My Cats Mij and Zipp/Sally Stepath

First Rug

By: Melinda Russell

My Cats Mij and Zipp, 24” x 16”, #8-cut wool on linen. Designed by Laura Pierce and hooked by Sally Stepath, Portland, Oregon, 2015.

To see a photo of the Caswell Carpet, go to or enter the words Caswell Carpet in your computer’s search engine.

A glance at Sally Stepath’s first completed rug reveals nothing of its rich cultural history. It is a pleasing rug, to be sure, with its image of two domesticated cats. But, oh, what a long tale these cats possess! They are the offspring of painted, printed, and embroidered images dating to the nineteenth century and earlier.

Between 1832 and 1835, a young Vermont woman named Zeruah Higley Guernsey sheared some sheep, spun and dyed her yarn, readied a homespun wool foundation, and embroidered a 156" x 147" room-sized rug. All of this work, vision, and creative effort was done in anticipation of her future marriage.

The chain-stitch embroidered rug, now known by Zeruah’s married name, the Caswell Carpet, is considered to be one of the very greatest of American textiles.

Melinda Russell hooks rugs, writes, and cultivates her garden in Alderson, Greenbrier County, West Virginia.

This article is from the March/April/May 2017 issue. For more information on our issues, check out our issues page.


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