Delia’s Rug

In this cabin in Wisconsin the living room, the study, and the bedroom all have oval braided rungs, the rags gathered, braided, circled and stitched by Paul’s grandmother, Delia.

I never knew her, but her photograph jumps out at me from our bathroom wall in Lawrence, the face of a competent woman in the indoor arts. The only braiding I’ve ever done is of my own and my daughter’s hair. Once you’ve established a knot at the top and your three lines of “material,” you braid until you get a rhythm going. Then, it’s as if you enter a trance, because your fingers do the work.

When I lounge on our homemade sofa in the living room, I see Delia at work. This rug is quite large–12X7feet, in grays, browns, greens, yellows, and oranges. Each color has three variations in hue and is braided until the next color begins; it’s long, like a never-ending multi-colored snake. I can tell from her photograph that Dehlia was slim, but to work a rug like this, she must have had strong, ropey muscles. Perhaps she had help from Paul’s mom, Ruth, and Aunt Margie–they were the kind of daughters who were helpful.

They had to lay the snake out on the floor and start tightly coiling. Heavy needles and sturdy thread were used for stitching the braid. The stitches had to join one piece of a braid to another in the circle, exactly at the right point so that they appeared invisible; so that they appear invisible even now.

Delia created a useful work of art with her mind and her hands. She talks to Paul, Paul’s sisters, her grandchildren, her great-grandchildren, visitors and me from the living room floor. Her talk is rather lively.