Friday, February 15, 2008

Rags and Riches

When my father went across to Ireland for a week, my mother came to me. It grieves me to see her sofa sit when once her hands were busy - knit one, pearl one, cast off and round again. That or tiny stitches, one crossed with the other, building castles out of silken thread. Past-times lost to her along with central vision. We bought a large flat TV screen for the arches and a leather abbot's chair to sit upon, screen close and sideways on; "A Grandma Fishing". Her catch - the edge of soapy dramas. There are "talking books" that shout into deaf ears but the tales, however loud she plays them, encourage her to sleep and sleep some more. A hobby then? (Aside from me.)

I dropped in at a course for "proggy and hooky" rug making in a nearby village hall. As I walked in, there was warmth and scarcely a murmur. I thought: "This is how a convent would have been five hundred years ago - industrious sisters intent on art and prayers." There is all sorts of words for the craft - proggy, proddy, clootie, cleekie, stobbie, tab, rag and clippy as well as hooky. Hooky involves long strips of material brought up by hooks in a series of loops to make a flat pile at the front sometimes with detailed pictures. Alternatively, working from the back of the sacking, the rug maker can use a tapered metal or wood spoke to prod through a strip of cloth then prod the other end in a little way beyond. When the proggy rug is finished and turned over, it is a riot of woollen fronds, traditionally with a dark border. A rug to plough your fingers through, pulling slightly much as you would a lover's hair. In Northumberland these rugs are often worked on frames. Unlike quilts they were not valued and passed down the generations. Instead they were born of necessity, associated with poverty and few have survived the years. One rug maker told me: "They started off on the bed, went on the floor infront of the fire, then into the scullery, dog basket and finally the compost heap." Families sat together; father cutting old clothes and rags into strips, children poking through the strips into the hessian with half a wooden peg and mother overseeing the colours. I thought: "Right, let's see if my mother could manage this."

I fetched down an old black wool skirt; designer - naturally, black - is there any other colour? I would like to say, despite the years - a fit, but that would be a lie. I laid it on the kitchen table, sliced it and bagged the pieces. A butcher to my chic and office past. I cut a test square of hessian and ironed a hem to make a second square inside the first. I sat my mother alongside, picked up the metal spike, made a hole and threaded through the ribbon black, made another, closed my eyes to feel the hole, the spike, pulled the ribbon out the other side. "Do-able," I thought. "I'm glad though that I can see." My mother felt her way around the edge, the ribbons on the table and the spike. She made a hole, worked through the cloth and then another, worked through some more. She said: "I hope pet you won't have me down a mine next week."

30 comments:

belle said...

I love clippy mats. Hope you and your mum enjoy making it.

Jeff said...

What a lovely tribute to the relationship you two have.

My great aunt and uncle were both blind--he from a mining accident, her from birth. Yet they built a wonderful, joy-filled life together, a life many would have called impossible. Sometimes sight isn't as essential to our happiness as we might think...

Crystal Jigsaw said...

A priceless relationship with your mum, something to be cherished.

C x

Swearing Mother said...

What a lovely daughter you are.

DogLover said...

Thanks, swearingmother, you've said it for me, too.

Miriam said...

What is hessian? That past-time sounds fun, but would you hurt your finger if you poked wrongly? mimi

Sweet Irene said...

You are a good daughter to your mother, so patient and caring. And your mother has a good sense of humor. Quite a pair you two are.

family affairs said...

I am not sure how you feel about blogging awards...seems they're rather like chain letters. For some reason I've acquired a few recently and I'd gladly bestow one on you if you want it...I"m still going - nearly a year now. Love it. Thanks for your support at the beginning. Lulu xx

dollshouselin said...

I said you were special..and now you made me feel cosy inside.Enjoy your mum.

Norman said...

That is a wonderful thing to do with your mother. You can set the finished mat in front of the AGA. Nice to know proggy matting is still being done. I well remember them, just as you described it. Sometimes as bairns we were roped in to helping out making proggy mats if the weather was too bad to play outside.
Do tell your mother not to worry about going down the pit, - there's none left. They all closed down years ago.

Minx said...

They still put old people down the mines up north?

merry weather said...

Woven together with love and humour - great idea -

Cathy said...

How wonderful to find a craft she can still do. A lovely relationship just shines through your post.

mutleythedog said...

Well despite there being a lot of words for it I am no nearer knowing what a proggy rug is... why didn'tyou just buy a new rug from Ikea?

Sarah said...

Thank you, wifey.
I could be doing more to find a moment to share with my mum.
xx

Eileen said...

This is such a beautiful post, the love you and your mother share is so special. Making these mats together is such a wonderful idea, and must make your mother feel so good. Treasure this time together! Yet, I think you know this.

carina said...

Thank you so much for the link to my blog. The funny thing is I've been reading and enjoying yours for ages and never thought to put a comment. My husband has started to talk about moving to Northumberland, he would go to work in the city every day while all I would do is binge eat and bitch. I said no. Carinax

carina said...

Thank you so much for the link to my blog. The funny thing is I've been reading and enjoying yours for ages and never thought to put a comment. My husband has started to talk about moving to Northumberland, he would go to work in the city every day while all I would do is binge eat and bitch. I said no. Carinax

Parisgirl said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Parisgirl said...

What a lovely post.

I often feel like biting my mother's head off. Then I think about how I will feel if, when my daughter is grown up, she does the same thing to me, and the thought makes me want to cry for my mother and for me.

Sometimes I still bit my mother's head off and just hope my daughter will be better, kinder person.

Stinking Billy said...

Good to see that you are still going strong, wifey. Your on-the-job notes are really first-class, too. You should forget about London.

mutleythedog said...

I heard on the TV that those sniffer dogs are being deployed in Post Offices -so no more parcels for a while OK?

Expatmum said...

You know, clippy mats are all the rage in the Pottery Barn magazines over here - if you make them out of denim strips they look very cool in kids' bathrooms. There you go - a new cottage industry for you. Lovely post.

Curly said...

Nice post Wifey, so redolent of my Tyneside childhood, hooky and clippy mats were de rigeur in our household, although they were made by my grandmother rather than my mother. Mother's eyes were never really up to it.

I'd still like to find a lady skilled in the knitting of good old fashioned "gansies" as worn by members of the volunteer life brigades in days gone by, each with their own distinct cable knit patterns.. Know of any?

Expatmum said...

Curly - I think I saw them hanging up at stalls in Hexham Market last summer.

Dusty Spider said...

Love your Mum's sense of humour. What a lovely relationship you have with her. Love your blog. I'll visit again - and bring my duster. Flick x

A Mother's Place is in the Wrong said...

Dear Wifey, a very lovely post, full of love. Many congrats on your book publication. The cover looks jolly, and we already know how good the contents are! Margot xx.

Motheratlarge said...

Your mum's comment is very funny!

Congratulations on the book - it looks superb. Can't wait to buy my copy.

I have a great fondness for rag rugs - remembering them from my grandparents' house. I love traditional crafts like that.

Manic Mother Of Five said...

What a cool snapshot into that moment. I am really missing my mum at the moment - she has been away all year but is coming back at Easter. Not saying I will get her making rugs but I am looking forward to her company again...

Mattie said...

Ah'm a hooker, me, at present. Wouldn't miss my group for all the world. Might gan proggin' for the next, though.