Today is the first day of a short holiday I’ve cooked up for myself, in order to sit in front of the fire and do nothing. Surprise, surprise then if I wasn’t at Maidens & Foster at 9.30am this morning placing a bid on a pair of old rag rugs.
It was too cold and miserable a day to stay for the sale and so I headed back to the fire and awaited M&F’s ‘you’ve had a successful bid’ text which arrived at about 3.00pm just as I’d got fairly sick of doing nothing much at all.
As per always one pays fairly highly for the absence but the rug is a fairly nice one dating from the 1930s (that’s my guess). I’d hoped it would lay unnoticed at the sale in part because the second rug that it was rolled up inside is a not-so-pretty 1950s number featuring roses. That, and the observation that the preferred rug is pretty filthy, was supposed to have caused people to pass it by as something of a hopeless case. However the rug is mine now.
This leads me on to think about how to clean an old rag rug.
Now some people are a little blasé about this topic and I’ve have been told to just chuck them in the washing machine. I did this once with two modernist style hand-hooked wool rugs and they certainly came up clean and fluffed up, but one of them seemed to suffer some sort of abrasion from the paddles of the washer which meant the pile never seemed to sit properly again. It was passed on to someone else so as not to remind me of my textile crime.
Rag rugs were of course the art form of poorer people. They were made at home and usually occupied kitchen or laundry or bathroom floors. Even if they didn’t start out in those locations they certainly ended up there (or worse in garages or garden sheds). This means that they got engrained with all sorts of muck. At the same time they were tough – and probably did get chucked into laundry tubs and then hung out on the line. however these days rugs like this a reaching retirement age and looking to take things more gently.
However having spent last week with the country’s leading textile experts for a conference on matters that included the care and importance of textiles, I thought that I should perhaps approach this one more carefully.
Faced with something like this I think the safest starting point is a gently vacuum or brush. I’ve noticed in museums that they vacuum through gauze or a light weight piece of fabric. The alternative, brushing, gets overlooked for cleaning textiles but it can do an amazingly efficient job.
A good source of advice on these matters is The Art of Keeping House, by the Historic Houses Trust of New South Wales and available in Australia and New Zealand. It advises pretty much a vacuum or brush and then to leave the rest to experts. So for once I am going to play by the rules and do nothing more – well perhaps a little damp sponging here and there – recommended by a number of online experts.
Turning the rug over I notice that some of the original backing needs to be stitched back into place – this I can handle. This side as always gives a glimpse of the colour and tones of the original carpet – and indeed gives a better sense of the pattern. One of the nice things about this generation of rugs is how so very Omega Workshops they seem to be. I rather like that the whole aesthetic of the Omega workshop produced by bored London aristocrats and middle class intellectuals at play – ended up on the farm-house floors of back woods New Zealand.
The rug will join 3 others of the Neo-Omega school scattered round the house. One of which has even been elevated from floor carpet to table top decoration – a sure sign of old age and a suitable rag rug retirement plan.