design. 'Proddy',
working from the back of the design, uses short strips
of material and produces a shaggy pile. The strips, normally
1.25cm wide, are cut by hand and finer strips can be used
to produce more detailed work. A well-executed rug will
have little or no hessian visible on the rear.
The tools required to pull or push the strip of material
through the hessian can have a wooden handle and a metal end or they can be
made entirely of wood: there are a variety of styles of
tool. Both techniques, hooky and proddy, generate results
very quickly - most people can produce a pleasing piece
of work within a couple of days. A rug can be worked on
by a group of people if a frame is used to hold the hessian
flat, giving everyone access to it.
When the design is completed, the work nearly always needs
to be finished off with an edging strip of fabric to stop
the hessian fraying. This is easy to do by hand with a
needle and thread. Depending on the end use, the piece
may need to have hanging hooks or a cushion back added,
again simple hand sewing jobs.
| An Income-Generating Activity |
New interest in this absorbing craft is growing alongside
recycling and 'green' movements, and amongst people using
traditional crafts to express their creativity. Around
the world, hand-hooked rug making has become a well-established
hobby and income-generating activity. It has also evolved
into a popular means of personal expression as well as
a practical pastime.