The Scott Carpet

(Brace yourselves, this is a LONG post.)

While I was visiting my grandmother, I got curious about a piece of woven carpet that she has on her wall. I knew a little bit about it, but everything I knew prompted me to ask more questions!

Family history

Hanging on the wall

Here’s what I knew, to start with:

  • This was an offcut/remnant of a larger carpet (sized to fit a large room, wall-to-wall) that a female ancestor made in the 19th century
  • She did the entire production herself — scouring and dyeing the wool, spinning the yarn, weaving it, and seaming the finished carpet
  • The large carpet is on display at the local museum in Perth, ON — we went to see it sometime in the early 1990s when we were in town for a Scott family reunion
  • Various members of my extended family have inherited pieces like the remnant on my grandmother’s wall

Those little fragments of knowledge led to lots of questions:

  • Who WAS the female ancestor?
  • How did she make this giant carpet?
  • When did she make it?
  • What dyes did she use? The colours (even on the carpet in the museum, which was heavily used for many years) are still very bright; was it naturally dyed, as my grandfather believed, or were some of the colours from chemical dyes?
  • How unusual IS this carpet? Is it just uncommon for them to survive, or was it a rarity in its own time?
Family history

Made into a wall hanging by my grandmother

Granny told me that she had received a piece of carpet remnant from my grandfather’s sister, who never married/had children, and that Granny herself was the one who cut up the remnant and made it into this wall-hanging herself, and gave pieces to her children (including my mother). I asked her about the tassel; she couldn’t remember for certain, but thought that she had also received some yarn that had never actually been woven into the carpet. It’s definitely the same yarn used, though. (If my handspun ever looks that even…!)

Anyway, enough about the remnant — let’s look at the actual carpet! Granny has a scrapbook of photos from this side of the family, and we sat down with it to do some searching.

Family history

The carpet itself!

The back of the photo reads, in unidentified handwriting:

1992. Aug 22/92. Jack Scott + Jean McDonald at 72 Harvey St. with carpet from “Maple Hall Farm” woven from raw wool about 1887 by their grandmother Ellen “Beatty” Scott.

Carpet donated to Perth Museum.

Carpet purchased by Jessie Scott from Bill Scott for $2000 at the time he sold the home farm in 1974.

As you can see, that carpet is not just a little area rug — it’s massive.

This is Maple Hall Farm, where Ellen Beatty Scott lived (more about her later). The carpet covered the floor of an entire wing of the house!

Family history

Maple Hall Farm

In the scrapbook of photos that Granny and I were poring through, there was also a snippet from a newspaper, which identifies “The Scott Rug” as 17′ by 18′. SEVENTEEN by EIGHTEEN FEET. There isn’t a room in my house that is that large! To my mind, this is no “rug”, this is a full-on CARPET.

Family history

An undated notice from an unnamed newspaper about the Perth Museum, which identifies “The Scott Rug” and its size

So, we know that the creator of this carpet was Ellen Beatty Scott, and that she made it around 1887. Surely, such a thing would have taken her years?

The carpet keeps cropping up in other family photos. Here’s Ellen’s daughter, Jean Scott, marrying Maxwell Gibson, in 1910; look what they’re standing on. (Incidentally, Jean and Maxwell were the parents of my mother’s father. They moved to Saskatchewan after their wedding, and my grandfather, the middle of 5 children, was born in 1914.)

Family history

The back of the photo reads: “Jean Scott & Max Gibson married at Maple Hall Farm on Jan 12/1910 Note the carpet on the floor”

Another wedding, in 1943, shows another Jean Scott marrying Leslie McDonald, standing on that distinctive carpet. (Jean McDonald and her brother are the ones holding the carpet on the lawn in the photo above.)

Family history

The note next to this photocopy of the photo reads: “Jean (Scott) McDonald & Leslie McDonald married in 1943 at Maple Hall Farm. This picture taken in the room with the carpet on the floor.”

Let’s backtrack just a little… I’ve figured out by now that Ellen Beatty Scott was my great-great-grandmother. Her mother was another Ellen, Ellen Armstrong, who married William Beatty in 1835. (There was a “Grandmother Beatty” who came from Paisley, Scotland, to Perth, Canada, in 1821. I think she must have been the Scottish Isabel Robb/Rabb [born 1775] who married Irishman Walter Beatty/Beattie [born 1776] to form lineage 395 in this list. That would make her William Beatty’s mother, Ellen Beatty Scott’s grandmother., and the first of this side of my family to come to Canada.)

Here’s Ellen Beatty, and her husband, William Armstrong Scott. (There are two different bunches of Armstrongs, I think. And a lot of Williams, Ellens, Jeans, and Jacks.) They married in 1877.

Family history

Ellen Beatty Scott, alone (R) and with her husband, William Armstrong Scott.

