Thursday, October 22, 2015

{p, h, f, r,} Hooked Rugs and Home Life

~ Capturing the context of contentment in everyday life ~

{pretty, happy, funny, real} 
at the Museum of the Hooked Rug and Home Life 
in the Acadian village of Cheticamp, Nova Scotia, Canada

It may not sound like a thrilling place to be, but on our recent 10th anniversary trip to Cape Breton Island, my husband and I stopped here on the recommendation of a friend. This museum shows a glimpse of life for the Acadians in the area about a hundred years ago. It also showcases many antique hooked rugs, an art made famous by the women of the Cheticamp area. The museum also houses the hooked rug gallery of Elizabeth Lefort, a famous rug hooker, whose work has been given to royalty, presidents, prime ministers, and even popes. 

What follows are some of the photos from this museum, and my reflections on this not-so-very-far-removed lifestyle. 

First off, Cape Breton Island is a beautiful place, and I would highly recommend the journey! We kept to the Cabot Trail for our short getaway, and explored only a fraction of the spectacular natural wonders, fascinating history, and rich Acadian/Celtic culture.

Fall colours

Breathtaking blues

At the top of the 9.2 km Skyline Trail!

The Cabot Trail at sunset

The Museum

I have a strange relationship to the lifestyle of the families of the past - part admiration, part envy, part . . .  shame?

I admire their ability to carve lives and homes out of practically nothing - farming, fishing, mining, and doing whatever it took to survive and eventually become prosperous. I admire how hard they must have worked, how resourceful they were, and how they still made time and space for beauty in their homelife and crafts.

This is the same type and size of churn we have in our house as an antique "decoration"

I envy the "simplicity" of the times, even though it brought its own limitations. I envy the community,  the tightly-woven networks that held people together for better or worse. I envy the lack of "stuff." I envy the skills that were passed down from woman to woman, the "collective memory" as it were. I even envy their lack of choice, though I'm sure many a feminist or modernist would berate such a notion. Their circles were small. In many ways, life was set for them. There wasn't an endless parade of "you can be whatever you want to be," which I have often found counterproductive to simply getting on with the task at hand, or choosing a path and being content with it. There really was no possible way to live outside of one's means, and though I'm sure the catalogues of the day must have provoked some wishing for more, a lifestyle just beyond their reach was not bombasting them at every turn.

 And I can't help but feel somewhat ashamed. At what, compared to them, seems like my own laziness, selfishness, or complete incompetence. Much as I have always been nostalgic for these simpler times, could I have survived them? I can barely survive my own world of modern conveniences some days. But then I wonder, is there something wrong with me, or is it a symptom of something gone wrong with our modern world?

Note the antique hooked rugs in two styles - one floral pattern, carefully planned, and the other a more random pattern which utilized any scraps of wool, whatever colour or length was left over. 

I do leave these glimpses of an earlier life feeling inspired though. Inspired to bring something of this beauty, simplicity, and pride of home into my own life. Inspired to work hard, to devote myself to the life we're building as a family, and to find contentment and joy in common things.

Rug Making

The variety of hooked rugs on display, both antique and more recently crafted, were truly beautiful and fascinating.

We were given a demonstration of how the rugs are made. Canvas is stretched on a frame to open the holes of the fabric. A pattern is then drawn on by hand. The hooked needle (still made locally from a nail hammered into a wooden base, then bent into shape) pulls the wool up from underneath, in little loops of equal height. There is no knotting or tying of the wool; it is simply cut off when a new colour is needed. The loops are hooked so close together, that when the canvas is taken off the frame, they shrink into a tightly woven material. The pattern is cut out of the canvas, with enough of a border to fold and sew under. The rug is then ironed on both sides to further shrink the wool and keep it all together.

Still made with a plain old nail

In this area, the hooks are still handmade, the wool dyed locally, and the rugs made by hand by the women of the community.

"La Sagouine"

A variation on the "Tree on Life" design

A portrait of Queen Elizabeth II by Elizabeth LaFort

Elizabeth LeFort also created a collection of stunning religious rugs. I was amazed at the size of some of them!

A young Jesus

The resurrection

The crucifixion 

"Our Lady of Perpetual Help"

"The Nativity"

I love this detail of The Nativity

A tribute to Canada for the Canadian Centennial in 1967.
416 colours. 8 months in the making. 7 miles of yarn were used and 1,750,000 stitches were hooked. 

To commemorate our tenth anniversary, we brought home this humble hooked rug. It is a "Tree of Life" design, made with leftover scraps of wool so that no two designs are the same. I think it is a beautiful symbol of the life of marriage. (I didn't think to take a picture of it till evening, in not-so-great lighting.)

A beautiful way to bring the traditions of the past to life in our home.



  1. Beautiful pictures! The wool rugs are amazing!
    Happy 10th Anniversary...your selection of the "Tree of Life" rug is perfect!
    May God bless your marriage and family!

  2. I'm flabbergasted at these rugs! Each more intricate than the last. You know, Lindsey, they lived as best they could in their world, and you are doing the same. You're doing pretty well, I think. ;-)

  3. Those types of museums are my favorites, too, for the same reasons. I always wonder how I would fare in those times- if the work would kill me because I'm not so secretly lazy or if my family would thrive on the simplicity.

  4. What a great way to commemorate your wedding anniversary! I'm just in awe of the talent to make such impressive art.

  5. The RUGS. So wonderful. Happy Anniversary!


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