Women Yesterday and Today 5: Practical advise about rug making in the 1920s

To assist women of leisure, Phillips lays out a number of rug types she is familiar with, including a few photos. She markets them as rugs of "sentiment and symbol". She says that floral rugs were most popular, the rose surpassing the rest, although she mentions geraniums, morning glories, fuchsias, and verbenas "scattered over the surfaces of many of our early hooked rugs" (pp. 39-40). She describes geometric designs created by using a yardstick and the dinner plate, and cutting patterns out of stiff cardboard. She talks about Welcome Mats and Emblematic rugs with patriotic symbols. She is familiar with Picture rugs, Marine rugs, and Animal rugs. She also mentions Memory rugs, recalling a meeting with an 86 year old woman who handed Phillips her rug and said, "That's my pony; that's Jack, our old black Jack, and that's the field he used to browse in, and that's the sky behind it, and that's the same old fence and the old bars I used to let down when I took the cows to pasture when I was a girl" (p. 46).

She also tries to help these women think about the rooms in their homes and what kinds of rugs might be suitable for their "city and country homes." So we get a tour of the wealthy woman's home in the 1920s, from the new-spangled living room, dining room, bedrooms, guest rooms, nursery, halls, maid's room, porches, sun parlor to the family's camps and hunting lodges (59-72).

She also gives practical advise, telling them how to get started with a frame and foundation. She recommends burlap because it would be a waste to use hand-woven linen "in such an inconspicuous place as the foundation of a rug" (p. 94). She suggest buying the burlap at a department store, or, if better grade is preferred, at a needlework shop.

As for design, she is very adamant. She purposefully calls her chapter "Marking the Design" because she wants to revive the art of rug making "as it was in the best of days" before stamped designs, when "each worker wrought the outline of the thing she wished to picture herself" (p. 101). She complains that companies at the time, with the revival in the interest of early American furnishings, had accelerated their stamped designs, not only reproducing the old designs but also inventing new ones by combining some of the features of the primitive designs with more modern design elements (p. 102).

She advises the new rug hooker to become childlike again. To draw with the abandon of a child. To express herself. "Design your own rugs, and simple or imperfect, quaint or grotesque, the finished piece will not only contain bits of your own clothing and household fabrics, but it will reflect the ideas you may have as to formal or informal patterns" (pp. 104-105). She gives practical suggestions for drawing animals, making geometric templates, creating scrolls and so forth.

But when all is said and done, Phillips comes to the point that has been haunting the book and her desire to bring rug hooking to women of leisure: "Here is the material and the equipment and the willingness to make a present-day hooked rug by the best of old-time methods, yet the hands lie limp in our laps and we gaze at our lovely floral design and the straight line border, and all that we have read and all that we have tried to treasure in our memories have simply evaporated. We have a feeling of our own inadequacy - we are lost - and for the moment our good resolution to make a rug has also taken to itself wings. We can see one thing only, that expanse of canvas, and although it is but a little mat of not more than six square feet we gaze on it as though it were the Sahara Desert" (p. 118).

Phillips identified that "thing" that keeps rug hooking from becoming the craft of many. Personal feelings of inadequacy and fear that immobilize us - not knowing what to do next, what will look right. Her suggestion to start on the edge probably wasn't very helpful to the women she had hoped to persuade to pick up hooks. So although Phillips appears to have been part of the reason that rug hooking moved into new circles and became a craft of the woman of leisure, it would take another woman to come along and offer another solution that addressed head on the problem Phillips had identified.