A hand knotted rug – yarn or fabric is pulled through a squared canvas with a rug hook–the yarn is held beneath the canvas, and looped up at regular intervals from above with the hook: the sequence of loops form the pile.
Latch-hooking is a variant, whereby short lengths of wool are folded in half to create a loop, which is then hooked through a squared canvas with a latched-hook; this pulls the wool ends back through the original loop, creating a knot: the ends form the pile.
Hugely time and labour consuming, large hooked rugs are almost always made in teams; as each person has their own slightly different working tension each part of the rug has slight variations in appearance and technique.
The rug maker either makes up his own design based closely on a traditional design, or follows a pre-printed or pre-determined pattern.
My grandmother had made a fireside rug, a mix of oranges, reds and browns; when I asked her about the pattern she replied that she’s just followed her thoughts. I was making a hooked rug myself at the time ( winter evenings in the countryside before television ) following a formal pattern that I thought looked far superior – now I’d rather have hers, as it’s unique and personal.
Rag rugs are made according to the same principle, using short lengths of waste fabric. As with patchwork, these can become heirlooms, redolent with memories of that jacket or curtain, this dress or bedcover; or it can even be a finer piece for a bedroom, using strips from old ball gowns.