See more of the Virtual Museum of Canada
image image
Mail Box Before E-commerce: A History of Canadian 
Mail-order Catalogues image
Mail box
Mail box
image Main Menu Sources Contributors Travelling Exhibition Feedback image Table of Contents
image Section Menu For Collectors - For Teachers - For Students
image Fashion to Furnishings
Fashion to Furnishings
Capturing Customers
Company Histories
Order to Delivery
Catalogues (1880-1975)
Games and Activities
  Hooking rugs promotional sign.  

Enlarge image.Merchant's promotional sign


Garrett's "Bluenose" Hooked Rugs
by Scott Robson

Throughout the first half of the 1900s, hooked mats on floors across Canada carried the name "Bluenose," a well-known Nova Scotian name. Some even carried an image of the famous fishing schooner of the same name. About 1926, the Garrett family business in Pictou County, Nova Scotia, adopted the word as its trade name for hooked mat patterns. Its printed burlap patterns, distributed by mail order, transported the name and the company's designs into homes far away. Although Garrett's was neither the first nor the only producer of hooking patterns in Nova Scotia, the company was certainly the largest, and by far the longest in operation.

The Garrett Business | John Garrett's First Patterns | Garrett Designs and Distribution

  Bluenose on Canadian dimes.  

Enlarge image.The schooner Bluenose was launched in 1921 at Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, and has appeared on Canadian dimes since 1937.

  Bluenose pattern for chair seat, 

Enlarge image."Bluenose," printed pattern for chair seat designed and printed by Garrett's, late 1940s, 50 x 50.7 cm.


The Garrett Business

  Early printed pattern for hooking, 

Enlarge image.One of John E. Garrett's earliest printed patterns for hooking.


In 1892, John E. Garrett (1865-1937) of New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, printed and sold his first "patterns" for hooking. These printed designs on burlap would become the base or foundation cloth for hooked mats, or rugs.

(In Nova Scotia today, many hookers still maintained the local usage of the word "mat," while people from other places say "rug." Garrett used "rug" in most cases, probably taking into consideration his American market, but he also advertised "door mats" and even used both together at times, as in "hooked rugs and mats.")

Although John started working in his father's upholstery and furniture business, he preferred to use his artistic talent to design mats. His small enterprise began in two rooms at home and grew into a company that served customers across Canada, as well as in Britain, the United States and elsewhere, including South Africa, New Zealand, Hawaii.

  Hooked rug on Garrett pattern, ca 

Enlarge image.Hooked rug on a Garrett pattern introduced about 1901,134.6 x 222.3 cm.

  Garrett ad, Family Herald & Weel;u 
Star, January 31, 1900.  

Enlarge image.Garrett's ad in the Family Herald & Weekly Star, January 31, 1900


In the first year, about 1800 patterns were sold; in the third year, over 6000. Efficient and economical production was required, so John developed his own simple printing method. In 1892, his first year of operation, he obtained a Canadian patent for his process of stamping designs on burlap.

  Garrett patterns and hooking 
materials, Simpson's Spring Summer 1941, p. 181.  

Enlarge image.Garrett patterns and hooking materials in Simpson's Spring/Summer Catalogue, 1941, p. 181


As production improved, output rose, and demand increased, John Garrett expanded distribution by mail order, with his own pattern design sheets and, later, catalogues. As early as 1900, he placed advertisements in various farm papers, but he found that the most successful vehicle was the popular Family Herald & Weekly Star, published in Montréal. The business expanded to the extent that, by the onset of the First World War, over 200 000 yards of burlap were used annually.

  Garrett`s hooking machine.  

Enlarge image.Garrett's hooking machine with box, patented 1926.


Commercial activities of the Garrett business included the sale of wool yarn, hooks, binding, frames, and other materials, as well as several versions of a rug-hooking machine. Garrett began experimenting with various models and refinements of the machine, one called "Garrett's Rug Hooker" (advertised in 1920) and another named "Little Wonder." Finally, in 1926, he patented the Bluenose Rug Hooking Machine in Canada, the United States, and Great Britain. It was popular immediately, with about 12 000 selling in the first year. The machine was meant to be used with yarn, but could be used with finely cut rags.

