(Rag) Rugs

What ever happened to Australia’s traditional Rug Craft? 

Prodded Rug (Front) (Replica circa 1865) Designed & Prodded by Judi Tompkins.
Replica circa 1865.

As a sister craft to quilting, rugmaking originally evolved out necessity in the cold climate of the Northern hemisphere where warm floor coverings served an important practical function. At the same time, these handcrafted rugs served to beautify the home and supported the philosophy of thrift by making good use of scrap fabrics and fibres. Depending on the source of the rug material – and technique used – the products ranged from practical craft to fibre art.

Knowledge of the craft of making rag rugs (for the floor) came to Australia primarily with the many women transported to this country.

In Australia, a rug is “hooked” (or called a “hooky” rug) if the hooker (a person who hooks!) works from the “top” or pattern side of a rug, and pulls up the fabric strips though the backing with a rug hook to create a surface covered in loops. These loops can either be pulled short (to produce a carpet-like surface) or pulled long and then shaped to produce textures and three-dimensional effects.

If the hooker uses the prodded or proggy technique of pushing or prodding short, wide strips of fabric through the backing (on reverse or bottom side) with a prodder tool, they create a lush pile on the top side. The resulting shaggy rug surface of the proddy/proggy rug can be trimmed or simply left “as is”.[Note: these techniques are not latch hooking].

Over the years, the craft of making floor coverings from rags or scraps of fabric fell out of favour for a range of reasons:

• the rugs did not survive since they were made from feed or flour sacks and fell to pieces over time. As a result,  very few examples can be found in this country; and

• only some women’s handcraft had “value” (e.g. quilts, lace work, embroidery, cooking, etc.); rag rugs were not culturally valuable; and

• as migrants (or the transported) prospered they did not want the association with a craft of thrift, so “proper” woven carpets replaced handcrafted ones and rugmaking skills were no longer taught to children.

Recently, the traditional craft of rug making (hooked, prodded, punch needle, etc.) has seen a revival in Australia and is quietly practiced by a small number of women (and a few men) who continue to pass on the basic skills to others.

As a result of the activities a growing number of artisans, the craft of handcrafting traditional rugs (which now extends to include wall hangings, fibre and 3-dimensional art and more) has re-emerged as an accessible art form. By continuing  this craft,  I believe we pay tribute to the ingenuity and creativity of our grandmother’s and other skilled migrants.

To learn more about the rug making craft of your transported or migrant grandmother, please contact me.

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