Beautiful Collection of Antique American Hooked Rugs

American Hooked Rugs – Among the textile floor coverings produced in the United States or North America, the most distinctive and well known is the Hooked Rug. Indigenous to the Northeast of the United States and Maritime Canada, their production began in the 1840’s, gradually spreading all across North America as a cottage industry by 1900.

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The hooked rugs design ranges from irregular free form multi-colored patterns, to stripes, concentric spirals, reciprocal designs of squares, and even folk art pictorial representations. Materials consisted of linen, flax, hemp, and eventually imported Indian jute.

Today, hooked rugs are a popular hobby using a latch hook (a tool with similarities to a crochet hook, with the addition of a hinged pin on the open side of the hook) that holds the yarn as it is pulled through a piece of canvas. This is a far different process than the way the antique rugs used to be made. The method of hooking rugs came about by necessity.

Made first in the Northeastern States and some Eastern provinces of Canada in the 19th century, the rugs were made from any scrap material available and burlap feed sacks. These rugs were needed to keep floors warm and they also provided some decoration. The first rugs hooked had little by way of shading, but many interesting designs started to come about when women found they could put an image into their rugs.

The most common design found in the earliest rugs was floral, expanding to include scenes and even an images of peoples’ pets. As the process was refined, yarn made of wool or other fibers, was cut into uniform lengths and finer canvases were used. Hooked rugs have a variable pile, depending upon the lengths of yarn used, and the designs are increasingly complex. These rugs are flat on the bottom and not reversible.

As the popularity of Americana folk art surges, this type of rug has become more sought-after. Antique hooked rugs lend themselves well to décor and wall hangings.

Hand made by housewives and local craft makers, American hooked rugs are folksy works of art that are functional too. Hand hooked rugs feature a beautiful variety of local motifs, patriotic patterns and simple geometric figures that have a whimsical new world style. This original handcrafting technique produces lovely textures and stylized patterns that are delicate and charming. The nubby shoe-peg loops and marbled variegation emphasizes the unique style and rich textures of these important handcrafts.

Surprisingly direct in their execution and free-form composition, antique hooked rugs pushed artistic boundaries and became part of the American folk art legacy. These iconic pieces have graced the nation’s floors from the White House to the rustic estates of New England. Hooked rugs are pure American style at its best.

Born out of America’s soulful folk art traditions, hand hooked rugs feature inspired freehand designs that immortalize icons of rural life. These exuberant and expressive handcrafts feature formal bouquet medallions and daring designs that range from dazzling to delicate. This unique construction technique and the improvisational design method give antique hooked rugs a rustic simplicity.

Horses, chickens, roosters, cats and domestic animals are commonly featured in these American folk art rugs. Delicate bouquets, classical botanical motifs and state symbols are commonly depicted along with simplified acanthus leaves and geometric tile motifs that have a graphic simplicity. Hand hooked rugs carry on America’s independent spirit from yesteryear and today.

Hooked Rugs: An American Tradition

American hooked rugs are as quintessentially American as jazz music is. Like the latter, it had a very humble beginning but grew to become a unique American tradition. Dismissed for its rustic and low quality until the early 20th century, handmade hooked rugs are now prized for their delightful folk art quality. Today, a thriving rug making industry had grown around it to meet the demands of a growing number of collectors.

The Making of Hooked Rugs | Nazmiyal
Young girls gather to make hooked rugs in 1929.

Rug hooking is a rug making technique that involves pulling loops or strips of fabric through a stiff woven base to make a rug. The base or backing material can be made of linen, burlap or rug warp. A crochet-type hook mounted in a handle is used to pull the loops through the base. Originally, both the base and loops were made using any materials available, including strips cut from worn out clothing and curtains; hence their reputation as a craft for the lower class.

According to author William Winthrop Kent, who has done extensive research on rug hooking, the technique has its origin in the early 19th century Yorkshire, England, where workers in weaving mills were allowed to take home pieces of 9-inch long yarn called thrums, which were useless to the mill. The workers used the thrums to pull loops through a coarse backing to make a homemade rug. This was the closest impoverished families of those times got to owning a carpet.

Antique American Hooked Rugs from Nazmiyal
Antique Hooked American Rug 2545 at Nazmiyal

However, rug hooking as we know it today probably has its roots in the rural areas along the eastern seaboard of North America, specifically New England, the Canadian Maritimes and Newfoundland and Labrador. As stated earlier, the craft owes its existence to impoverished folks who could only dream of owning the expensive carpets that adorned the homes of the rich.

When factory-made carpets became all the rage in America after they were introduced sometime after 1830, poor women who couldn’t afford them began making their own homemade floor coverings using whatever materials they could find. The result was hooked rugs, an imitation that was shunned by the wealthy class of the time.

The hooked rugs made after 1850 were made using a base of burlap, because burlap could be freely obtained from used old grain and feed bags. For pulling the loops, any piece of useless fabric that was available was used. Unlike in Yorkshire, yarn was not used since it was too costly. Thus, the tradition of using scraps of used fabric evolved, which is a uniquely American tradition.

By the early 20th century, the art of making hooked rugs was on the verge of dying out when Pearl McGowan popularized the use of cut wool strips instead of used pieces of fabric. She is also credited with establishing strict guidelines for rug hooking and formalizing its study in the 1930s. However, her contribution is disputed by author Paula Laverty who, in her book “Silk Stocking Mats”, has claimed Lady Ann Grenfell had established a similar guideline in 1916.

Either way, rug hooking came a long way from those early days, and by the 1920’s the use of high quality materials became more common, and the designs evolved to become highly decorative, including motifs such as flowers and animals. American hooked rugs are now considered valuable collector’s items; they are much sought after piece of Americana cherished by historians as well as homeowners.

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View our current selection of American antique Hooked rugs below:

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