Today I attended the Tin Pedlars meeting, which is our local ATHA chapter. We all enjoyed a wonderful animated lecture by Jessie Turbayne. Jessie is a rug conservator who restores between 200 and 400 rugs each year. In addition, she has written some wonderful books about rugs and each is full of photographs of amazing rugs. She brought numerous rugs in order to show some of the types of rugs, bindings and techniques used to make them.
I asked if I could take pictures of her rugs, but since they are published or will be published in a book she declined permission. In her lecture she was able to banish some commonly held beliefs. One rug was from 1850, and was made on old pillow ticking and had bright colors. Several from the mid-1800's were hooked on fine linen like your mother's best tablecloth. Most of the really old rugs were not wool, but had nylon and cotton fibers. The cotton showed the most fading. It was obvious that people used what they had for both backings and materials and frequently mixed materials. She had a lovely Waldoboro rug with it's sculpted flowers. She passed all of the rugs around the room and we were able to touch and examine them.
She had several Frost patterns, some partially hooked. She said that it is best not to try and complete a rug if you come across a treasure like that or it will lose 90% of it's value. The stress of hooking into old burlap would be too much. When she must make a repair into burlap, she will go down a cut on the strip width. For example, if the rug was hooked in a #6 she would use a #4. She had a Frost duck pattern rug, and it had been repaired. She knew it had been repaired at Ralph Burnhams in Ipswich Mass around 1910 because of the backing that was covering the stitches and the way it was done.
She had many Grenfell mats, which appear to be needlepoint and are Tiffanys in the rug hooking world. She spoke of Dr. Grenfell as being an extremely handsome man, which is part of the reason women flocked to be a part of his rug producing industry. It was like an assembly line, where one woman would set up the backing, another would do the pattern, and then 6 backings would be handed to a rugger to complete. They were to be completed exactly to his specifications. If you ever find one where a person has veered from the conventional and hooked a purple polar bear, it is quite valuable! When the rugs were turned in the women were given vouchers for food, clothing and health care.
After lunch many members had rugs (new and old) that they had brought for Jessie to appraise. This photo shows Jessie appraising a rug brought in by Lee Ann Hodgkins. Several mats had been framed under glass, and she explained how fabric needs to breathe and should never be put under glass. Sadly, several of the mats had been glued to the frames. But Jessie said that she deals with far worse all the time. Once she received a rug...in three boxes! It was only scraps but she was able to use family photographs and put it together again. I am a history buff and truly enjoyed the knowledge she shared with us today. She is an expert on hooked rugs.
She spoke of cleaning rugs too. She said to never, ever vacuum a rug as each time it stretches the backing slightly, and over time it will just fall apart unexpectedly. Don't use Woolite, as it pulls colors from the fabric over time. Snow washing is good! And she said that you can get a dishpan with Dove detergent and gently sponge the back of a rug to see if it will bleed or do damage. If it doesn't, you can use it on the front of the rug to try to clean it. Cotton will not clean well and will always appear dirty. But she said that if you had lain on the floor for 100 years you'd look rather faded and dirty too!
She is currently working on three books that we will see in the future. One is Hooked Rugs of the South, and another is Hooked Rugs of the Deep South. She said there are fine examples of rug hooking in Alabama and Mississippi but the style is different than what we typically see. And the other book will be Pacific Coast hooked rugs. I will look forward to seeing them when they are finished. All in all, it was another great Tin Pedlar meeting and a great day. Tomorrow...the big hook in that I have been looking forward to. I'll bring my camera!