Like I said, I’m becoming a resident vintage and antiques expert at Listia. Recently I was helping identify an item listed as “Tell Me What This Is” — headlines like that will always pull me in. *wink*
I immediately knew what it was, as I own several of these items myself. It’s a rug making shuttle or a rug shuttle needle. I know because the box on my Betsey Ross Rug Needle tells me so!
I just had to have this one because of it’s ties to women’s history, the fact that it had it’s original box, and the wicked looking nature of the tool itself.
Since then, I’ve been able to identify the other old wooden ones that I’ve ignorantly wound-up with over the years, being in auction box lots of old sewing and things.
I’ve not put any of mine into use yet, but it’s rather simple — the wooden “shuttle” pushes or prods the metal piece which pushes or prods the fabric strips through material backing, such as burlap, etc. It’s rather easy to see the process in these photos of my old wooden 1100 Kirkwood Of Des Moines shuttle.
Rugs including rag rugs made this way are often called “proddy rugs” for this prodding action.
While in my original comments at the auction at Listia I focused on the proddies (the strip of fabric in the Listia auction photo “prodded” me into thinking of those *wink*), these are also used to make “punch needle” style rugs too. Punch needle rugs are much like rug hooking, only you punch the thread or fabric through the back of the canvas rather than using the latch hooks most hobby kits have today.
Here’s what the Betsey Ross, ATK Product, box has to say:
Thread as shown, push needle point through canvas and operate handles up and down, keeping the bottom of one of the handles on the canvas at all times and move toward the right. The length of the stitch can be regulated by bending the needle in for short stitches and out for long stitches, always be sure to have the yarn or rag free from tension so the loops will not pull out when the needle point is raised up and down. To get a chenille effect clip the loops with scissors. With a little practice beautiful rugs can be produced with this needle.
Rug shuttles like this may still be made; but I prefer to use older items myself — makes me feel like I’m part of the tradition and closer to the women who crafted this way. I’m no Betsey Ross, either in historic terms or crafting proficiency, but just owning this makes me feel closer to her and generations of women who once had such skills. My hands sweat where another’s once did. Or, rather, mine will once I find the time to sit down and give rug making a try.
I probably need to stop writing about antiques and collectibles to find that time, huh? *wink*
For further reading, I suggest quilt and hooked rug restorer Tracy Jamar‘s article A Few Loops Of Hooked Rug History and this basic page on hooked rugs at Red Clover Rugs.