Wednesday, April 1, 2009

19th Century Ebenezer Ross Hooked Rug

Ebenezer Ross Burlap Backing for Hooked Rugs
These antique burlap backings for hooked rugs are quite old - probably dating to the late 1800s-1910. Luckily on these the burlap has survived nicely. This is unusual as the burlap usually suffers terribly, becoming quite a mess over the years.

Ross was the inventor of the Novelty Rug Machine, patented in 1881 (some sources site 1886 as the patent date, others 1881- we've chosen to go with 1881, as readers have reported owning the machine with the earlier date printed on it ). Based in Toledo, Ohio, Ross offered a series of numbered patterns many of which were based on designs by Edward Sands Frost of Biddeford, Maine. Frost had created the first pre-stamped patterns, on a burlap backing in 1856. As his designs were very much in demand, he began using stencils to print his designs on the backing bringing them to a mass market. Ross saw an opportunity, offering his own pre-stamped backings (with the borrowed or adapted images) to be used with his invention.

The designs are primitive by nature, with less importance placed on scale or perspective than on the charm of the subject. Early rug hookers often used the images as a starting point, adding their own touches to personalize their handiwork.

This reclining spaniel is my favorite of the two. Isn't she sweet? She is marked number 19 of the series (the flowers above are number 9). While I won't be hooking her, I might copy the design to do a needlepoint- how fabulous would that look as a long pillow for my sofa?

Rug hooking has come and gone then come and gone again, and now is yet again making its way back as a popular hobby. Today you can find several artists creating modern rugs with a primitive or naive bent as well as lots of new and antique inspired ready-made patterns. Annie Hays offers her completed rugs to inspire you and supplies to get you off and running on your own.

1960s hooked rug kits

Other artists to check out include Bonnie Stahl, David Harden, Emma Lou Lais, Sunnie Andress, Rachelle LeBlanc, and Liz Alpert Fay. These are just a few of the many textile artists out there currently making rugs. There is a wealth of sources online for purchasing patterns, yarns and other supplies for indulging yourself in a little creative project of your own!

When Your Stockings Run, Let Them Run to Labrador.

For those wanting to own their own completed antique rug, better be prepared to empty your wallet! Rugs in good shape can command as much as $1,500 and more, depending on the desirability of the design. Repairs on old rugs can also be costly so be sure you know just what kind of shape a rug is in before making your purchase. There are many wonderful old rugs to choose from to start your own collection.

Dr. Wilfred Grenfell established the Grenfell Mission of Labrador and Newfoundland, suppling rug kits, which when done the completed rug could be returned to the Mission in exchange for food, clothing or medical services. The rugs were then sold in the US. Images featured scenes from nature, like geese and puffins. The kits were assembled with supplies collected from hospitals - the tag line they used (in pink above) was to encourage donations of old stockings, which took dyes well, to be used in the kits.

Other rug themes to collect include geometric designs, florals (like my Ross #9), and a wide variety of animals, including lions, dogs - and, yes, Pink Elephants!

Unfinished burlap backings like these are quite rare. I wouldn't use them for hooking today as these 100 year old backings would not be as stable as a modern reproduction would. The spaniel will be framed and enjoyed as folk art here at Eclectic headquarters.

Did I mention that my spaniel Go bears a bit of a resemblance to this pup? - Now I've got to find a folky Greyhound like our other dog Frampton! Have you seen one online? I'm still looking!

Yankee Magazine's Tips for purchasing antique rugs:
  • Inspect the craftsmanship, color planning, and design.
  • Do a sniff test. Many smells, such as pet urine, never go away.
  • Look for holes. A few small holes may be repaired, but don't buy a rug that has more holes than rug to it.
  • Avoid rugs that show signs of dry rot (a fungal rot that causes cracking and crumbling of the fibers) or mildew.
  • Like any antique, buy what you like and what you can truly afford.

Thanks to JM for providing info for this article.