Sunday, April 11, 2010

"So how do you keep the toothbrushes all-together?" The history of the name of the craft and a fun anecdote

The "toothbrush" in toothbrush rugs!

From Toothbrush Rugs - Loving them, making them, discussing them
Below: The rug I started while in the hospital... imagine me lying there with an IV in one arm, trying to stitch the rug without stitching my IV into it...
From Toothbrush Rugs - Loving them, making them, discussing them

A dear multiply friend who will only be referred to as "Suzy" posted a question to one of my remastered rug videos:
  • so is there ever a time when you use a toothbrush? I wonder why they call it a toothbrush rug?

This is a fun question, and one which has caused no end of consternation and confusion over the years.

About 5 years ago when I first set out to bring this ancient folk craft into the 21st century with my blog and tutorials, I considered using a different name for the craft... one with less ambiguity.

My best idea was "Recycling rugs" but in the end, I decided to stick with the anachronistic name out of respect for the generations of master rug makers who have come before me and used "toothbrush rugs" or "toothbrush handle rugs" as their name for the craft.

As you can see in the photo above, the toothbrushes are used to STITCH the rugs, they are not a constituent of the rugs themselves.

It could be that in twenty or thirty years, we will have to give it a new name because the flat handled toothbrushes which work so well for conversion into needles are almost impossible to find, having been replaced by ergonomic batter powered ones... I expect a toothbrush with bluetooth or wifi out any time, probably from Apple.

Similar items can be easily turned into needles- the strongest and best are small detail/trim paint brushes. Plastic handled spatulas can work, but my experience is that these are often made of inferior grade plastic and break very easily.

One time I even made a needle out of one of those little discount cards that goes on your keyring. I was at the doctor with my wife, I had my bag of goodies along but somehow the needle had fallen out.

Now the fun story:

I've been "evangelizing" about this craft for decades. So it was that 17 odd years ago when I found myself among a lovely group of folks near Duluth MN that I gave classes. These ladies (all my students there were) were incredibly quick to learn, as most of them did knitting and quilt making.

One dear Frau however was not able to come to my classes as she was in the hospital. As it was part of my responsibilities to visit our folk who were so situated, I offered to give her a one on one tutorial at the hospital.

She happily accepted. Little did I know that this Grand Dame was the matriarch of a large family, all of whom had come to be with her in her convalescence.

I get to her room and find it packed to the gills with good solid blond haired ladies of all ages

  • Each of them had a fist full of toothbrushes

So the question which I was asked by one of the inquisitive ladies was "We've been trying to figure out how you get the toothbrushes to stay together in a rug for hours!"

So that's a bit of history and explanation, and one of my fondest memories from a time and a life which seems like several alternate universes removed from the one which I inhabit today.

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