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First Hand

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a. What is mat hooking?

The mat hooking of Atlantic Canada and New England is distinct from other rug hooking because the wool loops of the mats are not individually knotted with a hinged hook. Instead, the rug pile is formed by holding strips of fabric approximately 1 cm wide under coarsely woven backing, usually burlap, and pulling it in loops through the weave at regular intervals with a small hook. Using the same basic method, mat hookers can also use yarn, and the loops may be clipped to create different textures. Most often, the pile is left in the loops, making the mats more durable.

To hook a mat, the backing was stretched over a simple wooden frame that could be rested between two chairs or saw horses. The first mat hookers fashioned their hooks by filing the end of a nail into a slight hook and embedding the nail into a small block of wood shaped to fit comfortably in the hand. The mat's pattern was sketched onto the backing material with charcoal or, later, with coloured pencils or felt markers. Toward the end of the 19th century, pre-printed burlap was sold through Eaton's Catalogue, and it became common to find mats from all over the Maritimes with exactly the same patterns, varying only in colour; geometric designs of this kind were particularly popular on Prince Edward Island. Today frames, hooks, and materials are specially designed for hooking and can be purchased "ready to hook" at supply stores.

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