Silk Stocking Mats: Hooked Mats Of The Grenfell Mission
Paula Laverty

McGill-Queen's University Press

Anyone fortunate enough to have seen the travelling exhibit of mats from the Grenfell Mission a few years ago will remember the exquisite rug-hooking and the sophisticated, faded silk colours. Women’s work in this case was also clearly textile art.

Laverty, the curator responsible for that exhibition (which originated at the Textile Museum in Toronto) has written a short and interesting history of the Grenfell Mission and the anonymous women who made the mats.

Dr. Wilfred Grenfell first came to Newfoundland in 1892 under the auspices of the Royal National Mission to the Deep Sea Fisherman, a medical and religious organisation ministering to the needs of fishermen at sea. In 1906, in order to combat the bone-deep poverty of the fishermen and their families, he introduced The Industrial, a weaving and handicraft industry designed to help local women augment the unreliable income from the fish catch by making items for sale outside of Newfoundland.

By 1908 the women were producing hand-hooked mats – for sale. They had always made these mats for home consumption, and it was said that a rag didn’t end its life until it was hooked into a rug. Now they had a dollar value on their work. The income from the mats could be as much as $20 per worker – this when an annual family income was less than $500. This was a substantial addition to the family coffers.

First made of flannel, cotton, and anything else that was fine enough to be hooked, the mats were eventually made of donated silk stockings and underwear which had been dyed and cut into strips. The women lovingly captured in fabric the flowers of Newfoundland, the landscape, the dogs, the ships: the northern motifs were a natural for the subtle vegetable dyes.

The mats were made up until the late 1960s (some are still being made today in very limited quantities by Grenfell Handicrafts, a private enterprise) and while they lasted they were enormously popular, and were sold throughout Canada and the United States. Silk Stocking Mats is lavishly illustrated with 92 full-colour depictions of the mats, as well as with black and white photographs of the workers and of some of the advertising displays from earlier decades. mRb