Working on a hooky mat
Hooking and progging
The tradition of rag mat making is alive and well in Northumberland.
Rag rugs or rag mats are hardwearing rugs made out of rags cut into strips and pushed or pulled through a hessian backing.
There are two kinds of mat, known in the North East as hooky and proggy mats.
Hooky mats are made with the right side of the mat facing, pulling through long strips of material with a hook.
Proggy mats are made with the wrong side of the mat facing and short bits of fabric are prodded through, leaving a thick rug.
Hooky and proggy rag mats were a common sight in working-class homes in the North East of England until the mid-20th Century.
Made from old sacks and recycled fabric they were an economical option to keep feet warm and toasty in an era before fitted carpets were the norm.
Gladys Aynsley from Blyth was around five when she first learned how to make them.
Now 76, she can still remember sitting in the candlelight at her mother's knee, watching her work on a mat.
She helped out by cutting fabric "clippings", measured around a match box, or sometimes worked a small corner of the mat herself.
"There'd always be a proggy mat in the kitchen, and when that wore out that went into the scullery and your upstairs one came down," Gladys recalls.
"You moved them around and you had to continually make them. There was always a new one for Christmas morning."
Gladys used to help her mother make mats
Gladys suspects those first, faltering efforts at hooking and progging were probably unpicked by her mother as soon as she'd been sent off to bed.
Now, however, she's an expert mat-maker and a member of Wansbeck Matters, a group set up in 2007 to help preserve the traditional craft.
The group, which meets at Bedlington Community Centre, is one of several in the region - a sign of the resurgence of interest in mat-making over the last few years.
Members of the group have used the technique to make wall-hangings, bags, cushion covers and even Christmas trees.
"Once you've learned the basic skills you can do what you want and be as experimental as you want," says Carole Fife, the group's secretary.
"Once you're into doing hooky and doing wall hangings you can use anything. We've got samples done with plastic bags, leather and velvet. I do pictures with balls of knitting wool; the sky's the limit."
Hooks and proggers
Nowadays mat-making is very much about pleasure but the technique was originally born out of necessity.
"Basically it was recycling before recycling was a posh word," explains Carole. "People just called it make and do.
"If you couldn't afford a carpet and you either got out of bed onto cold lino or you chopped up your old clothes and made a mat then you were going to chop up your old clothes and make a mat!"
Hooky mats were for best and proggy mats were more hard wearing. The mats were used as bed coverings too.
They were generally dark in colour because the clothes used to make them were dark (so they showed up less dirt) and in some places there were shops where you could buy clippings.
Carole says everyone in the family lent a hand - and sometimes friends too.
The group meets in Bedlington
"Everybody did it - men as well. When you wanted to get your new mat down for Christmas you used to get the neighbours in as well and they'd all work on finishing each others' mats.
The tradition of making rag mats isn't unique to the North East but the terms hooky and proggy are regional. Elsewhere they are known as clippy mats, proddy mats and peg rugs, for example.
Both Carole and Gladys demonstrate at Woodhorn museum and in local schools and say interest in the craft is growing again.
"If we can keep the tradition going we'll be happy," Carole says. And after 70 years what is Gladys's verdict? "It's a canny little hobby."
last updated: 09/04/2008 at 16:58