Rag Rugs for Ross House

 

Ross House Museum is an historic site in Winnipeg. It is a log house, and it was the home of Alexander Ross, the first post-master in Lower Fort Garry. Outfitted with items suitable to the 1850’s when the home was the post office, it was decorated with rag rugs. In 2000, these rugs looked appropriately old, even though they could have been woven as recently as 1940-50, and they were wearing out. After all, even 1950 is awhile ago! It was time for new rugs.

At the invitation of the curator of Ross House, I examined the existing rugs. It was apparent that two were sewn together to make one bigger rug, and the other two were identical to each other but a separate warp from the first. They were warp-faced, the warp being a mixture of wool and cottons with a rag weft.

It seemed appropriate to use the existing rugs as colour patterns, since the Historical Society wanted to replace them pretty much exactly as they were.

As background research, I looked at the rugs in the first part of Dorothy Burnham’s “Keep Me Warm One Night.” The rugs shown there were from about the same time period as the house, and they were from Eastern Canada. Resources for weaving here in the colony were limited. When there were rugs, it seemed plausible that they might have come from Upper or Lower Canada and would resemble those in the book. I suggested that to be more historically accurate, I would make the warp all wool. My proposal for creating the rugs was accepted.

Thinking that I could avoid the arduous task of cutting rags into strips, I ordered 20 lbs. of cotton rags from Maurice Brassard. Oops! They were knit cotton strips. A subsequent visit to a liquidation outlet yielded six all-cotton sheets, and I raided my Dad’s closet for a few more old ones in case I ran out. The strips from Maurice Brassard have since been used up in five other weft-faced rag rugs.

First, I designed and wove the rug with the red stripes (shown at right). Taken off the loom, it was cut into two rugs, each 88 inches long by 36 inches wide. The ends were bound with a heavy beige denim border, and the two rugs were sewn together and delivered to Ross House in July.

The second set of two rugs had a pink stripe down the middle. No shade of pink that I could find seemed suitable. I put on a sample using another set of colors, wove a sample and then re-arranged the colors. This time, I made the predominant stripe a rust with green accents — the exhibit room where this rug would be used was green, and I think the floor was orange.

Fussing with the colours had taken longer than I had intended, and the second pair of rugs was delivered after the Labour Day weekend. That was too late for the 2000 season, since Ross House is unheated and therefore open only in the summer. However, the rugs were there in time for the next year, and hopefully for a good fifty years to come!

Susan Styrchak
November 2003