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