Shetland Taatit Rugs

In my last post on the textile depression of the early 1990s, I mention “taatit” rugs and a few of you have asked me to expand on them. In 1992 I did some research on taatit rugs and was helped with this by the then curator of Shetland Museum. They also gave permission for us to photograph one of the rugs in their collection and provided me with the following information.

Traditional Taatit Rug, 1993 (image courtesy of Shetland Museum)

“Rug making used to be commonplace in the 1700-1800s. Sadly this tradition died out in the early 1900s. It is difficult to find out when it was introduced into Shetland but it must have been a very ancient origin. The method of rug making was very interesting. The material that formed the foundation, called the “grund” was made of very coarse wool and spun on a special wheel into coarse worsted. It was then woven on a wooden loom into a thick cloth thus forming the base, on which the design was drawn. The pattern was then formed by sewing in the worsted (or taats), these were made from of finer wools and the colours were made from natural dyes, such as lichen, peat and soot, the rest was then filled in with a self colour. When this was complete the “taats” were cut.”

Source: Shetland wool carpeting marketing brochure 1993, information provided by Shetland Museum and Archives
Oliver with Half of a Taatit Rug at Islesburgh Exhibition, 1995

Shetland being the maritime crossroads of the North Atlantic brought multi-national influences to bear on the design and colours. Our elderly next-door neighbour’s father who had been a merchant seaman in the first of the 1900s used to make smaller versions of a similar rug to the taatit rug while on long sea journeys around the world and was no doubt influenced by design and colours from around the globe. I was very privileged to see part of the family collection.

On my journey with the Shetland Wool Carpeting company products, I took with me part of a tattit rug loaned to us. Elderly Shetlanders would comment on the use of taatit rugs in the home, saying they were made for bed covers and some would end up on the floor as decorative mats.

Taatit Rug Alongside Tufted Rugs at Cunningsburgh Show, 1994

The method used by Tammie Irvine to create the Shetland Wool Carpeting Company range of rugs was very different, but a few similarities remained. The raw material used was the same type of Shetland wool, and a wooden frame is also used. The design is drawn on the backing cloth as in the taatit rugs. The rugs were made using an air powered hand tufting gun as shown below.

Tammie Irvine Hand-Tufting a Rug

I truly enjoyed my spell working with our rug project and hearing first-hand accounts of our unique taatit rugs. One lady gave me a copy of a letter written by her grandmother in the very early 1900s to the local chamber of commerce. In it she points out that with the shortage of employment especially involving women, there is an opportunity to set up a rug making operation. Sadly this was not taken up by the authorities; she wished to thank me and our company for finally trying to develop a market for rugs as suggested by her grandmother all those years ago. I gave my copy of the letter to the local museum and archives.

Oliver and Catherine at Islesburgh Exhibition, 1993

One thought on “Shetland Taatit Rugs

  1. Were the sewn in tufts basically a running stitch through the ‘grund’, or were they crossed in some way to secure the thread before the loops were cut?

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