Proggy Rugs at Narrawilly Farm

 

By Marama Warren

Miriam Miller is passionate about rugs. A rug maker and teacher, she has been leading a revival in rug making in Australia over the past decade. She has a whole wing of her house devoted to them. She's up early to sort, colour code and cut recycled fabrics for her proggy, hooky and knitted rugs and she travels around Australia and the world to teach and learn about making them. Using recycled clothes, blankets and fabrics, Miriam progs or hooks strips of material in stunning combinations to create beautifully vibrant rag rugs. Sometimes these rugs are called proddy, clippie, tag, hooked and many other names.

Miriam's Workshops
Miriam runs regular proggy and hooky rug workshops in her "Rug Room" at Narrawilly Farm near Milton NSW and over the years she has inspired hundreds of people to have a go at rug making.

For further information about Miriam's workshops contact her at narrawillyfarm@shoal.net.au

or telephone 02 4455 6870.

Workshop participants come from all over to learn the techniques of rug making and to enjoy the beautiful setting on the dairy farm Miriam and her family have run for generations. They also enjoy Miriam's delicious country cooking (mulberry shortcake with lashings of fresh cream is a favourite), and the company of other ruggers...

In her workshops Miriam teaches the old rug making techniques of proggy and hooky as well as a knitted version of the rag rug. One wall of the Rug Room is stacked with clean old clothes, blankets, socks and off-cuts of all kinds. They are collected, sorted and stored in pigeonholes. The result is a wonderfully colourful palette of rags which everyone is welcome to use.


Narrawilly Proggy Rag Ruggers
 Miriam has inspired a group of local women to share her passion for rag rugging. Twice a month the Narrawilly Proggy Rag Ruggers meet at the Miller's dairy farm on the outskirts of Milton on the South Coast of New South Wales. They work on their rugs, proudly display their latest creations, refurbish supplies and share ideas and stories.

Formed in 1994, the Narrawilly Proggy Rag Ruggers is a thriving and productive group.   Group members give demonstrations and workshops around New South Wales and inter-state and frequently win prizes in competitions and at shows. The group's rag collection is in a bright, airy studio called The Rug Room at Narrawilly Farm. Clean old clothes, blankets, socks, off-cuts and fabrics of all kinds (non-fraying materials are best) are collected, sorted and stored in pigeonholes along one wall. The result is a wonderfully colourful palette of rags. All sorts of fabrics are contributed and shared, providing an abundance of working material.

History

In the proggy or as some say proddy style of rug making, short strips of fabric are pushed through a backing cloth. The hooky or hooked style originated in Europe and was taken to the USA. It involves hooking strips of fabric through the harn or backing cloth.

Rag rugging was a widespread rural craft in Australia from the mid 1880s. Families would join in to work a corner each, producing rugs that were more practical than aesthetic. Women from all social classes recycled mostly woolens and progged or hooked rugs as an economical way to added warmth and comfort to a home.

Miriam remembers her grandmother making rag rugs to cover the floors in her childhood home in the north of England. In those days, rags were drab, made of old clothes, and considered a craft of the poor.

Materials

  Traditionally rugs were born of necessity, with worn clothing hooked or progged into old hessian sacks. Some resourceful members of the group still delight in recycling this way. For those who prefer the best, primitive linen is available from U.S.A., otherwise Scottish hessian or locally available close weave hessian is used for backing. The only other tools required are a progger or hook, depending on the type of rug to be made. Miriam has a variety of tools available for sale, most of which she imports from Ireland. Almost anything can be fashioned into a hook or progger as long as the working end is smoothly tapered and the handle fits comfortably in the palm of the hand. Old nails, metal pegs, carved wood and even keys have been used in the past and now, with the growing interest in rag rugging, a wide and wonderful selection of tools is available from around the world.

  The beauty of rag rugs is that anyone can make one and the result will be effective and satisfying, with each rug a unique expression of the maker. Because materials are recycled, costs are minimal and apart from purchasing a frame (which isn't absolutely necessary), the cost of one metre of hessian and a wooden progger can be as low as $10. These days, the variety and availability of materials ensures the rugs can be as bright and as colourful as you like.

  Most ruggers use cotton knits from old T-shirts and track-suits which are readily available from opportunity shops or by collecting discards from family and friends. Many group members have approached their rug making in the tradition of quilting, where the rug has a story to tell from the materials used (the family's old blankets, a daughter's first coat; a son's football jumper). Even without a frame, it's easy to prog a small rug or cushion cover on your knee.

Narrawilly Proggy Ruggers now has about forty members. Some travel regularly from Canberra, Batemans Bay, Eden, Nowra, Wollongong and Sydney for the monthly meetings. Jacqui Thomson, a founding member, records each meeting in the group's log books which are alive with enthusiasm and warmth. Each finished rug is photographed and the results are as varied as the people who make them - from magnificent large and complex rugs, to hall runners, cushion covers and dog mats (one features a large red bone on a blue background).

  Miriam continues to inspire by example. Her output is prolific and her love of colour and texture shines in her rugs and her hand spun, hand-dyed woollen knits.

Rugging Adventures

In September 2009, Miriam and fellow rugger, Jacqui Thomson set off on a three month world tour to visit rugmakers in America, Canada, England, Wales and West Africa. They travelled to Kentucky to the International Conference of Rugmakers where Australia bid successfully to hold the next international conference in October 2012 in Strathalbyn South Australia.

When Australia was selected to host the organisation, as president of the Australian Guild of Rugmakers, Miriam became the International President for the next three years and Jacqui became Membership Chair.

For further information about Miriam's workshops contact her at narrawillyfarm@shoal.net.au

or telephone 02 4455 6870.

Marama Warren is a writer, artist and teacher based in Milton, NSW. She writes professionally, prints on paper and makes limited edition books (and the occasional rag rug).

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