with them on their voyages to Europe and parts of the New World.
Ann Macbeth chief tutor in the Embroidery Dept of Glasgow School of Art 1908-1920,
was confident that a form of rugmaking, similar to the American hooked rug, had been in existence
in Scotland for several hundred years, from when the Norsemen first invaded Shetland and Orkney.
It is conjectured that the early settlers in North America took with them their mat-making skills.
By the mid 19th century, with the availability of jute and Hessian, rug-makers were producing
intricate and elaborate designs. Collectors recognised early their value as a folk art form .
Mat-making, as it is called in County Durham (the word rug applies more in Yorkshire and Cumbria),
was an early form of recycling during times of economic depression, whence came the need to make do and mend.
Many communities throughout the country were at the mercy of extreme climate and unreliable industry, and the mats when new, were a comfort on the bed in the winter and were
a popular cover for stone floors. Mats were regarded as a 'country' or 'working-class' craft, the results being far too
inferior for use in smart households.
The basic requirements of a frame, a hook and a progger were made by local men. The backing material was hessian -often old sacks.
It should be noted that the mat was only as strong as the base material and may be why so few old examples of this craft have survived in this country.
Materials used for mat-making in the past would have been old clothes, made mainly from woollen materials.
A dark border was made reflecting the colours of the clothes being worn at the time. Simple patterns were inserted using anything that came
to hand - circles, often overlapping, were drawn around plates and saucers. A favourite design was a red diamond in the centre of the mat.
Today we have a wide range of materials available. Most people still use old clothes, blankets, scraps from clothing mills, tee shirts,
thrums from carpet factories, fantasy fabrics from markets, and plastic bags. This is an interesting and economical, easily accessible and creative craft.
As well as the continued need for use on the floor, matmaking techniques have become a versatile means of decoration in wall-hangings, bags,
cushions and earrings.
When mat-making it is important to avoid back and wrist strain. Stop every twenty minutes, stretch your arms and change activity - perhaps cut more
clippings. When you are seated at the frame the mat should be high enough to work with one arm resting naturally on top of the frame and one below.
In order to reach the clippings underneath the hessian without any strain you, should turn the frame or move it in whatever way allows you to work comfortably.