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Rag Rugs and Tattit Blankets

Rag Rug
Example 1, Rag Rug
Eyemouth Museum, August 2003
Rag Rugs (sometimes called Tab Rugs or Peg Rugs in Yorkshire, and Clootie Basses in NE Scotland) are rugs made for use in the home. The tools and method are simple: a hook for pulling the strip of material through a canvas, usually hessian, and a range of spare bits of cloth and wool. The designs were usually simple, too, recognising the functional nature of the rug as a mat for the home. But they were often colourful - as the illustrated examples show. The fisherman and his wife would use spare minutes to produce a useful and simply designed carpet. Nevertheless, example 2 has a more complex pattern and would have taken a considerable time to complete. It may well have been a present - perhaps a wedding gift. Example 1 is of a rag rug (strips of rag being used here).

Rag rugs became popular in the 1880s, perhaps the result of necessity as the country was going through a difficult economic period. The main techniques used for making the rugs are known as 'hooky' (hooking), and 'proddy' (prodding). The usual method used in Britain is that of hooking, in which a tool with a hook and wooden handle is used to pull the thread of rag or wool through the hessian.

Rag Rug
Example 2, Tattit Blanket
Bod of Gremista, Lerwick, Shetland
In Shetland a distinction is made between Rag (Clootie) rugs and Tattit Blankets (varient spellings include tattet and taatit). Tattit blankets (taats) were often made for a newly married couple - one half by the bride's family; the other by the groom's family. The two halves were then sewn together and presented to the young couple as a bed covering on their wedding day. Example 2 is of a Tattit blanket. The two halves are clearly visible here.

Relatively few of these items have survived, and those that have tend to be found in museums. Some Rag rugs, however, do turn up at car boot sales and in junk shops, such as example 5 below. This was bought at a car boot sale, and washed in cool water. Whilst this process highlights the vibrant colours, it is not something I would recommend - the water was like tar, the result, perhaps, of 100 years of use!

Rag rugs were not purely functional, they contained important symbols (as the Tatit blanket above illustrates). The colours in the rag rug were important, a rectagle of red (example 1) or a red diamond (an example can be seen in the Kings Lynn museum) was intended to keep the devil away. A passing devil would see the red symbol and assume there was another devil in the house - and he would pass on looking for another victim!

Examples 3 to 7 demonstrate the variety of design used for Rag rugs. Some, like example 5, are very simple; others, such as example 3, are complex.

Other examples of Rag rugs can be found in Scandinavia where they are called Rya or Rye rugs; and in Newfoundland where rugs are produced by the Wilfred Grenfell Cooperative.

Today the process is a little more complex as the rugs have become art objects, often used as wall hangings. A wide variety of materials are now used, and sophisticated designs are produced.

While Rag rugs were commonly used in the home, they did take a considerable time to make. Hence, they were not the only type of floor covering. Straw mats, called "Flatties" were also used in crofts and fishermen's homes. Does anyone have a photograph of an example here?

Rag Rug 1
Example 3
Whitby Archives, April 2003

Example 4
Whitby Archives, April 2003

Example 5
Whitby. (In possession of Stephen Friend), July 2003

Example 6
Stromness Museum, August 2003
Rag Rug 5
Example 7
Bod of Gremista, Lerwick, Shetland, August 2003

If readers are aware of other designs and patterns of Rag rugs and Tattit blankets, made within fishing communities, we would be delighted to hear from you and to see examples.

For a useful book on the modern art of Rag rugs see: Ann Davies, 1999, Rag Rugs. (The Crowood Press, Ramsbury, Marlborough)