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.

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 operatio Read More
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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

© Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation

Colour photo of Merchant's Promotional Sign

Make Your Own Hooked Rugs with the "Bluenose". Hooker-Patterns-Yarns

Nova Scotia Museum

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© Nova Scotia Museum


Colour photo of one of a printed pattern for hooking

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

Nova Scotia Museum

81.55.1
© Nova Scotia Museum


Colour photo of a rug hooker and its box

Garrett's hooking machine with box, patented 1926.

Nova Scotia Museum

72.56.1
© Nova Scotia Museum


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 Read More
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."

© Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation

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.

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.

The patterns were stamped on jute burlap, then hand-coloured, to suggest placement of colours and to brighten t Read More
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.

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.

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."

n 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.

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.

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.

© Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation

Catalogue page of patterns

Garrett's pattern sheet for 1923–24

Nova Scotia Museum

87.42.4
© Nova Scotia Museum


Colour photo of Three Bears Pattern

"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.

Nova Scotia Museum

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© Nova Scotia Museum


Black and white photo of John Garrett's Factory

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

Nova Scotia Museum

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© Nova Scotia Museum


Colour photo of the schooner Bluenose Pattern

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

Nova Scotia Museum

© Nova Scotia Museum


Learning Objectives

The learner will:
  • observe and identify the characteristics of early 20th century lifestyle;
  • compare the evolution of the Canadian and Quebec society over several decades;
  • explain the similarities and differences between past and present society;
  • discuss the main events of the 20th century (economic crisis, World Wars, unionization, feminist movement) and the impact that they had on Canadian and Quebec societies.

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