This striking knitted rug is attributed to Elvira Curtis Hulett, a Hancock Shaker, on the basis of a note on the backing of an example almost identical in design and technique. The note identifies the rug as the work of "Sister Elvira in 1892 in her eighty-eighth year."2 Hulett entered the Hancock community as a child in 1812. She apparently was engaged in textile production during the course of her long life as a Believer; her name appears on an early-nineteenth-century pattern draft for huckaback, a type of weave.3
The rug is a technical tour de force. It is distinguished by a brilliant use of contrasting colors and the varied patterns—crosses, diamonds, checkerboards, and chevrons—that decorate each of its concentric rings.4 These patterns are suggestive of Hulett's early experience as a weaver. She knitted the rug in strips of two or more colors worked together. The strips were sewn together, and then the rug was edged with a braid of woven fabric. The center clockwise spiral tapers to a point, forming a circle, which is surrounded by five knitted rings, each with a different pattern.5
It is not certain whether this rug was intended for sale or for use within the community. The late nineteenth century was a time of new directions within the United Society-in part an effort to resist the tides of communal disintegration. At Hancock, for example, the trustees' office, the building in which business with the non-Shaker world was transacted, was remodeled in 1895 "to conform to the prevailing Victorian architectural fashion."6 Interior decoration-colorful wallpapers, ornamental moldings, and linoleum floor coverings-were now countenanced, and Sister Elvira's exuberant rug would not have been out of place in this new Shaker environment. -G.C.W.
1 Beverly Gordon, Shaker Textile Arts (Hanover, N.H. Univ. Press of New England, 1980), pp. 95-9 6.
2 June Sprigg, Shaker Design (New York: WMAA in association with W.W. Norton, 1986), p.188.
3 Gordon, Shaker Textile Arts, P.56.
4 Sprigg, Shaker Design, p.188.
5 For her technical analysis of Hulett's rug, I am indebted to my colleague Joan Walsh.
6 Deborah E. Burns, Shaker Cities of Peace, Love, and Union (Hanover, N.H.: Univ. Press of New England, 1993), p. 170.
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