A couple inspired by a dying art form have created an exhibition of over 400 original pieces using recycled materials.

The exhibition has launched at Ryedale Folk Museum exploring the art of celebrated rag rug artists Lewis and Louisa Creed. Between them, the married couple created over 400 original and creative artworks using recycled materials. Now, a dozen are on display at the Museum until Sunday, July 9.

It began 35 years ago when Louisa first saw a traditional rag rug in a museum. Rag rugs have been created within the homes of the everyday people of Great Britain for centuries. Embellishing a piece of textile with loops made from recycled fabric was a very practical response to poverty and need. But, by the 1980s, it was in decline. Fearing that she had encountered a dying art form, Louisa decided to have a go herself.

“We’re absolutely delighted to be able to share these beautiful artworks from our collection,” says Events Coordinator, Rosie Barrett. “Lewis and Louisa’s rugs show us the artistic potential to be found within simple recycled materials. At a time when so many people are looking for creative ways to reuse and recycle, it’s wonderful to be able to showcase the couple’s wall hangings – and hopefully inspire visitors too!”

Louisa uses a hooky rug technique where long strips of fabric are pulled through hessian with a hook. Her husband Lewis also took up the craft after almost a decade spent observing his wife at work. Lewis passed away in 2021, but his legacy remains and Louisa, now in her 80s, is still crafting.

“Traditionally, the hessian bases needed for rag rugs were often taken from old food sacking, reminding us of moments in history when nothing was wasted,” says Rosie. “Though Louisa has always purchased new hessian, her rags continue to use recycled materials.

“Becoming known sometimes as ‘thrift rugs’, rag rugs originally offered a resourceful way to create warmth and thickness out of old scraps. It is not surprising that they gained renewed interest in the ‘Make Do and Mend’ years of the Second World War.”

However, the dozen rag rugs currently on display at Ryedale Folk Museum showcase a very different approach to this time-honoured craft.

“Mine are always wall hangings,” explains Louisa, “Not for floors. I see them as paintings in fabric. Nowadays, I often tend to start with a just doodle and then I see how they develop.”

“By choosing rags in close-toned shades,” adds Rosie, “Louisa is able to bring life and depth to the scenes depicted. ‘From Rags to Rugs’ reminds us that rag rugs can be wonderful works of art, offering almost endless design possibilities.”

‘From Rags to Rugs’ is on display in the art gallery at Ryedale Folk Museum until Sunday 9 July. The exhibition is free to visit. More information can be found via the website: www.ryedalefolkmuseum.co.uk

In July, a new book by Louisa Creed also launches: ‘My Rag Rug Life’, with a foreword by Mark Hearld, published by Rylett Press.