Works of art in a practical medium
Bailiffgate showcases the work of textile artist, Margaret Kenny with her new exhibition Rag Rugs from 14th January to 23rd February 2020. The Gallery walls will be filled with her distinctive proggy mats and wallhangings inspired by the land and seascapes of her Northumberland home. The exhibition will also feature a ‘Work in Progress’ piece for visitors to take part in developing a proggy wallhanging throughout the duration of the exhibition.
Margaret uses the traditional craft skills of proggy and hooky together with a variety of stitched techniques to create her pieces. She works exclusively with recycled and found fabrics, reflecting her passion of extending the life and history of each garment or fabric. Often using old sacks as her base fabric, she may incorporate any lettering into her design and leave frayed areas or holes exposed. Margaret says ‘what really appeals to me is the basic nature of the tools, materials and techniques which have changed very little since they were brought to Britain around the 15th century. Each piece of material I use comes with its own particular history which I extend and enhance by working it into a wall hanging, a rug or a cushion cover.
The traditional craft of Proggy Mat making was a way for poorer families to turn old, worn out textiles into decorative and practical rugs to keep warm. Men, women and children would work together: children ‘clipping’ or cutting up the old clothing used for the mats that were prodded or hooked through old potato sacks or feed sacks. Friends and neighbours would swap materials and work on each other’s rugs when visiting. Due to its working class roots, rag rugging never gained respectability. As a result it was never adopted as a recreational activity by the middle classes and so there is very little in the way of a recorded history. By the 1960s most people had fitted carpets and the craft died out. Over the past few decades there has been a resurgence of interest in rag rugging, particularly in Northumberland and Durham with the
formation of rag rugging groups and the creation of exciting work by individual textile artists such as Margaret Kenny, one of the original Rebel Rag Ruggers.
Margaret, formally trained as a painter, creates fantastic pieces that explore and are inspired by her everyday life and surroundings: the Northumberland coast, the Cheviot Hills and the changing shapes and textures of the fields and landscape. She explains ‘the techniques of rag rugging are very freeing and allow me to create pieces organically with most of the design happening at the end of the hook. I let each piece develop without using a formal or detailed design which means I can respond to the change of the seasons, the patterns of sand on a beach or the unexpected way a piece of fabric behaves when cut’.
Jane Mann, volunteer at Bailiffgate, says ‘we are delighted to welcome Margaret’s fabulous work to our Gallery. For centuries, families have used their skills, borne from necessity, to make practical rugs for their homes, while also providing an outlet individual creative expression. Margaret’s pieces are extraordinarily beautiful with added depth given by the way she contorts fabric into sculptural forms’.
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