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Rug hooking is both an art and a craft where rugs are made by pulling loops of yarn or fabric through a stiff woven base such as burlap, linen, or rug warp. The loops are pulled through the backing material by using a crochet-type hook mounted in a handle (usually wood) for leverage. In contrast latch-hooking uses a hinged hook to form a knotted pile from short, pre-cut pieces of yarn.
Wool strips ranging in size from 3/32 to 10/32 of an inch (2 to 8 mm) in width are often used to create hooked rugs or wall hangings. These precision strips are usually cut using a mechanical cloth slitter; however, the strips can also be hand-cut or torn. When using the hand-torn technique the rugs are usually done in a primitive motif.
Designs for the rugs are often commercially produced and can be as complex as flowers or animals to as simple as geometrics. Rug-hooking has been popular in North America for at least the past 200 years.
The author William Winthrop Kent believed that the earliest forebears of hooked rugs were the floor mats made in Yorkshire, England during the early part of the 19th century. Workers in weaving mills were allowed to collect thrums, pieces of yarn that ran 9 inches (23 cm) long. These by-products were useless to the mill, and the weavers took them home and pulled the thrums through a backing. The origins of the word thrum are ancient, as Mr. Kent pointed out a reference in Shakespeare's Merry Wives of Windsor. However, in the publication "Rag Rug Making" by Jenni Stuart-Anderson, ISBN Stuart-Anderson states that the most recent research indicates "...the technique of hooking woolen loops through a base fabric was used by the Vikings, whose families probably brought it to Scotland." To add to this there are sound examples at the Folk Museum in Guernsey, Channel Islands that early rag rugs made in the same manner where produced off the coast of France as well.
Rug hooking as we know it today may have developed in North America, specifically along the Eastern Seaboard in New England in the United States, the Canadian Maritimes, and Newfoundland and Labrador. In its earliest years, rug hooking was a craft of poverty. The vogue for floor coverings in the United States came about after 1830 when factories produced machine-made carpets for the rich. Poor women began looking through their scrap bags for materials to employ in creating their own home-made floor coverings. Women employed whatever materials they had available. Girls from wealthy families were sent to school to learn embroidery and quilting; fashioning floor rugs and mats was never part of the curriculum. Another sign that hooking was the pastime of the poor is the fact that popular ladies magazines in the 19th century never wrote about rug hooking. It was considered a country craft in the days when the word country, used in this context, was derogatory. Today rug hooking or mat making as it is sometimes referred to has been labeled in Canada as a fine art.
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