William and Ellen Scott had three children, Jean (my great-grandmother, the one in the 1910 wedding photo above), James/Jim, and John/Jack.

I’m guessing that it was around the time of this photo that Ellen went away for a summer to weave the carpet. (We know she wove it about 10 years after her marriage; I’m guessing by the ages of the children that this picture must have been taken roughly that long after, as well.) She went to stay with someone (her father, I think, or possibly an uncle) who had a loom.

Family history

Jean Scott Gibson with brothers Jack and Jim — the children of Ellen Beatty Scott

There’s a lovely shot of Ellen with her three grown children. Not too long after it was taken (maybe a few years, not more), Jim was killed in a farming accident at age 33, leaving his wife and two young boys. One of them was the Bill Scott who sold the carpet to his cousin Jessie (one of Jack’s daughters?) in 1974.

Family history

Ellen (Beatty) Scott (far right) with her children: Jean (Scott) Gibson, James William Scott (Jim), John Beatty Scott (Jack)

And here’s my favourite picture of Ellen herself. That grin! Those smiling eyes!

Family history

Ellen Beatty Scott, 1839-1913, maker of the Scott Carpet

Now, back to the carpet. Here’s where the sleuthing really heats up!

I’m no weaving expert, but I can tell you that it was woven in strips, somewhere in the neighbourhood of 2-3′ wide, and seamed together. The stripes are the weft (?) — they run across the strip of fabric. And yet, when you see the whole carpet together, the seams are practically invisible, and the stripes line up perfectly! What looks in the remnant like a slightly random set of stripes does, in fact, repeat along the length of the carpet, too.

The carpet was in place in Maple Hall Farm for something like 87 years. It has stood up remarkably well, and the really amazing thing to my mind is that the colours are still so vibrant.

Family history

Woven stripes, intense colours!

I would really love to know what sorts of dyes Ellen would have had access to in the 1880s. My late grandfather (her grandson) and his sister both told my grandmother that it was “vegetable dyed” from Ellen’s own plants — but surely, surely, those vivid, glowing reds and oranges didn’t come from her garden? I can certainly imagine that the brownish shades (golds, browns, sage-y greens, etc.) were plant-based and home-grown, but the others?

I know that there’s a whole rainbow of natural dyes available, but the only brilliant red I know of is cochineal, which, being a beetle from South America, is not likely to have been in Ellen’s garden. Madder certainly would have been available, but I’ve never seen such an intense shade from it.

It seems to me that the dye might have been Alizarin crimson instead — the carpet was made over 15 years after it was first synthesized, though I have no idea if it was widely available in Canada by the time Ellen would have been dyeing her wool.

I’ve seen a brilliant, fairly colourfast yellow made from onion skin, but I don’t know if the natural dye process and the chemical dye process could have been used in tandem to combine yellow and red into the bright orange. (Would it work, or would the chemicals involved interfere with each other?)

There’s a bright pink, too — possibly a paler version of the red? I can more easily imagine this being dyed from some garden plant than any of the other vivid colours.

And then there’s the teal-y blue-green colour. It’s not an indigo blue, that seems fairly certain to me; for one thing, I doubt indigo would have lasted this long. I don’t know enough about dyes to guess at what else might make this kind of colour…

I am really interested to learn more about this carpet, and the tools and technologies that my great-great-grandmother would have used to produce it. It looks like I’ve got a fair bit of research ahead of me!

Post-script

Ellen was one of 12 children; one of her younger sisters bears mentioning here, too. Her accomplishments were of a completely different sort than Ellen’s — but highly admirable. Elizabeth Rabb Beatty was one of the first female med school graduates in Canada, and the first female medical missionary to India. She never had children, so I suppose I’m as close to a direct relation to her as anyone!

Family history

Elizabeth Rabb Beatty, centre, was Ellen’s sister

Post-post-script:

If all this genaeology stuff with the multiple repeated names, is as clear as mud, I’ve made a quick family tree chart of this branch of the family, to keep all the names and dates straight. I’ve highlighted my direct line of descent, and I’ve stopped with my parents’ generation…

(I have to apologize for the photo quality of some of these images — I didn’t have a scanner with me in Ottawa, so I just photographed the photos, and sometimes there’s glare/reflection/distortion…) 

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24 Comments

Filed under Adventures, Dyeing, Family, Scott Carpet

24 responses to “The Scott Carpet

  1. Amazing story! And I know you must have put in a ton of research time to be able to tell it. The carpet is truly unbelievable. It looks like it was dyed and woven yesterday. I also love that photo of Ellen – she reminds me so much of Elizabeth Zimmerman in that photo. Thanks for sharing this wonderful bit of fiber history.

    • Annie Bee

      Thanks, Elizabeth! Yes, Ellen DOES look like EZ — I’ve been trying to put my finger on the resemblance, and you’ve hit the nail on the head. Bingo!

