The history behind rug hooking is speculative, at best. Some believe that the floor mats made in Yorkshire, England during the early part of the 19th century were the beginnings of hooked rugs. Workers in weaving mills were allowed to collect “thrums”, pieces of yarn that ran 9 inches 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, and a reference can be found in Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor. Hooking rugs in North America likely began in New England and the Canadian Maritime Provinces in first quarter of the 19th century. During this period, wealthy Americans were importing carpets and less wealthy women began to fashion their own floor coverings from leftover material and later store bought fabrics cut into long strips especially for that purpose.
This was a period when Americans were beginning to have the time and money needed to decorate their homes because floor coverings were popular with the wealthy, everyone wanted them. In 1864, Edward Sands Frost, of Maine began stencilling hooked-rug designs, which he sold from a peddler’s cart. By the time he retired in 1876, he had cut about 750 stencils, which are now owned by the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village. His designs included lions, tigers, leopards, dogs, cats, birds, deer, floral patterns, and patterns adapted from Oriental rugs.
Rug hooking stayed popular into the mid-20th century. The tremendous majority of the rugs we find nowadays sold as “antiques” were made between 1900 and 1950. These are more formally known as “vintage” because “antique” has a legal definition of something that is 100 years or older.
Hooked rugs were originally created as floor coverings. They became popular as wall hangings in the 1970s when American Country Antique collecting was at its height. These rugs provide wonderfully colourful graphics.
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.