Rag Rugs by Helen Brook opens in the Heafey Gallery at Central Stories Museum and Art Gallery, 21 Centennial Avenue, Alexandra on 7th December 2020 and runs through until 10th January 2021.
The creation of Rag Rugs in Helen Brook’s family spans generations and the St Bathans based artist has followed in the footsteps of her grandmother and mother.
This exhibition at Central Stories Museum and Art Gallery in Alexandra brings together not only her own creations, but also those of her mother and sister.
Rag Rugs are traditional rugs/mats made from recycled old clothes, linen, bedsheets etc. Rag rug making was practiced by the poor – it was a low-income necessity. Textiles used to be very labour-intensive to make and were never thrown away – they were re-used and re-used until they fell apart. Rag rugs were very common in working-class homes in the UK in the 19th century, but the origins could be much earlier, although it’s difficult to be accurate: as it was a low-status craft the history isn’t well documented. In the 19th century, people used coal sacks or food sacks (flour, sugar etc.) as backing, then if they were lucky they could find a tool for pushing or pulling bits of old cloth through the backing to make a rug. People also improvised tools, using things like large nails.
Helen still has the frame her grandfather made for her grandmother. She said “He used to make her rug tools by filing down old keys and fashioning a handle. Now I purchase hooks from England where they still know how to make them.”
Helen has facilitated workshops in Scotland and here in New Zealand. She stated that in Scotland the craft was popular due to the long winter evenings which were good for making rugs by the fire.
Helen said “I cut up the rags by hand. The material having been given to me, or I have used my old merino vests, t-shirts, skirts, cardigans and blankets. Rug making is a very soothing occupation. Ones thoughts going into the rug.”
“As I am an artist, I often create scenes or pictures and enjoy working out the colours to use. It is also great to get the children cutting up the rags. I think it would be great for children to be able to do them at school as a calming influence, and also as an incentive to recycle old clothing.”
Grandad said about Grandma
“When she’s rugging she’s rugging”
Quote from Helen Brook