Large rug hunting

The details in the design of this rug are amazing and well worth a closer look. They include huntsmen on horseback, wild boar, deer and hounds. It was called ‘The Hunting Rug’ by its manufacturers, Quayle and Tranter of Kidderminster. Designed by George Bain the rugs sold very well. 

In the late 1940s George Bain was approached by the carpet maker Quayle & Tranter Limited to provide some Celtic designs suitable for rugs. This became a very productive collaboration. Bain was soon taken on as a consultant as well as designer. Not all of the designs that he provided were actually put into production. However, the rug shown here is the most successful of those that were. 

Initially, in March 1948, Bain delivered the hunting design for a rug 6 feet by 3 feet in size (around 1.8m by 0.9m). Later that year he supplied a second design for increasing the size of the rug to 12 by 9 feet (around 3.65m by 2.75m), the one shown here. He used the same motifs but cleverly incorporated more of them into a very pleasing, balanced and more symmetrical design. 

There are rugs of both sizes and two different colourways in the Collection.

See Tattersall CEC 1966 A History of British Carpets, from the introduction of the craft until the present day

Colourful strands

This scallop-shaped piece may originally have been used as a small place mat. It seems that it was carefully cut to shape after completing the embroidery.

The colourful interlace design is made up of two interlaced strands. Both are outlined in blanket stitch and then infilled with feather stitch. The pale green in one of the ribbons provides a subtle contrast to the other strand.

Scalloped interlace

This beautiful circular place mat contains an intricate embroidered interlace design. Brightly coloured silk and wool threads totally cover the backing fabric. This has produced a sturdy piece, so was probably used under a teapot or plant.

The central single strand design has been worked in light and dark greens. The more complicated outer circle of knotwork is stitched in yellow and fawn. It contains loops which link the two blanket-stitched designs together. Even the spaces between the strands have been filled in with a variety of textured stitches, including satin stitch and French knots.

Durrow shawl

This triangular shawl has a border composed of intertwined square Celtic knots, which are worked separately in alternating centre-out/centre-in knitted squares, and joined at each edge to produce a continuous knot flowing across the border. The two-colour effect is achieved using a combination of slipped-stitches and cable knitting. This shawl pattern is published in my second book, Illuminated Knits (2017).

if the label fits …

This small item is from a fascinating period of George Bain’s artistic output. He set up his College of Celtic Cultures in 1946. A year or so later, he was approached by the Kidderminster carpet firm of Quayle & Tranter to produce some Celtic designs for rugs and carpets. Bain agreed and he was taken on as a special adviser and consultant to the company. Quayle and Tranter gained the right to use the ‘guarantee of authenticity’ mark of the College for every Celtic rug design they produced. It’s the upper part of this label. 

The most successful and widely sold rug was the Hunting Rug. Eventually it was produced in two different colourways and sizes. This label, designed by Bain, comes from the back of one such rug. It perfectly reflects the very successful collaboration that he had with the company over a number of years.

Another blue strand

The broad border around this tablecloth is reminiscent of the design of a place mat in the collection. The knotwork has been skilfully drawn onto the cloth before embroidery begins. To ensure the flow of the design, the interlace of the opposing corners is different. It’s so neat.

The borders of the single interlaced strand are highlighted in royal blue blanket stitches. These secure the outer edge of the material so that it can be trimmed right up to the knots of each stitch. Then, unlike the design of the place mat, the strand has been filled with tiny pale blue fly stitches.

Table cloth of spirals

This brightly coloured tablecloth has a rich embroidered main panel of spirals with corners of interlaced knotwork. The central design is packed full of shapes and colours, there are no blank spaces. The stitching shows just how skilful the needleworker was. It is very hard to sew such even, simple stitches.

The square panel with rounded corners has 18 six-coil spirals in two shades of green. Each contains three, solid, satin-stitch, red spots, highlighting the importance of the six-coil in the design. They are surrounded by many other simpler spirals. These are made of three and two coils in blue, mauve,  orange and yellow. The remaining gaps are filled with turquoise triangles on a brown or tan background, although some are unfinished. 

Each six-coil strand develops into a strand for a three-coil spiral. This then joins with a strand from another six-coil spiral. The design ends elegantly at the outer edges with strands forming two-coil spirals.  Filling every spare space, this work reflects the Celtic art designs of Pictish cross-slabs and early medieval manuscripts. In particular it resembles a fragment from Tarbat, Ross-shire. One the panels on the Shandwick stone may also have provided George Bain with inspiration.

Repeated interlace

George Bain didn’t only create patterns for family and students. Occasionally he designed for craftspeople or commercial companies. This jumper was made by Gander Crafts, based in Muir of Ord, close to Bain’s home in Drumnadrochit. But this may be just a coincidence. We haven’t yet been able to find out when it was produced. Perhaps it was several decades after they moved away.

The jumper is machine-knitted using a brown tweed-coloured background. The design is of repeated green interlace panels, separated by smaller green motifs. The sleeves have an all-over check design in the same colours. The front, back and sleeves are hand-sewn together.

This item was gifted to the museum by Bain’s grandchildren. It seems likely that it was bought by them long after the George and Jessie Bain moved to England, in 1952.

A blue strand

This knotwork design is made up of a single strand outlined in bright blue thread. The embroiderer has skilfully defined the two edges of the interlaced strand.  The incredibly even blanket stitches also complete the four edges of the outer circle. If you trace the flow of the strand it has no beginning or end, used to signify eternity, or eternal love.

Working the blue detail onto a fine white cloth gives the design an almost three dimensional effect. We think it was made by a member of George Bain’s family.