THE United States is largely occupied in rug-weaving, and the centre of the Eastern section of this manufacture is Philadelphia. But in various sections of the country there are rug factories, both large and small.
The Abenakee rug is made at Pequaket, New Hampshire. It is the result of a desire on the part of Mrs. Helen R. Albee to give profitable employment to the women of the rural community where she lives. Her success is now assured, and the reward for much labor and thought has come in a lively demand for the rug.
The Abenakee rugs are not woven. They are an evolved form of the much despised New England hooked rug, which was made by drawing strips of old rag through burlap. The thick, soft, velvety Abenakee rugs of the present day are far removed in color, design, and texture from their humble ancestors. These rugs are all wool, hand-dyed in warm tones of terra-cotta, old rose, old pink, tans, dull yellows, rich old blues, olive and sage greens, and old ivory. They are made to order usually, to match in their ground color some special color in the room where they are to be placed, and the borders are made in harmonious tones. The range of design is wide, from Oriental to Occidental from Japanese to North American Indian. But all suggestions, so soon as received, are modified and removed as far as possible from direct imitation of any foreign rugs. Mrs. Albee has aimed, not to re-produce Oriental effects, but to have the designs original and distinctive. Fortunately, for years previous to the establishment of this industry, she had studied the principles of design and their application to various textiles, and the knowledge which she thus acquired has proved most valuable.
The designs are bold and effective, but fineness of detail is precluded by the strips of material, each of which is a quarter of an inch wide. The color is arranged in broad masses.
The New England Hooked or Rag rug has for its foundation a strip of burlap or sacking. Through this, strips of cloth are hooked, which form loops, and this surface may be sheared or not, as the maker desires. There is such an absence of attractiveness in the old-time rag rug, that several women of taste and experience in art methods have sought the improvement of this industry. The results have been excellent, so that, ugly as the original rug is, it is esteemed as being the progenitor of the more artistic Abenakee, Sabatos, and Onteora rugs.
The Sabatos rug is a product of the little mountain village of Center Lovell, Maine, started in 1900 by Mrs. Douglas Volk of New York. She has now about a dozen women engaged in the work, this number including the spinners, dyers, and weavers.
The Sabatos rug is durable, harmonious in color and design, and is distinctly a home product. The wool of which it is made is sheared from the flocks of sheep in the vicinity. The shearing takes place annually in June ; the wool is then carded, spun, and dyed. The threads of hand-spun wool are worked through a hand-woven webbing, and securely knotted or tied with a specially devised knot. The designs thus far are mainly adaptations from the native American Indian motives, which are simple and characteristic, furnishing a chance for broad color effects.
A special point is made of the dyes employed, those of vegetable origin ruling, and only those dyes which from experience have been found to be practically fast are used, such for instance as genuine old Indigo blue, madder root, and butternut.
Berea College, Kentucky, is endeavoring to encourage the weaving of rag rugs of a superior order. So far, the industry which was started in 1905, is in a primitive state, the natives preferring to weave cotton and wool coverlets, the designs of which they brought across the mountains with them from Virginia in the early settlement of Kentucky. Floor rugs they consider troublesome. The weaving is carried on in the homes throughout the mountains of that region known as ” Appalachian America ” ; it is really a survival of the old Colonial industry. The rugs are woven of strips of new ticking, and are especially designed for bath-rooms, children’s nurseries, and porches. The coloring is done with the vegetable dyes and native barks and roots. The color schemes are the simple ones of a primitive people.
Navajo Rugs. The Navajo Indian Reservation covers about eleven thousand square miles, about six hundred and fifty of which are in the northwest corner of New Mexico, and the remainder in the northeast portion of Arizona. The region is well adapted for the raising of sheep, and every family possesses flocks, which are driven from place to place for pasture. The Navajos, however, never go to any great distance for this, but keep generally within a radius of fifty or sixty miles from home. This tribe weaves a rug that is useful, unique, durable, and when at its best, impervious to rain. Among the tribes, and in some Western homes, they are used as blankets, but it has become a fashion in many of the best houses in the Eastern States to use them entirely as rugs, couch coverings, and portieres.
It is believed that the Spaniards, when they arrived in that section of North America inhabited by the Pueblo tribe of Indians, communicated to them the industry of weaving these rugs, and that the Pueblos taught it to the Navajos. Thus it appears that the weaving of the Navajo rug was a result of the Moors’ invasion of Europe. The sheep, which are raised by thousands, were also introduced by the Spaniards. The wool is not washed until after the shearing. In the last quarter of the nineteenth century the Navajos began to use the shears of the white man ; previously they procured the wool by cutting it off the body of the animal with a knife, and pulling it from the legs.
The native dyes are red, yellow, and black, and the natural colors of the wool are black, gray, and white. The dyes of the white man are now much used. Formerly there was a beautiful blue, which has given way to the indigo. A scarlet cloth called Bayeta was once much used in the weaving of these rugs, but Germantown yarn and other inventions of the white man have largely superseded the old-time materials and methods.
The spindle is of the crudest form, and sometimes the wool is simply picked out from the mass, and rolled into the yarn or thread on the hand.
The looms are fashioned after the most primitive ones of the Orient, and the weaver sits on the ground and weaves upward. Women do most of the weaving, but occasionally a dusky-faced man may be seen at the loom. It takes about a month to weave a rug six feet ten inches by five feet seven inches.
The designs in the Navajo rugs are many, and mostly in angles and straight lines, the serrated diamond design being common, as is the swastika or fylfot.. The weaver makes up her own designs as she goes along, occasionally only tracing it in the sand.
There is a symbolism attached to many forms in these rugs. The square with four knit corners represents the four quarters of heaven and the four winds. A tau cross is a symbol of protection and safety, and a prayer to the Great Spirit. A spiral form represents the purified soul, and a double spiral is a symbol of the soul’s struggle. A wave mark represents the sea, over which the people came from a far country. Black is the symbol of water, regarded as the mother or spirit. Red is the symbol of fire, and is regarded as the father.
The native costume of the women of the Navajo tribe consists of two small rugs in dark blue or black, with a bright stripe at each end. They are of the same size, and sewed together at the sides, except where a place is left open for the arms. Formerly the Indians reserved their hand-made rugs for their own use, but now that there is so great a demand for the work of their hands, they sell those rugs, and content themselves with blankets of factory make.
Old Navajo rugs, like Oriental ones, are growing scarcer every year, and naturally are becoming more valuable and desirable. The fine textures, perfect workmanship, and glowing colors are seen at their best in productions of the past.
( Originally Published Late 1900’s )