The Vermont Rug Farm is the third in my Sunday series featuring American Artisans. There are so many exceptionally talented craftspeople across the country who share a love of all things handmade, and this is my chance to introduce them to you. These artisans are creating beautiful and useful products that elevate the experience of everyday cooking and eating, and they’re using skills and techniques that might otherwise be lost in our era of throwaway mass production. Their work makes me happy, and I hope it does the same for you. Each feature will be paired with a giveaway to give you the chance to experience their work for yourselves. I’ll be doing these features every other Sunday for the foreseeable future, so be sure to check back, and enjoy!
Today we’re traveling to snowy New England to visit with Hal and Wyfy Issente, a husband and wife team who’ve been weaving stunning rag rugs on their Woodstock Vermont farm for over 30 years. Their colorful rugs and runners are woven from fabric scraps that would otherwise be discarded, and they turn cotton rags, (fabric remnants that are brand-new but considered “waste” by textile companies) into one of a kind creations. In one sense they’re carrying on a centuries old tradition, but in another, they’re at the forefront of the contemporary craze for ‘upcycling’. They currently sell their rugs on Etsy, and their pieces have been sent all over the country, and the world. (Apparently, international buyers from Australia and New Zealand love rag rugs!) They’ve done custom orders for movie set stylists and interior designers, as well as regular folks like you and me. I’m so happy to have them here with us today, they represent the best of the best in their field.
If you ask me, every kitchen needs at least one rag rug. I love their subtle colors and nubbly texture, I think they give a room a warm, inviting look. I always keep one under the sink area to catch stray drips, and to keep my feet cozy, since I often cook barefoot. Hey, I live in California — if I lived in Vermont, I’d probably cover every square inch of the kitchen with these rugs!
Rag rugs have been around for centuries, and they were originally a thrifty way of using up every scrap of valuable fabric. Hal and Wyfy have made an art form out of what was originally a frugal necessity. Plaids, stripes, solids, even polka dots, somehow come together in a subtle harmony once they are made into strips and tightly woven, row after row, into these lovely textiles.
Rag rugs have a charming ‘random’ quality to them, with colorful stripes and micro patterns that change every few inches. But while the designs might look random, a lot of planning goes into the making of these rugs. According to Hal, every rug starts with “a color board of fabric swatches. Once the colors are chosen, we weigh the fabric (a certain amount of fabric is needed for different rugs) according to the colors. Then the fabric is cut into strips and sewn into a sequential pattern for the project. When we start to weave, the rags are arranged next to the loom in the intended weaving pattern.” In addition to the familiar variegated stripes, the Vermont Rug Farm also makes rugs in other patterns, using both bright and muted shades, and will do custom colors and sizes, too, so it’s like having your own personal rug designer – how cool is that?
Mass produced rag rugs are available everywhere these days, and sometimes it can be a little bit of sticker shock when you see the price tag of a handmade item. I’m guilty of it, for sure, I’ll grab the super cheap rugs at big box stores, but they last only until I happen to spill some brownie batter on them, and that’s the end of their useful life. When a rag rug is hand made with a precise, tight weave, it will be washable and last for years. One of the reasons I started this series was to highlight the wisdom of buying better quality (i.e. handmade) things to use and to cherish, instead of purchasing and repurchasing inferior products to use up and toss out. It just makes sense.
These rag rugs are woven on looms, and the Issente’s have several custom made looms at their studio, the biggest one has a 12 foot weaving width and was handmade by Hal himself. It is completely powered by human hands despite the enormous size. The front and back beams were custom-made by a local Vermont ski lift company with steel beams 5″ diameter and 12′ feet long. Coincidentally, the rug shuttles are made from vintage wooden skis! So you can see there’s a little bit of Vermont woven into each and every one of these rugs.
I’m sure there’s a pretty huge range of kitchen styles between all of us here right now, but I think the ‘farmhouse chic’ of a beautifully crafted rag rug works anywhere, whether it’s just to keep your feet comfy, or to make a design statement. I’m really proud to have Hal and Wyfy here as part of the American Artisan series, and I hope you enjoy their work as much as I do. If you live in New England you may catch The Vermont Rug Farm at local craft fairs, including the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen events, as well as in Vermont State Craft Centers. Please visit them and explore their work online, you can find their Etsy shop HERE.
The Vermont Rug Farm is generously giving away a kitchen-sized 3’ x 5’ rug or a pair of 2’ x 4’ runners to one lucky reader*
If you are already on the mailing list, you’re good to go.
(Giveaway ends Friday march 6th.)
*The winner of the Vermont Rug Farm giveaway is Deborah Hawkes *
NOTE: my mailing list will not be shared with anyone, and is only used to send out notifications of new posts, and our weekly newsletter. From time to time I will be including subscriber only recipes and perks. You can unsubscribe at any time. I have not been compensated in any way by the artisans in this series.
*the item(s) must be in-stock and cannot be a custom order. The winner is responsible for shipping costs (>$13).
I’d love to know what you think of these beautiful rugs, and how you are liking the series so far — leave me a comment and let me know!