  Garrett's catalogue 1930-31.  

Enlarge image.Garrett's catalogue, 1930-31. The hooker is using a Bluenose hooking machine and frame.


Three of John's children were employed in the business. Frank (1892-1958) and Cecil (1902-1954) worked at the main factory in New Glasgow. Arthur (1888-1954) managed the branch factory at Malden, Massachusetts. The branch had opened in 1929, but the company had operated an outlet in the Boston area from about 1902, at various addresses; Arthur's wife, Katherine, continued to run that location after Arthur's death. Frank's son, Cameron, took over the New Glasgow location after his father's death in 1958.

  Garrett's catalogue 1940.  

Enlarge image.Garrett's catalogue, 1940.


Printed rug patterns declined through the 1960s and 1970s, then ceased; the remaining stock was sold into the 1980s. In 1985, Ed MacArthur, who had worked as general manager, bought the business. He later sold the rug stencils to someone who wanted to print the patterns for sale.

John Garrett's First Patterns

  Halifax, 1879.  

Enlarge image.Lithographic bird's-eye view of Halifax, 1879 (detail).


At a time when business was booming, Cecil Garrett described his father's start in the rug hooking industry in a talk given in October 1927. According to Cecil, it all began in 1879 when John Garrett saw rug patterns on burlap in a store window in Halifax as he walked to work:

"The owner of that store made an assignment. The stock was bought by an auctioneer firm, Shand, Ferguson & Clay ... They were afraid the Rug Patterns would not sell, and they marked them down, with the result that they were about the first things that did sell. Mr Ferguson, who was more or less of an artist, made some patterns, and they sold. Later on this man Ferguson moved to New Glasgow, and opened a store next door to my grandfather's furniture store ... He still continued to make Mat or Rug patterns for his retail trade, and any surplus stock he shipped to Halifax. These patterns were all made with stencils.

"On one occasion, Mr Ferguson commissioned my Father, who was then only eighteen, when on a trip to Boston, to get him a few patterns there from which to get ideas, and coming home on the boat, it occurred to my Father that these patterns should be printed. So, when he arrived home, he jig-sawed a scroll out of basswood, rolled an ink roller over it, and placing a piece of burlap on that, rolled it with a metal roller for a weight, and it was a success, and we have been making Rug Patterns ever since!

"The first season's sales of Patterns were only one hundred and fifty dozen [1800], the second, three hundred and fifty dozen [4200], third, five hundred and eight dozen [6096]. Last season was eleven thousand dozen [132 000]. For the past three years our order for burlap has been 150,000 yards [137 000 km] each year."

Garrett Designs and Distribution

  Garrett's ad in The United Farmer`s 
Guide, 1921, p. 23.  

Enlarge image.Garrett's ad in The United Farmer's Guide (Gardenville, Quebec), November 15,1921, p. 23. "The free design sheet is yours for the asking, with 67 pretty rug designs."


In more than 80 years, the firm printed burlap patterns with hundreds of designs, many drawn by John and then by his son Frank, who had trained as a commercial artist. These designs can be traced through the pattern sheets and catalogues, which were often issued yearly. An advertisement in the Family Herald & Weekly Star on February 28, 1900, boasted "over sixty designs for mat hookers" in six sizes. In 1925, there were "more than a hundred designs." Some were inspired by older mats and some were adapted from patterns bought in Boston; a few have been identified as versions of Edward Frost's designs, which are well known in New England. However, most of the designs were created by Frank Garrett and his father.

  Garrett's pattern sheet, 1923-24, in 

Enlarge image.Garrett's pattern sheet for 1923-24


Soon after 1900, Eaton's department store began to market Garrett patterns across Canada. The Hudson's Bay Company, Simpson's, and others followed. From the 1920s to the 1940s, Eaton's was Garrett's best customer for the mat patterns. In the winter of 1926-27, Eaton's sold over 900 dozen (10 800) of two designs alone.

