More Combination Rugs

Christine here.  I’m continuing to work on my presentation on November 18 for the Mason Dixon rug hooking guild in Baltimore.  I have been having so much fun researching all of the early wool and cotton textile mills in New England, the skullduggery of textile machinery plans stolen from Britain, and the early ventures into corporate capitalism, all spurred by the very essential need to make cloth.

Yes, I know, the topic of my talk is supposed to be Combination Rugs — rugs that combine at least 2 techniques in their making — but I keep getting pulled off into these interesting tangents.  (Did you know that the first US patent issued to a woman was issued to Hannah Wilkinson Slater, who invented a 2-ply cotton sewing thread?)

These tangents are part of the reason the talk is taking me so long.  At best, I’d say I’m only 1/3 done and I have a very full week in front of me… but, I do my best work under pressure!

Here are a few Combination Rugs that specifically are knit and braided rugs.

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Combination Knit and Multistrand Braided Rug: Stella Rubin Antiques,  Circa 1930, Pennsylvania

The above rug (cited with permission for the talk, so I’m sliding that permission to the blog about the talk) is actually listed as a braided and crocheted rug, but I think you can see that it’s actually knit.  (It continually frustrates me when people misidentify techniques, as if needlework skills are all lumped together into the same big generic category and it doesn’t really matter what you call it.) There are 3 long hit-and-miss knit strips that are brought together by stitching them to 5-strand braids — although, for some reason, the left center braid is actually a 4-strand.  What an interesting way to make a rug!

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Shaker oval knitted rug, Hancock Shaker Village, MA, attributed to Elvira C. Hulett. Circa 1892

 David A. Schorsch & Eileen Smiles, Antiques.

The resolution is poor on the above photo, so it’s a bit hard to tell… (this is the photo I got permission to use in my talk) but these are colorful knit bands that are united and surrounded with braids.  The rug is attributed to Elvira C. Hulett, a Shaker woman who was an amazingly creative rugmaker in the late 1800s.  Here’s another example of her work:

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Shaker Knitted and Braided Rug, Elvira C. Hulett (1805-1895. 43″ diameter, Hancock Shaker Village, MA, circa 1893. Courtesy of Shaker Museum and Library, Old Chatham, NY. Taken from Combining Rug Hooking and Braiding, p. 9.

Here’s a close-up of the same rug:

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Look at the complexity of patterns that Hulett knit into her rugs!  Then, in a manner characteristic of Shaker work, there are multiple borders, often of different techniques.  Here, a 5-strand braid is the inner border, and a 3-strand the outer border.  The braids are actually plaits, but this distinction is not of great significance.

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Lancaster County, PA Amish Braided and Knit Rug Stella Rubin Antique Quilts and Decorative Arts circa 1930

The above rug is beautiful, isn’t it?  A 7-strand braid forms a pretty ribbon across the center, and rows of braid (plait) are found between a rainbow of knit fabric strips.  Some of you may recognize this rug as similar to those of Judi Boisson, a home collection designer, who has a line of rugs that are very close to the above (except for the 7-strand in the middle).  But, I think she must have patterned her designs after some of the rugs made by Amish women as above.  Still, it’s worth a visit to her site:  she has some exquisite reproduction rugs.

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From my own collection, a plaited and knit rug obtained from a Lancaster PA estate sale.

Here, finally, is a rug that I actually own!!  So many of these interesting rugs are just unaffordable to your standard fiber addict like myself, but I did manage to snatch this one up.  It features the most even and neatly sewn plaits that I have ever sean, and a colorful and evenly knit fabric-strip border.  I’m estimating that it’s 1940 or ’50s era, since it’s pretty well-preserved.

One observation about the last 2 rugs is that the technique that is MORE subject to wear and unravelling than braiding is placed at the outside of the rug.  I think this is interesting to note; it means that the braids were not being used simply for their edge-protective qualities, but were appreciated for their beauty independent of pure durability.  In an era where currently braided rugs don’t have the same status as, for example, hooked rugs, because braids lack imagery, it’s nice to note some examples in which braids were appreciated as enhancing the loveliness of a design.

Comment on combining knitting and braiding:  our great grandmothers could do everything that related to fabric skills.  In an era where clothing was made and mended at home, and one’s needlework skills were necessary and not just a pleasant hobby like today, women combined techniques simply for the beauty of it.  It made their rugs just a little different from everyone else’s, and showed off their creativity.

Next week:  more combination rugs, but this time with other techniques (penny rugs, crochet, felting, etc).  Christine

7 thoughts on “More Combination Rugs

  1. Dianne here; GREAT post Christine! You are delving into all sorts of history in your research….the comment about folks mixing up fiber techniques reminds me of something that was discussed yesterday at my hooking guild. I took the alpaca rug to show even though it was all braided but I wanted the rug hookers to see and feel alpaca and see the difference in butted and continuous braiding…..and I was on my last row and one more butt, some gentle steam, a search for pins, a writing of an instruction sheet, and off to TN it goes. Anyway, we discussed how an ebay search for ‘handbraided rugs’ can bring up all sorts of NON handmade items. In this case we decided there were shenanigans going on and buyer beware…..and Christine, get back to those powerpoints, you are running out of time!

  2. What fantastic rugs, Christine! It must be find to find these and for certain we all can appreciate the work and creativity. Thanks for posting them … they are great to see.

  3. Christine-it has been so fasinating to read more about the history of Combination Rugs and thank you for all of your research! I was lucky enough to see several of the rugs at the Shaker Museum and Library several years ago. It sounds like they are in a museum but actually it is an enviromentaly controlled building without windows and not open to the public. What treasures they contain of Shaker history and the rugs are striking and in wonderful condition.

    I wonder if in the next few years, it would be possible to have a show of Combination Rugs-both historic and contemporary? Possibly one of the Shaker Museums might be interested-the Hancock Shaker Village in Pittsfield, MA is large and accessible to many from surrounding states, and has display areas.

    I would encourage your readers to check out the contemporary work of the following women who are creating their style of Combination Rugs: Dianne Tobias, Hilary Farquhar, Joyce Kruger, Val Galvin, and Gail Lapierre. There are others to add to this list and I’ll send those names along in another post. Many are taking classes now to learn this beautiful art/craft of combining different techniques of braiding with hooking, felting, wool appliqué, knitting, needlepoint, and other types of fiber work. Though not all of these combinations are for the floor, they look great as table runners, wall art, as bags or baskets, as coasters or trivets, and pillows. Even some are wearable-the choices are endless!

    The people who listen to your talk next week will be hearing a history of rug making that has been dormant for many years but thank you to you is finding a voice and supporter! And thank you to the rug makers who are willing to stretch and learn new skills. Just as striking though are the non combination pieces of a braided rug, a hooked rug, a penny rug, knitting, and the list goes on.!

  4. I love those rugs. they are beautiful!!!.I am a knitter as well and would love to figure out how to make a small rug in a knit/braid combination. Thanks for sharing …!

  5. Christine, you are so very generous to share your research with all of us. A great bouquet of thanks! I know your talk with be fabulous.

    Dianne – Please share a photo of your completed alpaca rug. Also, I don’t believe that I have ever seen alpaca fabric. Maybe it is more available in the west? Is it 100%, or in combination with another fiber? Thanks

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