History

Welcome! Thank you for visiting The Rug Hooking Guild of Newfoundland and Labrador website. We hope you enjoy your visit and will consider making us a frequent stop as you surf the net exploring rug hooking.

A simple metal hook with a wooden handle, a piece of burlap, a basic wooden frame, strips of fabric or yarn, and you are ready to start your first piece of hooking.

In the early days, a hook was made from a nail and wood for the handle. Today, hooks are fashioned from crochet hooks and the handles range from wood, to stone, moose antlers, bone, and all manner of carving materials.

Many and varied articles such as cushions, wall hangings, pictorial, ornaments, stair runners, in addition to rugs of many shapes and styles can all be created by simply pulling loops through a backing. Some are hooked on manufactured patterns printed on burlap, rug warp, monks cloth, and linen, but many, as in the past, are individually designed.

Rug hooking is a satisfying and creative leisure activity. The cost can be as little or as great as you wish to invest. Recycled materials can be used. It is equally suited to the young, the old, the active and those less so. The basics are simple to master and you are limited only by your imagination.

Early Days of Traditional Newfoundland Mat Making

Newfoundland Map
Matmaker: Unknown
Hooked: c. 1910-1948, Northern Peninsula
Circle, 8: diameter (two of three)
Silk stockings on burlap, no binding.
Grenfell style, no tag

A Craft of Poverty. Here in Newfoundland it belonged to the ‘baymen’ or fishermen and was women’s work in the winter when time was long and confining, when resources were few, and nothing went to waste.

To many, mat hooking awakens memories of a four-sided, hand-made wooden frame set up on four kitchen chairs and of hand cutting strips from old clothing to fashion into a mat for the hallway or parlour.
It certainly was not work for the privileged as manufactured floor coverings became available during the late 1800’s in the then Colony of Newfoundland. When girls of privilege were sent to school to learn ‘women’s skills’ rug hooking was certainly not on the list– rather embroidery, quilting and hand sewing were considered necessary skills to know.

No one knows for sure when or where rug hooking began. Authors of our history books give varying theories.

There’ll Always Be An England
Garrett Design hooked by Mabel Tibbo of Fortune Bay, pre 1940 at Jeffrey’s, St.George’s Bay 22 x 40 wall hanging with homespun hand-dyed yarn on burlap, no binding.

Author William Winthrop Kent believed they were first produced in Yorkshire England, when early 19th century weaving mill employees were allowed to collect ‘thrums’ pieces of yarn that ran 9”, which were useless to the mills. The workers took them home and pulled the ‘thrums’ through a backing.

Another view by Jenni Stuart-Anderson in Rag Rug Making states “the technique of hooking woolen loops through a base fabric was used by the Vikings, whose families probably brought it to Scotland.” (Publisher: Traplet Publications Ltd (Nov. 1 2007), 124 pages)

A Folk Museum in Guernsey, Channel Islands, has sound examples of early rag rugs made in the same manner which were produced off the coast of France.

Designed and Hooked by Veronica Gallahue pre – 1900 Stock Cove Bonavista Bay (possibly the oldest mat registered). Mrs. Gallahue hooked on brin sacks using whatever materials were available. For dyes, she used onion peel, ochre, and boiled moss taken from rocks.

We don’t know from where or when rug hooking came to our province. We can only assume it was brought over with the early Europeans. Here in Newfoundland, we seem to have more of an English connection than with any other because of the similarity of our rug hooking terms.

In the early days of its history in this province, a mat was not an object of beauty but rather an object of necessity, used on ground and wooden floors and on beds in the winter to keep the residents warm.

It wasn’t until later as things progressed that mats began to have ‘a place’ and rug hookers and home owners began to use different mats for different areas of their homes.

Matmaker: Mary LeGrow, 1889-1996
Born: Black Head, Bay de Verde area, Conception Bay
Hooked: c. late-1950s, Broad Cove North 24” x 39”
Wool, knit, cotton, and nylon / rayon fabrics on burlap, no binding.
Design origin: unknown
Traditional pattern, one of a set of three used in the bedroom. One was place on the floor on either side fo the bed and the third was used at the foot of the bed. Mary LeGrow was the oldest living person in Newfoundland when she died at the age of 107 in 1996

For instance, a floral mat may gain a place prominence in the ‘front room’ or parlour while a hit and miss mat would find its home in the kitchen or back porch.

In saying that, once a lovely front room mat started to fade, it would eventually find itself in the hall, the kitchen, back porch, outside step and eventually into the land wash or the local garbage dump.

The beautiful thing about rug hooking in the early days was its simplicity. Rug hookers didn’t always fuss about color, fabric or backing. Firstly, because it was just a ‘mat’ and there were too many other important things to worry about than what the mat on the floor looked like. Secondly, because they simply did not have the variety to choose from. The mats were also simple because of the pulling of the loop, materials used, the designs, as well as outline and fill in methods used at the time.

The popular patterns were simple blocks, rectangles and squares of different sizes and were hooked using up scraps of leftover fabrics. Other patterns looked like broken dish pieces. These were referred to as broken or cut glass. Many of the mats reflected memories of the old country, the rose and thistle motif was a popular one, as were flags of home countries.

Untitled
Matmaker: Marjorie George (Brown)
Born: Cape Charles, Labrador, 1912
Hooked: 1974 Corner Brook 20.5 x 28.5
Nylon/rayon, knit and cotton fabrics, and yarn on burlap, no binding.
Design origin: Applique quilt pattern (one block)

Also adapted were quilt patterns, such as the double wedding ring, stars and moon and thread spool.

