A story by Marilyn Weymouth Seguin from 1950s-2021
Gram's finished rug projects were creative, colorful and useful. Making them turned my schoolteacher grandmother into an artist.
As a child in the 1950s, I remember accompanying my paternal grandmother to Hathaway Shirt Company in Waterville, where she bought scrap wool to make her braided and hooked rugs. She took the wool home and cut it into strips by hand. Sometimes, she mixed the Hathaway wool scraps with recycled wool cut from worn out clothing. Her finished rug projects were creative, colorful and useful.
In her book Rug Hooking in Maine, 1838-1940, Mildred Cole Peladeau claims that rug hooking is Maine’s premiere handicraft, even beating out the craft of quilting. She says that many believe rug hooking originated in Maine, but some scholars think it may have started in the Maritime Provinces of Canada.
At any rate, according to Peladeau, Maine has for more than a century and a half maintained a leadership role in the development of the craft of rug hooking. Early rugs are true examples of folk art, and most were designed by women who had no access to the professionally designed patterns and materials we can purchase today. Interestingly, it was Edward Sands Frost (1843-1894) of Biddeford who introduced mass produced stenciled patterns to the hooking world, forever changing the craft (Peladeau).
I came to learn rug hooking late in life. My grandmother hooked her rugs on a burlap background, because it was easy for her to get locally. I prefer to hook on linen that I buy online, and some of my friends prefer monk’s cloth or rug warp as background material. Unlike my grandmother, I do not cut up old clothing to use in my rugs, but many of my friends in the hooking community do. In most of my projects, I use hand-dyed wool cut in strips with a rotary cutter.
In the summer of 2019, I searched for a flea market footstool to use as a foundation for my next rug hooking project. My plan was to make a hooked cover for it and to use it at our camp on Little Sebago Lake in Gray. Eventually, I found a one at a thrift shop in Mechanic Falls. The top was an old-fashioned floral needlepoint cover, its blue background faded and moth eaten. The underside of the footstool revealed the names of the woodworker, George Alfred Kidder, as well as the creator of the needlepoint top—Helen K. Tozier. (Eureka! I have Maine Tozier ancestors. Could Helen have been one of them?)
Online research revealed that Helen was George Kidder’s daughter. The footstool was apparently a father/daughter project completed in 1927, possibly as a Christmas gift. Further genealogical research indicated that Helen Tozier died at the age of 94 and is buried in a Tozier family cemetery in Fairfield Center, Somerset County, where some of my Tozier ancestors are likely buried. Helen married Donald Tozier in 1919, and she completed her project as a young married woman when she was 31-32.
I took the footstool to my hooking mentor group (yes, we call ourselves hookers) at Parris Hill Wool Works in Paris. (Parris is the name of the family that built the historic house with the studio. Paris is the town in Maine.) Studio owner Elizabeth Miller commented that the original footstool with its needlepoint top had its own story, and it would be a shame to replace it with a new top. Why not leave the original top on it and design and hook a cover that could be removed whenever I wanted to visit the original needlepoint?
Next, I got to work on the design plan. Because I planned to use the footstool in my rustic Maine camp, I wanted a wildlife theme. I chose a bear for the central motif, and I began by drawing my pattern on paper and then transferred it to the linen background that would be the foundation for hooking the wool strips we hookers call "noodles" or "worms." Then came the color planning. I selected woodsy colors to complement my camp décor, but another goal was to use up some of the wool strips in my sizeable stash of worms. This goal is a very New England thing—use it up, make it do, or do without, as my Grandmother used to say. In the rug hooking culture, this design philosophy is known as "hit or miss." Finally, I was ready to pull the worms through the design background, using a hook that looks similar to a crochet hook.
I completed the top in the summer of 2020, and added my signature to the underside of the stool. For now, it sits in front of my reading chair in my living room at my camp. It is both functional and pleasing to the eye, I think. Maybe years from now, one of my descendants will craft a new top for this footstool. Or perhaps someone will discover this item at an out of the way rural flea market and decide to create yet another top to add to the layers that are already there—and he or she can inscribe a fourth name to the underside having fulfilled a need for self-expression. I hope so.