The earliest rugs used potato or grain sacks as backing. This cheap, popular source of canvas was widely available, durable, and easily handled. Gunnysacks, initially imported from India to England in the 1820s, were introduced into North America in mid-century and their use quickly became widespread.
To make rugs, artists unsewed the seams of gunnysacks and stretched the resulting canvas on a home-made loom. Some hooked without using a loom, supporting the work on their knees.
The loom was usually made from soft wood so that the nails and staples holding the canvas could be easily hammered in. The traditional loom consisted of a frame formed by four laths, two of them mobile so that the work surface could be moved around as required. At the turn of the century, commercially made looms appeared on the market. Some were free standing, while others had two cylinders making it possible to roll unused canvas onto one cylinder and the completed work onto the other.