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All About Rugs

Angela enjoys recycling different fabrics and creates exciting designs for a variety of rag rug projects. Some of her work is produced using hand dyed woollen materials which she then cuts up to use in her artworks using traditional proddy or hooked techniques. She enjoys sharing these skills for many enthusiastic students on her courses held in Devon. New course details available below.
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FROM RAGS TO RUGS

Having been a painter, printmaker and art educator for all of my formal career and beyond, art and creativity have been a constant in my life ever since I could pick up a coloured crayon. As for textiles, I had been taught all manner of textile skills from an early age by my mother, grandmother, aunts and great aunt. Knitting, crochet, sewing, embroidery, patchwork and dressmaking were all part of my experience within the matriarchal hub of my mother’s family. They passed on their skills generously and visiting was always a joy as it was such a creative time. My grandmother on my father’s side was skilled in millinery, so creativity was definitely in the genes, although I had never witnessed Nana using the treadle sewing machine which was carefully stored under the stairs along with a multitude of cotton threads and the button tin… which I was allowed to play with. Visiting Dad’s side of the family was a very sociable occasion when aunts, uncles and cousins came and went in a whirlwind with much laughter in between the cakes and cups of tea. Not a lot of time then, for getting the sewing machine out.

One day, out of the blue almost four decades later, Auntie Gladys, my father’s older sister and a child of the 1930’s, surprised me with a story about another traditional textile art which to my knowledge had never before been spoken of within the family. When the Autumn nights grew dark and chilly this was a regular pass time in the Watson household in North Yorkshire. This was a story about rag rugs. This was something I had never heard about and I was very interested.

Auntie Gladys recalled:

‘Dad would produce a wooden frame which he had constructed out in the yard and set it upon 2 trestles by the fire in the living room. A hessian sack which once contained grain or sugar would be cut to size and sewn to the frame which had been bound with cloth by our mother. She then used chalk to draw a design and then me and Edna (younger sister) would be set to work. We had to prepare the old clothes, preferably woollen coats, skirts or trousers and cut them up into short strips which Mother then prodded into the hessian design using a sharpened dolly peg. Dad sat in his chair with his pipe and switched on the radio.’

 

For generations, with evidence going back to the 1800’s, this activity has taken place in the homes of many working people all over the UK, particularly in mining, fishing or farming communities. My Swedish friends tell me of a similar technique used by the Vikings so maybe they were the ones who initially brought it to our shores. Families would sit together well into the winter months until one or more prodded or hooked rug emerged from the frame and was set in pride of place by the bed to warm cold morning toes or by the hearth to replace last year’s creation which would then be relocated to the front door. The current front door mat would in turn end up at the back door until finally that too would be replaced and finally disposed of. Different regions used different names. They were known as proddy, proggy, hookie and poke, peg and clippy mats and in Scotland it was clootie.

Not only a textile art but also the art of recycling. It’s no wonder there were none of these rugs in evidence by the time I came along. By the 1960s fitted carpets had become popular in many homes and the austerity of the war years had eased which meant that people could afford more luxuries and no longer needed to recycle their wornout clothing to have a bit of comfort.

Now I could visualise this scene of creative activity, I somehow felt I had missed out. There was no question about it, I had to resurrect this traditional art within the family before it died out and was lost forever. I had to resurrect and recycle.

So, I started with my wardrobe. I now had a great reason to sort out all the clothes I no longer wore. Then it was the linen cupboard and so on, until I had gathered together a pile of fabrics. I had some hessian left over from an upholstery project and I even managed to find an old dolly peg. The frame was an old picture frame that I dismantled and I soon had it bound with strips from an old tea towel. I had no idea of the width or length I should cut the pieces of fabric or even how to prod them through the hessian. It was all trial and error and a lot of experimentation at the start but it was fun to recycle all my old unwanted “stuff” and transform it into something once more useful and maybe even beautiful. The words of William Morris came to me and I felt sure he would have approved: “have nothing in your houses that you know to be beautiful or believe to be useful”.

I soon found out that you can use all sorts of different fabrics and if I wanted a specific colour then there was always a jumble sale, car boot sale or charity shop where I could pick up some bargains.

I have enjoyed sharing this textile art with many students over the years in workshops and courses as it is so accessible. They tell me how rewarding it is, how it relaxes them and also how it becomes very addictive. As well as rugs, the technique can be used to make cushions, wall hangings, seat covers and even Christmas wreaths. The social aspect is very beneficial of course for mental health and wellbeing. Meeting up with likeminded people to be creative, have a chat and create beautiful things, whilst learning a traditional skill and recycling rags into rugs, definitely promotes the feelgood factor.

Currently I teach 10 week courses at Church House, South Tawton, North Dartmoor.

I am available for talks and workshops and plan to offer rag rug wreath making workshops later in the year.

For further information please email me at angelawatsonart@gmail.com

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Student Projects
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