Rag Rugs exhibition opens at Alnwick museum

A new exhibition showcasing the work of textile artist Margaret Kenny has opened at the Bailiffgate Museum in Alnwick.

Tuesday, 14th January 2020, 4:44 pm
Updated Wednesday, 19th February 2020, 9:52 am
Rag rug work

The gallery walls have been filled with her distinctive proggy mats and wallhangings inspired by the land and seascapes of her Northumberland home.

The exhibition, titled Rag Rugs, will also feature a ‘Work in Progress’ piece for visitors to take part in developing a proggy wallhanging through the duration of the exhibition until February 23.

Margaret uses the traditional craft skills of proggy and hooky together with a variety of stitched techniques to create her pieces.

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She works exclusively with recycled and found fabrics, reflecting her passion of extending the life and history of each garment or fabric. Often using old sacks as her base fabric, she may incorporate any lettering into her design and leave frayed areas or holes exposed.

The traditional craft of proggy mat making was a way for poorer families to turn old, worn out textiles into decorative and practical rugs to keep warm.

Men, women and children would work together: children ‘clipping’ or cutting up the old clothing used for the mats that were prodded or hooked through old potato sacks or feed sacks. Friends and neighbours would swap materials and work on each other’s rugs when visiting. Due to its working class roots, rag rugging was never adopted as a recreational activity by the middle classes so there is little recorded history.

Margaret said: “The techniques of rag rugging are very freeing and allow me to create pieces organically with most of the design happening at the end of the hook.

“I let each piece develop without using a formal or detailed design which means I can respond to the change of the seasons, the patterns of sand on a beach or the unexpected way a piece of fabric behaves when cut.”

Jane Mann, volunteer at Bailiffgate, said: “We are delighted to welcome Margaret’s fabulous work to our gallery. For centuries, families have used their skills, borne from necessity, to make practical rugs for their homes, while also providing an outlet individual creative expression. Margaret’s pieces are extraordinarily beautiful with added depth given by the way she contorts fabric into sculptural forms.”