Topsfield Town Library
One South Common Street, Topsfield MA 01983 (978)887-1528

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Library Hours
Sun: Closed
Mon: 10am to 8pm Tues: 10am to 5pm Wed: Noon to 5pm Thurs: 10am to 8pm Fri: Noon to 5pm Sat: 10am to 5pm

Woven Rugs by Sarah Arrigo

I am Sarah Arrigo and I live in Boxford with my husband Ron and our Siberian husky named Angel. My education is as a Medical Technician, but after leaving the field to be a stay at home mom for my two children I started my own business in 1972. The business started as Sally’s Wool Shop (Sally is a family nick name for Sarah) but evolved into Sally’s Rug Shop. At last I had the time to do what I love best, create and design rugs. What better way to express yourself and relax then working with your hands.

I was asked to become the Rug Department chairman for Topsfield Fair after entering my rugs in competition for many years. When autumn rolls around you can always find me getting ready for the fair. Along with my to-do list for the fair I am also busy with trips to the Wool Mills for material and supply’s for my student’s class projects. For 34 years I helped ready Coolidge Hall for 10 fun filled days at the oldest fair in existence in the US. These wonderful people who have touched my life have become my 2nd family. I started teaching at Salem State College and Northern Essex Community College and it gave me great satisfaction to enter my students work instead of my own.

During the initial start up of the business I traveled from Boston, where the wool fabric came in from NY to Portland Maine where it was trucked in from Nova Scotia. I also purchased wool cuttings from the garment district 500 pounds at a time. Early mornings I was a frequent visitor to China Town in Boston. The business owners were always helpful and fair. They went out of their way to save me special tartan plaids and finer Pendleton wools. Because of my Scottish/ Irish heritage I tried to blend all the tweeds, herringbone and plaids into my rugs. I felt that they gave my rugs more definition and depth. After most of the local woolen mills in Maine Massachusetts and New York closed, I began to rely on the Dorr Woolen Mills in NH and businesses in Tilton NH, Vermont, and Rhode Island. I purchase mostly British Woolens and wool from Ireland and Scotland. I make the materials available to my students and use these sources for the custom rugs I design for my clients.

Oval braided rugs remain the most traditional. I have made round, rectangular, square, heart shaped and octagonal rugs. In 1999 I introduced rugs with hooked centers that have a co-coordinated braided border. I purchase 100% hooked rugs in patterns that clients have selected. I enlarge the rugs anywhere from two feet to room size or anywhere in between depending on the work order. One of the most striking patterns in rug making is called the jewel rug. It is a very old colonial design. One strand of light grey and one strand of black are used. The third strand is a hit or miss pattern of the brightest colors available. When the rug is placed on the floor, the bright colors sparkle like jewels between the black and the grey and this is how the pattern got its name. Students come to me and say I want to make a rug this size and color but I need you to tell me how much of each color I need and help me select an accent color to either make the rug pop or tone it down with a softer shade that is appropriate. The selection of colors is my favorite part. The two things most important to me in my work are quality and color selection.

There is always a question to address with the Historical Society as to what period color would be right for the floor covering of a certain room. Another common question that is brought up frequently seems to arrive from the eclectic flair of decorating in these modern times. If I have an oriental rug in my living room, can I make a braided rug flow without interruption into my dining room? Yes of course! Braided rugs continue to look perfect in oceanfront retreats as well as cabins on the lake. How do I clean and care for my wool rugs? (snow) I usually work with medium weight wool flannel. I like the look of a 2 and a half inch strip. Whatever width you choose the must be the same. A wider width gives you a bigger braid and a smaller width is good for chairpads and stair treads. Coating wool is heavier and harder to work with. The color choices are not as good with coating. The medium weight wool is what clothing (SKIRTS AND SLACKS) are needle ready for the upcoming season and the tweeds and plaids are plentiful. I prewash all my material before it is stripped (no detergent), and put it right in the dryer. I do some dying but I think if the rug is in front of a sunny window sometimes the dyed wool fades. Blending fabric shades is like my other love which is gardening and flower arranging and the technique for the two crafts is much the same.

Probably the most disheartening thing that all artisans have to deal with is the fact that with the influx of outsourcing, you can purchase a rug made in China or India for a fraction of the price that you would pay in the US and the quality is substandard. The entire Cottage Industry as well as the textile industry is affected by this fact that products are being made abroad for a fraction of the cost that they can be produced here in the states. Almost all of the wool I use is imported from Britain. The wool cutters have disappeared in New England along with the closing of the mills.

I have finished rugs for families that have lost a loved one who never finished their project. I have made rugs out of woolen blankets that came along with rescued dogs and cats from Hurricane Katrina. I also have donated my time to the elderly and worked on classes with the Council on Aging to help them make a hands-on work of art that they are proud of. The love of creating heirloom treasures for the homes in the many states that I have shipped my rugs to and the chance to have worked with the many talented artisans keep the joy of blending my color wheel of fabrics a reality. My hope is that this craft continues on because it is at the root of family values where a piece of child’s clothing or an old tattered uniform can be recycled and enjoyed for many additional years.