My Mother, the Mat Maker

She loved making colourful patterns and dying rags to help out the usual dark clippings from men's serge suits.

My mother was a great handworker from being a little girl, crochet, knitting and sewing – she could do anything, and always wanted to be busy every minute, her hands were never idle. She and my dad moved to the butchering business in New York in 1931, after my grandparents moved out and found it rather bleak, as my grandmother didn’t believe in too much comfort for her family. The house, which connected to the business, was large with six good-sized rooms upstairs and a thirty-five-foot landing running between the bedrooms.

The stairs and downstairs passage had a blue patterned carpet but the landing had just highly polished linoleum and a small piece of carpet, which was left loose (we had a great time giving each other rides along the polished floor). My mother set to work to make neat wool rugs to fit in all the upstairs doorways and a square for the bottom of the stairs (some of which are still in existence).

The mat frames were often erected making hooky and clippy mats for the kitchen scullery and bathroom, which was a large bedroom converted. She loved making colourful patterns and dying rags to help out the usual dark clippings from men’s serge suits. She also made superior wool rugs for some of the bedrooms.

The blue stair carpet was thin in 1930 and by the early 40s it was on its last legs, but the war was on and soft furnishings hard to come by. My mother must have saved some dockets or whatever was issued to householders during the war, and a plain good quality carpet was acquired for the stairs and downstairs passage – but what about the long landing?

She had some rug making wool in two shades of brown, and she and my sister went to Newcastle to the wholesale, and acquired large thrums of off-white dishcloth cotton and a long strip of hessian to fit the upstairs landing. The frames were erected, and the work began. There was a diagonal pattern in two shades of brown and the whole filled-in with the off-white dishcloth cotton. I never helped as my efforts were no good even for the simplest hooky (my mother usually made hooky as opposed to clippy) mats. All my clippings fell out, as they were never as tightly packed as a strong mat required.

On and on went the roll, getting bigger and bigger, thicker and thicker. Two of the men from the shop came in to help turn it and the roll rose higher and higher. Customers buying their meat would pop in to check on the progress of this (to our eyes) gigantic undertaking. When it was at last finished and the men had struggled to cope with the monster for the last time, it was borne aloft in triumph with everyone crowding upstairs to see it in all its glory. And what luxury! How deep the pile! It was my mother’s greatest hour.

Mam went on to make ever more colourful mats for all the family and actually went to the windmill at Lytham-St-Annes to exhibit her works and demonstrate mat making. My brother is in the craft society there and thought it would be of interest in a special week of home craft. It was!

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