2017-06-19 / Today's Top Stories

Rug Day Held at Home Textile Tool Museum

According to the very brief Wikipedia entry on rug making, “it is an ancient art and covers a variety of techniques.” While that’s a pretty broad statement, both parts of it were evident at the recent Rug Day held at the Home Textile Tool Museum (HTTM) in Orwell.
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According to the very brief Wikipedia entry on rug making, “it is an ancient art and covers a variety of techniques.”  While that’s a pretty broad statement, both parts of it were evident at the recent Rug Day held at the Home Textile Tool Museum (HTTM) in Orwell.

Held on a beautiful early June day, Rug Day featured demonstrations by three local women showing techniques to make braided rugs, hooked rugs, toothbrush, crocheted and twined rugs – along with weaving on the museums’ plethora of antique rug looms.  Together, the day pretty well covered the range of handmade rugs in North America.  

In the United States and Canada, rugs were made at home by hand throughout the 1800’s, primarily to insulate floors and keep dust and dirt out.  Later on, wealthy families might purchase imported woven Oriental carpets but most farm and rural families never had that option. 

Catherine Veleker has been making hooked rugs for about ten years.  Rug hooking is based on pulling strips of wool fabric through a backing to create a picture or design.  It started in North America at about the time that burlap feed sacks were invented (mid-1800’s).  It grew in popularity after the Civil War when many uniforms of those who served (and often had died) were cut up and incorporated into designs as a way of honoring and remembering them.  Rug hooking was a way to use rags too worn out to be recycled in any other way.   

In the 1870’s designs stamped onto burlap or linen became available and a cycle of less creative hook designs occurred.  Chemical (aniline) dyes also appeared at about the same time which added much brighter colors to the hooked pictures.  The art form has remained popular in upstate New York and Quebec with the epicenter of “fine shading rug hooking” currently located in the area from Elmira to Binghamton, New York, according to Catherine. 

Catherine tends to work small and makes pieces that can be used on table tops or as wall hangings, in part because “hooked rugs are not a good thing with cats” and she and her husband Bob are partial to felines.  She purchases wool material by the yard from a mill in Dorr, New Hampshire and then dyes it herself and cuts it into strips for hooking.  Her designs are her own and she generally uses linen backing except for teaching when she uses wider mesh burlap.  Traditionally, Catherine says a farm wife would make one hook rug every year for the front doorway.  The following year, when a new one was completed, the old one would go to the back door and the third year it would be used to cover the wood pile.  A similar sequence may have been used for other styles ofrugs as well… 

Braided rugs are also traditionally made from woven wool. Old blankets, coats and other clothing too worn out to be useful was cut into strips for the braids.  Joan Gustin has been making them for about 30 years.  She started because she had no money for floor coverings and wanted to learn how.  The entry cost to start making braidedrugs is low – about $40 for a braid clamp, lacing needle, good safety pins and 3 “braiders” – metal sleeves that fold the fabric in order to keep the edges inside so the rug doesn’t fray.  

Joan likes to remember connections between the fabric she uses and its source.  “The fabric often reminds me of a family member or a personal memory,” she says.  Her rugs are utilitarian and she uses them in her house or gives them to friends and family.   “I am not a perfectionist.  It’s an easy enough craft.  Although you can’t read a book at the same time, you can binge watch Netflix or listen to audio books,” she laughs.

Michelle Kaleta has experimented with many types of handmade rugs.  “It blows my mind how many ways there are to make a rug,” she says with enthusiasm. 

AT the HTTM Rug Day, Michelle had samples of several types of “Toothbrush rugs” – methods brought and modified by white settlers to North America.  The name comes from the fact that the needles used to “sew” with were made from the wooden handles of worn out toothbrushes.  This style of rug consists of material sewn, braided, and/or looped around a fabric core in varying ways.  Her Bohemian braid style rug was made using button hooks and is very thick and thus makes a very tough rug.  

In addition to a small rug sample knitted from T shirts and the toothbrush rugs on display, Michelle was demonstrating the Twining method of rug making. This art form was brought by Scandinavian settlers to the Midwest and Great Plains of North America. A very similar tradition also evolved within the Salish tribe of the Pacific Northwest, perhaps based on basket weaving techniques.  Twining involves use of a wood frame on which fabric strips are strung vertically and then other strips are “woven” around them in a manner similar to braiding.  The result is an incredibly thick and strong rug the that will be the same size as the frame when finished.  Rugs were often used to keep dust out of windows and doorways on the Plains.  Michelle’s husband had used her Twined rug in his semi for a year and it had no visible wear at all! 

In addition to the three guest rug makers demonstrating in the main barn on Rug Day, HTTM guide Joyce McCracken was demonstrating and talking about the use of the museum’s various rug looms in the entrance shed.  Students from Peter Henty’s classes at Towanda High school were on hand learning how the to make rugsas were visitors from Elmira and Ithaca Weaving Guilds and other parts of NY and PA.

The Home Textile Tool Museum (HTTM), located in the idyllic village of Orwell, PA celebrates the many aspects of at-home cloth production and other aspects of farm life in the early 1800’s.   Upcoming Saturday programs at the HTTM include Natural Dye Day on June 24; Fiber Animals Day on July 15; Flax Day on July 22and Knitting and Crankers Day on July 29.  Small Loom Saturday – a favorite for kids - will be held on August 5.  Additional in-depth workshops in various styles of basketry, cheese making and other topics are offered throughout the summer on Fridays and Saturdays and require advance registration. 

The museum welcomes everyone and has ramps for all buildings.

HTTM is located at 1819 Orwell Hill Road on State Rte. 1036 and is open every Saturday from 10 to 4 throughAugust 26. Admission is $5 for adults and free for children under 12.   See HTTM’s new website (http://www.httm.org/)  for details and registration info for all programs and workshops.

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