   Canada welcomes Their Majesties,  

Printed sheet promoting a pattern designed by Frank Garrett for the royal visit to Canada in May and June 1939. The state crowns of the king and queen are bordered with shamrock, thistle, and rose, symbols for Great Britain, and a maple leaf for Canada.

Enlarge image.
   The Three Bears, 1932.   

"The Three Bears," a Garrett printed pattern, 74 x 113.5 cm. According to Cameron Garrett: "Along with the schooner Bluenose, The Three Bears was our all-time best-seller." (Canadian Living, September 5, 1987). Both patterns had been introduced in the 1932 catalogue and remained popular in Canadian and American markets.

Enlarge image.
   Garrett patterns and hooker, Simpson's 
Fall Winter 1935-36, p. 155.   

Garrett patterns and hooker as seen in Simpson's Fall/Winter Catalogue, 1935-36, p. 155 (detail).

Enlarge image.

The patterns were stamped on jute burlap, then hand-coloured, to suggest placement of colours and to brighten the rather drab effect of black ink on jute cloth. As Garrett's pattern sheet for 1921 said: "Our Rug Patterns are stamped on a special make strong burlap which we have manufactured expressly for Rug Patterns. Flowers and leaves, etc. are all in natural colors; maple leaves are in autumn colors and scrolls are generally dark and light brown. It is not necessary for you to use these colors. You should be governed by your own taste and also the Rags which you have at hand."

  Detail of hooked rug, ca 1900.  

Enlarge image.Hooked rug (detail) on a Garrett pattern introduced around 1900.

  Hooked rug, ca 1930.  

Enlarge image.Hooked rug on a Garrett pattern introduced around 1930, 89 x 172 cm.

  Garrett's factory, ca 1916.  

Enlarge image.John Garrett's factory as illustrated in Nova Scotia's Industrial Centre: New Glasgow, Stellarton, Westville, Trenton (1916).


In addition to designing and printing patterns for hooking, the firm operated a print shop for a number of years (it was sold around 1923), where it likely produced its own pattern sheets and catalogues. The business was described in 1916: "The only factory in Canada for the manufacture of Burlap Rug patterns for home made rugs … the output of which is sold throughout the Dominion and Newfoundland. Mr. Garrett also conducts the New Glasgow Printery and is also a large producer of artistic signs and banners." (Nova Scotia's Industrial Centre: New Glasgow, Stellarton, Westville, Trenton)

To augment their business, the Garretts attempted various other ventures. In 1901, for example, John Garrett advertized that he sold printed patterns for tape lace ("Battenburg") and embroidery, and, in the 1970s and '80s, his grandson, Cameron Garrett, sold second-hand furniture and antiques. This diversification compensated for downturns in business, especially during the two world wars, when it was very difficult to obtain the burlap, which was loomed in Scotland to Garrett's specifications. By the 1960s, the market for patterns was very weak, and interest in the rug hooking machine nearly ceased.

  Range of popular patterns, 1930 to 

Enlarge image.Garrett's 1970 catalogue presented a range of popular patterns that first appeared from 1930 to 1956.


Advertisements and catalogues for Garrett's illustrate the rise and decline of the company, from an energetic small business to a large-scale international mail-order company. The changing assortment of patterns included many flower and scroll designs, periodic introductions of new patterns, and designs revived from earlier decades.

  Garrett's printed jute pattern of the 

Enlarge image.Garrett's pattern for the schooner Bluenose, printed on jute.


The last Garrett catalogue was published in 1974 and was used for several years with a few handwritten amendments. Only one new pattern had been introduced since 1964 (in 1971), a clear indication of the lack of interest and diminishing business.

In private homes and museum collections across Canada and the United States, there are probably many mats or rugs made from the 1890s to the 1960s that are not recognized as commercial "pattern" mats; few are ascribed to designers or pattern printers. They might well have been hooked on "Bluenose" patterns distributed by mail by three generations of the family business that was started by John E. Garrett in 1892, in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia.



top of page
image image