Save the Whale! A Restoration Project

Every once in a while we get a request for a special project or custom design. Each time this happens, we are presented with new challenges, but always rewarding experiences. This time was no different.

I received an email from a customer who asked if I could possibly finish and restore this hooked rug her grandmother had started working on decades before:

As you can see, the pattern was a vintage Lib Callaway design called "Cape Whale" and was thumb tacked to a wooden frame. Her grandmother's careful hooking was evident, and I took a deep breath and replied, "Yes." My next contact was with Connie Fletcher of Seven Gables Rug Hooking, who has been my teacher and mentor in this craft, to see if she had any words of wisdom as I proceeded.

I expressed my concern that the original burlap of this pattern was becoming a quite brittle and deteriorated. Connie suggested that I put a new linen backing on to the piece and then finish the hooking by hooking through both layers. I carefully safety pinned the linen on to the back and proceeded to hook as suggested, being careful to keep the layers flat to one another as best I could. This is what it started to look like as I hooked through the layers, around the existing work of the original artisan. It was important to me not to undo anything that she had done.

At about this point in the hooking, I realized that the wool that had come to me with the original kit for the sky was going to be seriously short. This required that I take a break and carefully hand dye some new wool to match and blend with the existing colors. Here is where I was when I stopped to dye some more:

You'll note that I hooked the sky in horizontal rows, which is akin to a style I've seen used in the Canadian Maritimes. It's not my usual style to hook this way, but the original hooker had started her sky in this manner and it was my goal to hook this piece in such a way that my loops and style would look like hers.

I feel as though I did a pretty good job of getting a seamless blend with the new wool, and when the hooking was complete, it looked like this, front and back (this being prior to steaming):

The back of this piece shows clearly the areas that I hooked. Anything missing from this view was already hooked by the original artisan. Now it was time to steam and serge the edges. This is normally a pretty basic affair, but in this case I was trying to preserve the original pattern markings and tags. I could not save them on the piece itself - they had to be cut off for binding - but I knew that I could at least save the pieces as a record of the age and origin of this design. This required pretty careful serging, especially in the lower right corner where the "Lib Callaway" mark came pretty close to the hooking. Here is the serged piece. The serging process, in this case, also served to sew the original burlap to the new linen backing at the edges.

I chose to use tape binding for this rug, as I think that is a classic and traditional treatment for a vintage rug. I used a matching blue. This photo shows the binding stitched in place, but not yet pressed.

Now it was a matter of dealing with the original pieces I sought to preserve, and also adding a label to the back. I had originally considered sewing the original pattern markings on to the back, but their relatively fragile condition made me hesitate. I consulted with Bruce Little of the Frost Farm Gallery in Norway, Maine, who provided an archival plastic envelope to hold the old pattern markings:

I also chose not to put one of our usual embroidered Parris House Wool Works labels on to the back of this rug. I felt that that would not be appropriate given that it is not our design, nor were we the original artisans working on this piece. Instead, I chose an old fashioned, hand written muslin label and hand stitched it on:

This is the finished result. It will be a Christmas gift from my customer to her grandmother, and I can't wait to hear about how it is received!

I hope this post has given you some ideas on how you might similarly restore some partially finished heirloom of your own family's. Best wishes and happy hooking! - Beth

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