Although pinpointing the exact inception of rug hooking is challenging, it is widely accepted that its roots lie in North America. Various evidence suggests that it emerged around the mid-19th century, such as the fact that rugs were typically hooked on burlap, which only became commercially available in North America in the 1850s—around the same time rug hooking gained popularity.
In the late 1800s, rug hooking made its way to Atlantic Canada and New England. Strips of woven material were looped through the open weave of a burlap base, with wool remaining the preferred fiber. Potato sacks evolved into burlap or linen, and bent nails and button hooks were replaced by manufactured hooks featuring wooden handles. Projects today range from pillows and rugs to runners and wall hangings.
The oldest known hooked rug in Canada, created by 13-year-old Abigail Smith from a design by her 16-year-old sister Susanna in 1860, is located at the New Brunswick Museum in Saint John.
In Great Britain, hooked rugs first appeared at the end of the 19th century, nearly half a century after the technique was established in North America.
The existing embroidery hoop tradition, which had been around for centuries, played a role in advancing rug hooking. The craft quickly spread along the Atlantic Coast, throughout the St. Lawrence Valley, Acadia, and inland to Ontario and Pennsylvania. Due to their isolation and limited communication, home-based rug hookers developed regionally distinctive techniques and decorative elements.
Today, rug hooking has evolved by blending over 200 years of tradition with modern technology. No longer viewed as a craft solely for the poor, it is now regarded as a fine art.
The Heritage Rug Hooking Guild of New Brunswick was formed in 1982 to provide a venue for rug hookers to meet and exchange ideas. They welcome new members. For more information on the group, visit their Facebook page.
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