A few of you will hopefully have caught the BBC 4’s Make! Craft Britain programme that aired in March, earlier this year. Well, I was blown away by the fact that the first episode featured rag rugging… wow, who would have thought it? Finally, rag rugging is getting its due 🙂
Well, the rag rugger who was featured in the show was Heather Ritchie, who has been making rugs for decades. I thought it would be a nice idea to get in touch with Heather and see what tips and inspiration she might have for you, my lovely rag rug friends. So, below is a brief Q&A I did with Heather with plenty of photos of her gorgeous work. I hope you like it – please do comment below to let me know what you think of Heather Ritchie’s work or if you’d like to see more Q&As with other rag ruggers.
So, here it goes…
Q&A with Heather Ritchie:
RL: Hi Heather, would you mind telling us a little bit about yourself and how you got into making rag rugs?
HR: Hi everyone, well, a farmer’s wife taught me the basic technique in Reeth, Yorkshire, using a large stretcher frame and lyle stockings. Later, an American lady, Joan Bell, taught me finer, more detailed work and how to dye the different materials and wools. I’ve always loved homemade things, so I’ve gradually covered my house over the years. I was always pretty short of money, so I would just make everything.
RL: What’s your biggest design inspiration?
HR: My biggest design inspiration is definitely the views of the dales where I live.
HR: My father also makes an appearance in many of my pieces. My rag rug “Guiding Light” shows me walking with my blind dad and helping him along when I was a young girl. I was his eyes…
RL: Have your designs changed over the years/ are you inspired by new things?
HR: Yes, ideas always move on and evolve. Lately, I’ve been very inspired by my friend Sue Dove in Cornwall to do more modern work.
RL: Is there one particular method of rag rugging you stick to and if so why do you choose that one?
I prefer hooking (loopy rag rugging) so I can get the detail in. Also, it’s less labour intensive.
RL: In general how long would you say it takes to finish one of your more intricate designs (on a rug)?
HR: There really is no time scale. I can do a small piece in a couple of weeks, but sometimes it will take months to finish something. It obviously depends on the size and complexity of the project.
RL: What keeps you motivated to finish a rug?
HR: I enjoy a challenge!
RL: Which is your favourite rag rug and why?
HR: My ‘Men on the Bench’ rag rug paved the way for me teaching in America, so it did me a lot of good. It shows local guys sitting at a bus stop and eventually made it’s way into books and magazines, as well as TV including Look North and Dales Diary. To make it, I cut the woollen fabric as fine as possible. Most of it isn’t dyed, I just left it as it was using scraps. Maybe the skin tones were dyed but that’s all.
HR: But I also really love the one of the children and my dad playing the piano. This one has more sentimental value.
RL: For you, what’s the best thing about rag rugging?
HR: Being creative!
RL: Do you use old clothing for your rag rugs or have you found some other way of sourcing your materials? (I’m guessing you need quite a lot of fabric!)
HR: I do recycle when I can but I buy new fabrics to dye, as I can’t always find what I want.
RL: What do you do when you’re stuck for subject ideas and/or motivation to start a new piece? How do you become inspired again?
HR: I do have creative block now and then, which is when I’ll have a break. Then suddenly an idea will come to mind.
RL: How do you go about starting a new rug? As your designs are so intricate, do you have a specific method/ area to start with?
HR: I don’t always have the complete picture in mind, sometimes I start hooking the main subject and I build on it, working around it. I can change my ideas as I go. I can use chalk to do free hand drawing on the backing or I’ll photocopy then trace it off. However, I don’t always draw patterns on. Sometimes I just set off hooking and see where it takes me. To get different effects, I mix my textures using shaggy and loopy and I use yarns and all different heights.
RL: Do you have favourite colours to use in a rag rug or do you try and stick to realistic colours for your subject?
HR: I try to use realistic colours, but my favourite greens and purples usually find their way in.
RL: Other than rag rugging, are there any other crafts you love?
HR: I love knitting, crochet and embroidery.
RL: Any that you haven’t done yet but would love to try if you had the time?
HR: Yes, I would love to paint.
RL: Would you recommend taking up rag rugging to anyone or do you think people have to have a certain skillset in order to learn the methods well?
HR: I personally think rugging is amazing for anyone, any age. Anyone can do it, it’s so easy and cost-effective.
RL: Any tips to newbie rag ruggers? / What is the best tip someone else gave you?
HR: Don’t over work, don’t pack in loops! Keep a nice tension so your rug lies flat, the loops should sit comfortably side by side.
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So, that was Heather Ritchie’s beautiful work 🙂 If you’re interested in reading more about Heather and her pieces then you can find much much more detail in her book “Hooked Rug Storytelling”. If you’d like to be the first to see future Q&As with rag ruggers, why not join our Rag Rug Community on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/groups/RagRugCommunity/or join our fortnightly newsletter here.
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As always, happy rag rugging!