Most of the activities we now think of as crafts and hobbies actually started out of necessity, using whatever materials that were on-hand to create something new and useful. Rug hooking, for instance, has a long and storied tradition that stretches back to colonial days and beyond.
Hooked rugs were once ubiquitous in this country, covering the beds and floors of homes all along the eastern seaboard. Today’s rugs are hand-hooked from strips of wool of varying widths, colors and textures that dazzle the imagination.
For more than 45 years, this ancient craft has been followed by the Country Inn Rug School, which meets regularly at the Woodbound Inn in Rindge. The culmination of their efforts is displayed each year at the Annual Great American Rug Show, which will be held this year starting Wednesday, Sept. 11, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., with additional dates of Sept. 12, 18 and 19. Nearly 50 rug hookers from around the region will be displaying their singular creations. This event is free and open to the public.
“We run classes from Sunday through Friday for two weeks each year,” said Benita Raleigh, co-director of the Country Inn Rug School. “I’ve been directing the school for the last three years, along with my colleague, Beverley Mulcahy. We had both been attending classes for about 10 years before taking it over.
“We have 52 members, most of which are women. Once a year, we ask them to bring in rugs which they have finished, which come in all different styles. The breadth of approaches is remarkable, as some of the students are new to the craft, while others have been hooking for 50 years or more.”
Raleigh explained that rug hooking is a very old art form, going back over centuries.
“Colonial women used to do this, as did men on ships,” she said. “We now think it was something that started in the Maritimes. Basically, the first rugs were made by people who wanted to cover their dirt floors, as well as using them for bed coverings.
“In those days, the backings of the rugs were generally rice bags, or whatever they had. They would draw patterns on the backing, using pieces of charcoal from the fireplace. Then they would utilize strips of old clothing to create the finished piece. We still use strips to do this, although they’re generally wool.”
Raleigh said that, despite the changes that have occurred over the centuries, the basic principle of the craft has remained the same.
“We still hook loops with the backing, which used to be burlap, but these days is more likely linen or cotton, which is much stronger,” she said. “For the most part, we still use wool to form the motifs, although some more adventurous artists are branching out, using yarn, silk, twine or any other medium at hand.”
Raleigh pointed out that hookers still use old clothing for their creations, but whereas they were once cut into strips by hand, more advanced cutters are now the order of the day.
“These cutters can cut in all different widths,” she said. “We talk about fine cutting, which involves a lot more detail in the finished product. Then there are wider cut rugs, which tend to be more primitive.”
Raleigh said that most of the pieces in the exhibit are generally not for sale, although attendees are welcome to make an offer, if they see a piece which particularly grabs their attention.
“When people come in, the rug hookers are still working,” she said. “We have four different teachers, with 14 people in each class. This way, the visitors will actually be able to see how rug hooking is done. What we’ll frequently do is set up a frame with a backing, so people can try it for themselves.”
Raleigh said that the casual nature of the event lends itself to a real give-and-take between the rug hookers and the audience to encourage anyone who might be interested in pursuing this ancient craft.
“People are welcome to come in and ask any questions they might have,” she said. “Depending on when they show up, they can also eat lunch or dinner at the inn. We do ask the audience to sign our guest book, so we can send them an email about future events.
“Last year, we had a number of people who really wanted to learn. Happily, we have teachers who live in the area, who were able to refer them to someone local who can show them the basics.”
The Annual Great American Rug Show will be held at the Woodbound Inn, 247 Woodbound Road, Rindge, Wednesday, Sept. 11, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Thursday, Sept. 12, from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Wednesday, Sept. 18, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; and Thursday, Sept. 19, from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. This event is free and open to the public. For more information, call the Woodbound Inn at 532-8341 or contact event organizer Andrea Shea at