Although it is difficult to determine exactly when rug hooking began, we know that its origins are North American. Several clues lead us to believe that it first started in the mid-19th century. For example, rugs are most often hooked on burlap, which did not become commercially available in North America until the 1850s, precisely the period when hooking became widely practised.
In Great Britain, the first hooked rugs appeared at the end of the 19th century, almost 50 years after the technique had been mastered in North America. The oldest known hooked rug in Canada was designed by 16-year-old Susanna Smith and crafted by her 13-year-old sister Abigail in 1860 at New Maryland (near Fredericton), New Brunswick.
The custom of using an embroidery hoop, which had been around for several centuries, facilitated the development of hooking. The technique then spread rapidly along the Atlantic Coast, through the St. Lawrence Valley, Acadia, and inland to Ontario and Pennsylvania. Because of their isolation and lack of means of communication, home-based rug hookers developed techniques and decorative elements characteristic of their regions.
The Canadian Museum of Civilization owns an impressive collection of close to 400 hooked rugs, principally from Eastern Canada. The Museum's collection is a superb showcase of the evolution of this popular art form from the 19th century to the present, and allows us to discover the history and richness of this craft.