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A Look Back: The Art of Rug Making

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Looking back to the days of handmade rug making, the terms “rug” and “carpet” are often interchangeable. However, the term “rug” usually refers to a floor covering that is not fastened to the floor and doesn’t cover the floor completely.
Rugs made of wool are known for the balance of resiliency, durability, cleanability and economy. Cold floors, whether dirt or wood, takes a toll on health. A steady fire was the only source our early forefathers had and a floor with a rug is warner and insulated.
The early settlers did not have large looms or flocks of sheep, but they were thrifty and inventive. They bought bolts of wool and made their clothes from it, and any scraps they had left were used in making braided rugs. Many different cultures have found ways of recycling old bits of cloth into beautiful rugs. Rags were collected, cut, sewn together and then wound into balls.
We had several ladies in town that wove or braided rugs. Helen Albro, in 1937, was selling them out of her house on Woodward Avenue. Mary Saelzler advertised rug weaving in 1919. In 1915,  B.L. Palmer, who represented the Economy Rug Company of Syracuse, was in town collecting worn carpets and rugs to be made over into more rugs. Recycling is not a new thing.
The first woolen factory comprised of carding, spinning and cloth dressing was built by a company of town’s people, consisting of Maj. Samuel Bradley, Deacon John Russell, Silas Rushman and George Shultes. The woolen factory was located on the west side of Buffalo Street.
The building was quite large for the times and was two stories high. The lower story was divided into suites of rooms for residences, the upper story was arranged for factory purposes, the basement was used for coloring and other purposes requiring heating apparatus.
A considerable time elapsed before the building was finished and supplied with machinery, and during the interval, the upper part was used for school, church and Sunday school purposes. The first Sunday school was organized by Deacon John Russell and Maj. Samuel Bradley. The “Common School” was taught in this building.
Subsequently, the upper part of the building was furnished with machinery for manufacturing woolen cloth, wool carding was done with a full mill attached to water power. Machinery for spinning and weaving was propelled by hand, this manufactory was operated for several years. David Seymour and Mr. Silbee were the bosses for a time and Isaac White — a brother to Francis White, who lived in Springville — was one of the spinners.
Other buildings were erected, utilizing the waterpower now owned by G.W. Ransom, and at a subsequent date the flourishing mill, now owned by him, was built and operated as a woolen factory where all the machinery was run by water power. Harvey Spaulding worked in the basement doing wool carding. Of course, rugs were created here as well.
If you were to make the rug yourself, you would use an old wool coat or worn materials, strip the material into long lengths, joining them on the bias and weave the braided strips together. It was not a good idea to mix cotton and wool together as it would make it uneven. When creating a new rug, you could pin the braid in place helping to keep it from rippling or cupping. Another way was to spread it on a large table or on the floor while you worked on it to ensure it kept flat.
If you did not want to go to all the trouble of making one, the best-braided rugs around were the Olson rugs. The Olson Rug company was established in 1874 and recycled old wool rugs, rags, clothing, etc. that had been donated to them into rugs. If you did so, you received so much off of a rug when you purchased one. Here in Springville, you could drop off the fabric scraps at the Concord House.
During one of the many fires that we had, rugs like these were wetted down and thrown on the roofs to help prevent the fire from spreading.
Here at the Lucy Bensley Center, we are having a raffle where you have a chance to own a beautiful braided rug done by Andrea Domst, or an intricate hand embroidery picture of a peacock created by Mary Irish.
Tickets can be purchased for $2 each or 3 for $5 here at the Lucy Bensley Center at 23 North Buffalo St. on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. We will have the drawing on July 27 during the Fiddlefest at 7 p.m. at the Concord Mercantile. You do not need to be present to win.
Give us a call at 592-0094 or send us an email for more information at lucybensleycenter@gmail.com.

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