Tonight I was sweeping the flag floor of my kitchen, as I do most nights, and thinking about the rag rug I have in front of my kitchen counter, which is an old shop fitting. I was thinking about the woman (and it almost certainly was a woman) who made this beautiful proddy mat. I stand on it every day to prepare the meals for my household, and I reckon she stood on it every day too, about a hundred years ago. I don’t know who she is, and I doubt very much that anybody ever congratulated her on creating a beautiful object, but I bet we share some things in common. I bet we are both responsible for making meals for our household. I bet we both potter around the kitchen last thing at night washing up and getting things settled for the morning. I wouldn’t be surprised if we both call in the cat and give him a late night snack before closing the shutters and securing the doors.
The mat is a sturdy thing, made of scraps of discarded fabric from clothes and cloths beyond repair, stitched through sacking to create warmth and cheerfulness over a cold floor. Its artistry is a wonderful bonus. It’s reds have survived a century, and battle through the challenges I throw at it - beetroot, turmeric, trodden-in broccoli. I tried to wash it in the bath a few months ago, wanting to cherish it and acknowledge its beauty. I pandered it with Stergene and soft sponges, soaking and stroking. It gave up some of its accumulated dirt, but countless rinses didn’t really reach its core.
Down on the floor the mat is pragmatic. It’s not a thing for modern perfection. Diligent hoovering sucks off its outer fronds, whilst absorbing the detritus of the contemporary diet - oats, chia seeds, garlic wings, rye flour….. What would it have had a hundred years ago? Flour? Sugar? Oats? Onion skins? Not that different probably, the inadvertent droppings of a housekeeper creating the meals for the household, unless it’s place was in front of the fire, in which case coal dust, ashes, cat fur, pipe tobacco, soot.
I want to honour the person who made this mat, and honour the mat itself. I feel glad that I own a work of art by a person unknown, and that I can still use it every day as part of my life and part of my house. I thank the woman (because it almost certainly is a woman) who made the mat, for her artistry and her diligence and her determination to make something beautiful which is also useful. I doubt very much that she thought about the future of her mat, but I would like her descendants to know that I appreciate her artistry, share her domestic space, and honour her memory