Double Wedding Ring Matmaker: Julia Godden (Golder)
c. 1860-1935 Born: Probably Harbour Grace Hooked: pre 1920 Harbour Grace
32 x 52
Wool fabric and cotton on burlap, no binding
Adopted from quilt pattern

A floral mat was sometimes enhanced with scrolls or borders and often the mat was hooked with ‘preferred’ color and fabrics.

Broken Glass
Matmaker: Belinda (Bell) Duffy c. 1884-1973
Born: Petty Harbour
Hooked: 1930 St. John’s 26” x 39.5”
Wool and nylon/rayon fabrics and yarn on burlap. No binding
Tradition Design. Mrs. Duffy’s husband, an artist, made her patterns

When women used designs, and they often didn’t, the patterns were drawn on with charcoal from the stove. A lot of the mats were designed depicting life around them. Perhaps a drawing of their house, fishing stage or wharf; maybe of their husband’s boat. They often reflected religious symbols, celebrations, flowers, scrolls, fish, whales and trees.

Designed and Hooked by Sister Ann Ameen, born in Shearstown. Hangs in the Jimmy Pratt Memorial Outreach Centre, George Street United Church, St. John’s, NL

For many people who could not draw, they sometimes hooked the outline of the logo on the flour sack; sometimes the outline of the family pet; maybe the family name. They also used the shapes outlined on wall paper or floor canvas.

 
Big John
Designed from logo on burlap bag (chicken feed)
Hooked by Hersilia Moores (Barrett) of Bay Roberts, during the 1930s when she lived in Point Amour,Labrador. Burlap on Burlap size 17” x 24” (*when we say burlap on burlap, we mean that the rug hooker actually raveled out a burlap bag, dyed it the colors she needed, and re-hooked the pieces of burlap into another burlap bag.

Rug hookers, who couldn’t draw were sometimes very innovative in making their patterns such as the mat below which was designed using a baking powder can.

Shells Designed and Hooked by Rosanna Hann (Hulan) 1884-1984
Born: Jeffrey’s, St. George’s Bay
Hooked: 1930, St. George’s 30” x 52.5”
Homespun yarn (probably hand-dyed) on burlap, no binding.
Original pattern designed with a baking powder tin.
This mat was never used; it was the last one she made.

Garrett’s of New Glasgow was a well-known pattern maker. During the early 1900s many of their patterns were replicated all over Atlantic Canada. Today Rags to Rugs (ragstorugs.com) (linda@ragstorugs.com) is home to the original Blue Nose Patterns and they are endeavouring to bring more Garrett patterns back into circulation.

Garrett Design (kit ordered from Chatelaine magazine in 1970)
Hooked by Elva S. Stuckless (Hopkins)
Born: Kettle Cove, Twillingate, N.D.B
Lewisporte, N.D.B 21.5 x 40
(binding added later)
*See our book “Hooked Mats of Newfoundland….for a lovely write up about this pattern on page 58

During the late 1800s – early 1900s, many Newfoundlanders jumped ship in Boston and New York City to work on the skyscrapers. Not only did they send home barrels full of clothing for the crowd home but they also sent home rug hooking patterns, such as the Boston Pavement or Sidewalks of New York which became a popular pattern to hook.

Sidewalks of New York
Mat maker: Mrs. Hicks, Carmenville, N.D.B.
Hooked early 1930s, Carmenville 44 x 27
Cotton and wool blend on burlap, no binding (repairs)
Design origin: Unknown

The women of Newfoundland and Labrador weren’t only wonderful mat makers using the ‘pulling loops’ method. They were also very skilled in making mats in the poking, sometimes called rag-a-jack, method.

Rag-a-Jack (poked mat)
Designed and Hooked by Louise Belbin (Johnson)
Born: Jacques Fontaine, Fortune Bay
Hooked: Unknown 25” x 34”
Knit (sweater) and cotton fabrics, and yarn on burlap, no binding.

Poked mats were also made using a brin backing but the mat makers drew the pattern on the back of the brin. Using a sharpened piece of wood, the method was to poke through an end of an approximately 1.5” x 3” piece of old fabric. Move your fabric along 2-3 holes, then poke in the other end.

Christ Image
This is a recent find for the Guild. It is a tagged Grenfell Design.
Matmaker: Unknown
Received as wedding gift in the mid 1970s.

On the Great Northern Peninsula, Sir Wilfred Grenfell, under The Industrial, used mats hooked by local women as a means of financing his mission. Dr. Grenfell drew the patterns based on life around him. These were then hooked by the women using silk stockings that the dear Doctor had received from his friends throughout England and parts of the United States.

The women who hooked the mats also benefitted as they received compensation, usually in the form of clothing or sometimes health services. In later years they were paid cash for their work, thereby supplementing their household income, which was often meagre as their husbands were fishermen.

Another wonderful form of rug hooking here in Newfoundland was a unique style of the women in Baine Harbour on the Burin Peninsula. Also driven to supplement the income for their households, these women formed a cooperative called The Placentia West Mat Makers. At one point, more than 50 women hooked for this group and their mats can be found all over the world in homes of distinction, including the Queen of England’s.

For more information on rug hooking in the early days of Newfoundland and Labrador, see our Book: “Hooked Mats of Newfoundland and Labrador: Beauty Born of Necessity” or visit one of the following:

Grenfell Mats: http://www.heritage.nf.ca/articles/society/grenfell-mission.php
The Rooms www.therooms.ca
Placentia West Mats: http://www.craftsofcharacter.com

Sadly, though, as things began to modernize during the late 60s and 70s, rug hooking as well as other handicrafts began to decline. Women were now working and everything you could possibly need and want became available on the store shelves. We were beginning to lose an important piece of our province’s history, and that’s where we, The Rug Hooking Guild of Newfoundland and Labrador, came to be.