The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

January 18, 2014

Hands-on rug weaving: Heritage Center holds monthly history event

By Dale Denwalt, staff writer
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — George Pitt remembers stories his grandmother told about weaving her own rugs, a technique he showed off Saturday at the Cherokee Strip Regional Heritage Center.

Rug weaving was just one of several activities museum staff and volunteers presented at the monthly hands-on history event.

“The idea of the rag rug is something I’d always remember,” Pitt said.

At Pitt’s table he had two small looms, which are wood frames with parallel strings running the length of it. The strings are manipulated to allow more string, or in this case stripped cloth, to be weaved between them. The outcome is a colorful and soft rug made by hand.

The center’s monthly Family Saturdays showcase ways early pioneers made a living. Other activities Saturday included making clothespin dolls, felt mittens, quilts, pot holders and crochet.

Pitt said that in the pioneer days, before the proliferation of low-cost and machine-made flooring, covering a floor was hard work.

“Of course, you didn’t get wall-to-wall carpet in those days, so you might have little area rugs. Carpets were pretty expensive,” he said.

Most looms were just a few feet wide, for practical reasons.

“You’re limited to the width of the loom,” he said, which is about an arm-span wide. If you wanted to work something bigger, you had to have another person,” he said. “Then they would tack them down to the floor and that was the carpet.”

Pitt and volunteer Steve Wilson used bed sheets that had been ripped into strips. Other types of cloth that could have been used were saved rags, leftovers from other projects, mercantile bags or even cattail rushes.

“It could have been pa’s old shirt that had just worn out. So you tear that up,” Pitt said. “It can be quite colorful.”

The thread already was being mass-produced, so the early settlers generally didn’t have to worry about spinning their own.

Nowadays, activities like rug-making are mostly left up to commercial textile producers.

“People do them, but they’re more of an artwork now, rather than doing from a practical standpoint,” Pitt said. “With our skills, it’s going to take a long time. But once you have your loom set up, it’s not that hard to do.”

At its most fundamental level, the loom has not changed much over time. What has improved is automation and materials. Early looms featured a “shuttle” that led a string or cloth strip through the twine.

“Now, it’s all done with air. They shoot the thread back and forth and the looms today work basically the same as this type of loom right here,” Pitt said.

That cuts down on the time-consuming portions of the trade and lets weaves of virtually any width be made.

In the old days, though, people relied on their ability to make due with what they had and work hard to keep up their essential comforts of living. Pitt mentioned an old adage, “Men work from sun to sun; women’s work is never done.”

“They didn’t have much, and they didn’t really ever get much for a long time,” he said.

The next hands-on history family event at the Heritage Center is Saturday, Feb. 8. Education Director Cody Jolliff said the event will include making valentines. Admission is free.