      As for the research, it’s mostly been about picking my grandmother’s steel-trap brain. (Not bad, for a lady in her nineties!) My mother did some of the family-tree piecing a few years ago, so her notes in the scrapbook were also invaluable.

  2. iriegemini

    I can’t speak to the technical aspects but loved reading about the wall hanging, the carpet that led to it, and all the rich heritage! Hope you get good responses about the probable dyestuff & thank you for brightening my morning!

  3. What am amazing story! Now I want to go research dyes. Thanks for sharing!

  4. It is possible that the carpet originally had larger areas of colour; some of those browns could be dyes that faded. I’ve seen a number of hooked rugs from the 1860’s and earlier that were that sort of beige/brown, quite evenly, that apparently had been red. Natural red dyes in particular just don’t stick around.

    Though, come to think, I would think your grandmother would remember that her bit of the carpet once looked different. I’m not sure of the time scale involved in colours fading.

    • Annie Bee

      Hmm. Granny’s probably only had her piece of the carpet for 30 or 40 years, and given that she’s blind now, I’m not sure she WOULD know if it had faded. But I know that the other remnants, which aren’t necessarily displayed in as much sunlight, are pretty similar in colour. It’s a good point, though, that the “neutrals” probably weren’t as neutral as they are now…

      • My understanding (limited as it is), is that some dyes/colours will fade regardless of sun exposure. What would be very interesting would be to compare the various remnants, and also compare them with the carpet that’s been donated!

      • Annie Bee

        ROAD TRIP! 😀

  5. Maegan B

    What an amazing story. I really enjoyed reading. I know nothing about weaving, dyeing, etc., but I still loved this so much! You’re a great story teller 🙂

  6. Annie Bee

    BREAKING NEWS:

    I’ve learned a few more things, from family members and Ravelry users:

    — Ellen wove the carpet at her father’s house in Lansdowne, Ont., during the WINTER, not the summer, which does make more sense for a farmer’s wife.

    — Her father was apparently a weaver by trade, so he would have had a fair-sized loom, we think.

    — It seems likely that the carpet is linsey-woolsey — i.e., a linen warp for strength and non-stretchiness, and the wool weft, for colour and texture. We have no idea if Ellen spun the linen herself, or (more likely) bought that premade.

    — I’ve contacted the Perth Museum to see what information they have on hand about Ellen and/or the carpet, and I’ll post again when I have more information!

    • it is entirely possible that she spun the linen herself; for the most part women did.
      I believe that there was a large flax mill operation in Wellesley around the 1870s, and while it’s not exactly close to Perth, there would have been trade routes (and probably a train. Not sure how close to Perth it went, but definitely there was a train)

      ahh, I’m totally taking over your comments section! Sorry! It’s all just so fascinating!

  7. Great story and wonderful rug…thanks for the post! Isn’t it amazing what extraordinary work “ordinary” people do? did?

  8. I don’t know about the colour fastness, but natural dyes can produce shockingly bright colours, depending on the mordant. I have a skein of wool dyed with saffron which almost offensively day-glo orange! I think the salmon pink could be done using madder, it can produce pinks, reds and russets depending on the mordant. The mulberry dyer might be a good person to ask, she’s on Rav and has a website, she dyes for re-enactment:
    http://www.ravelry.com/groups/a-colourful-history

    • Annie Bee

      Thank you so much — that’s a lot of great information! I did wonder about madder, but I hadn’t thought about saffron. Hmmm… Off to find the mulberry dyer! (This is starting to feel, and sound, like some sort of mythical quest…)

  9. This kind of research is so much fun! My own genealogy research occurs in bursts of energy and then gets sidetracked by life. I can’t wait to hear more about the carpet and dyes.

  10. You’ve done a whole lot of work on this! It’s nice to be able to see the carpet after hearing you talk about it. It was *huge*.

  11. Meredith Harmon

    Hello,

    Lovely article! One way to get a screaming neon orange is to use the inner bark of black oak trees and overdye with cochineal (I’ve been told it’s called “Aurora Orange”). For cochineal’s history, I suggest the book “A Perfect Red” by Amy Butler Greenfield. I believe black oak bark was known as far back as colonial times for dye purposes, but that would need more research to confirm.

    I do a lot of dyeing with cochineal, and you can get a wide range of beautiful reds & purples – deep vibrant colors. They’re very colorfast as well, in my experience. Very little fading that I’ve noticed after years of use.

    One of my pics of Aurora Orange, if you’re interested: http://www.gemistry.com/Dye071409a.JPG

    -M Harmon

    • Annie Bee

      Oh, that’s fascinating! That IS an intense orange. It sounds like a definite possibility for the carpet, given the brightness and the colourfastness. Hmmm…!