Designed and hooked by Nancy Beaton, this heraldic rug depicts the symbols of the J J Ruggers which are the hand holding the hook, and the dye pot surrounded by the hoop. The telephones and bell recognize Brantford as the Telephone City and the trilliums represent the Province of Ontario. jpg, BR
Published on: June 28, 2019 | Last Updated: June 27, 2019 7:41 PM EDT
JJ Ruggers, a group of traditional rug hookers based in Paris, will celebrate their 50th anniversary on Oct. 5.
The event at the Paris fairgrounds will feature a “hook-in” all day for rug hookers. From 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., the general public will be invited to view the remarkable rugs and learn about the hobby and its history.
This article is a sneak preview of what the members have accomplished over 50 years with a flavour of history added.
Rug hooking is a craft that has been traced back as far as the Vikings who might have used the loop technique on a base fabric and brought it to the British Isles. There are examples in the Ford Museum in Guernsey.
In the 19th century, weaving mills were being established in the Midlands of England. The weavers were allowed to take home the thrums, which were the fringes of warp threads left on the loom after the cloth had been cut off. Many of these threads ended up being poked through a background to form a floor mat. John Penman, who established a knitting mill in Paris in 1868, later sought workers from the Midlands to fill his shortage of employees. At the time, Penman was the largest manufacturer in Canada.
Rug Hooking in North AmericaRug hooking, as we now know it, developed in North America about 200 years ago in the Maritimes, Newfoundland and the northeastern United States. By 1830, factory made rugs were beginning to be sold and purchased by wealthy people. Those women who could not afford the manufactured rugs looked at their stash in the rag bag for enough fabrics that could be used for a rug. Items available might be an old pair of work pants, long johns, a blue shirt, a girl’s dress or a child’s jacket. A simple pattern was drawn onto a backing, the items were cut into thin strips and hooked into a rug.
By the 1850s, trade was expanding to other countries and packaging was changing. Coffee, tea and tobacco were shipped in burlap bags, which often were salvaged for the rug backings because they were much stronger, allowing them to imitate the patterns of the more expensive rugs.
As the rugs wore out, they followed through a progression of rooms. The newest one was placed in the parlour, while the rest shifted through the rooms until the oldest was relegated to the back door. We know its next move. In the 1890, patterns were being printed on canvas to be sold to interested customers.
The craft continued to change and refine. Wool became the fabric of choice. Through the years, rug hooking has had many ups and downs in style, techniques and participants but remains a popular hobby.
Joyce Johnson, founder of JJ RuggersJoyce Johnson, who grew up in Paris and became a kindergarten teacher, had been interested in needle work since childhood. When she and her husband, Jamie, moved into their new home, she looked at the hardwood floors and decided to try her hand at rug hooking. In 1948, she found an ad in an American magazine about rug hooking and off she and Jamie went to Arkansas where she purchased the necessary supplies. Upon arriving home, she began teaching herself the art of rug hooking. She designed and hooked her own stair carpet. She frequented Penman’s Mills for seconds and used many suits of Penman’s long johns in her rug creations.
In 1964, she took a year off teaching to work on her skills and, at the same time, she shared these ideas with five friends. This was the beginning of classes. Interest continued to grow and the local branch was formed in 1969 under the the Ontario Hooking and Craft Guild, with the members naming the group the JJ Ruggers in Johnson’s honour.
The first meeting was held at the Paris Public Library. Johnson was a founding member of the OHCG, which began in 1966. She also became an OHCG accredited teacher and was its president in 1962. Later, Jack Bawcutt of the Mill House in Paris made a huge upstairs room available to all crafts related to textiles, which included the JJ Ruggers.
Johnson passed away May 17, 1999. In the fall of that year, a red maple tree was planted in King’s Ward Park in Paris in her memory. The most important memorial to Johnson is the continued vitality of the JJ Ruggers.
Fifty Years LaterI met several members of JJ Ruggers at Wincey Mills in Paris. Each Thursday, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., members gather here with their hooking projects. Interested shoppers stop by to inquire about what they are doing and to view their rugs. The women are always pleased to explain and answer any questions.
Each person works on a different project but the tools are the same. Standard supplies are a rug hook, frames and stands, scissors and a cutter with different sized heads to cut the wool strips to the right width. In the early days of rug hooking, a hook might be a bent nail with an attached wooden handle and strips were cut by hand.
Wool has become the fabric of choice. The women noted that wool items turn up at thrift stores and can be cut and dyed for their projects. Wool plaid shirts make interesting tree tops.
Here are some of the other materials used by the women: sari silk, wool yarn, panty hose, fleece, spandex and plastic.
Getting TogetherSince 1986, the women have enjoyed an annual autumn weekend at Apps Mill, now Apps Ridge. The group moves in on a Friday evening and on Saturday two instructional classes are given. Attention is also given to FiFi, which means “Find it and Finish it.” Meals are catered and packup time is usually Sunday morning.
Another enjoyable learning experience is Rug Camp, which can be a weekend or a whole week. A notice is sent out to the rug hooking groups ahead of time so that those interested can sign up for classes. The women bring along the projects they are working on and exchange ideas. Also present are vendors, who are selling their wool, pattern supplies and dyes. This is also a chance to get sharpened tools, such as the cutter heads.
GALLERY:JJ Ruggers celebrating 50th anniversary
Correction: In my April 27 article, Merchant Prince from Paris, the name of the Paris store should be spelled Rehder and Co.
Sources: A few Loops of Hooked Rug History by Tracy Jamar; Archival Books for the JJ Ruggers; Members of the JJ Ruggers.
Local historian Ruth Lefler has been awarded the Lt.-Gov.’s Heritage Award for Lifetime Achievement. She welcomes readers’ comments, which should be addressed to Reminiscing, c/o The Expositor, Building 4, Unit 1,195 Henry St., Brantford, N3S 5C9.
Paris, Ontario Traditional Rug Hooking Guild founded in 1969.