My Mother’s Cartridge Box Needlepoint Rug

My Mother needlepointed a 6′ x 8′ rug consisting of 85 antique single shot rifle cartridge boxes.

Scroll down for my Dad’s story about it.

My name is Roy, Jr.- husband, father, grandfather, retired doctor, history fanatic. I am a collector of stories and things, ranging from old engines to tools to guns. Leading up to the rug began when I was collecting American Single Shot Rifles and attending lots of gun shows. These rifles are a rather unique type of rifle in that they were almost exclusively used for competition and were usually the top of the line from the manufacturer and were often custom made if not customized in some manner for long range competition. The loading tools for loading the cartridges were as fascinating and unique as the rifles so that came next. Well if one has loading tools one must also have the cartridge to load and in the process of accumulating both loading tools and cartridges it so happened that finding the cartridges in the box seemed to be the only way to go. So boxed cartridges it was. After a while and after accumulating the boxed cartridges it became apparent that the cartridge box was a work of art in itself. At that time, between 1870 and 1900, the firearms and cartridge manufacturing industry was highly competitive and advertising was very artful. So in order to attract customers, the manufacturer created boxes with vivid colors and designs and pictures depicting both hunting and rifle competition scenes. And catchy slogans and phrases touting their products began to appear. Looking at and admiring these boxes on a large scale we began discussing how we might produce something to really exhibit how fine they were and how they might be displayed. Displaying loaded cartridge boxes is very cumbersome because of the weight and fragility of the boxes. Sally was needle pointing very actively
at the time and she suggested that a needlepoint rug might be the solution so we began trying to figure out how that might be done and what size could be comfortably done by hand.

Our limitations were the width of the needlepoint frame (30 in wide) which we constructed from mop handles to get the width that she could hold comfortably and the length that could be wound on one end of the frame before it became too heavy to hold. The end product is two 30 inch sections sewn together by 70 in long.

Next was to design how the boxes were to fit together within the given measurements. Individual boxes were laid together on the floor in random patterns until all those we had chosen would fill the area of the rug.

Boxes were moved and rearranged in order to find suitable color patterns and sizes to fit next to each other in order not to have all the same color or size in one area. Boxes with the most vivid
colors, patterns and designs were chosen for highlights and interesting figures. After this was done a preliminary sketch was made showing the exact placement and size of each box so that it could be reproduced after the boxes were removed. This resulted in having a pattern of the rug with all the boxes in place.

The hurdle facing us next was how to exactly reproduce the box on paper so that a needlepoint pattern could be made. Our first try for was for me to measure and copy by hand but this was slow, frustrating and inaccurate when attempting to reproduce figures or scenes. Then, voila, Sally suggested an overhead projector. This was a lifesaver and worked perfectly. The box was projected onto a piece of paper on the wall to coincide with the exact measurement of the image on the rug. The projected image was then copied exactly in its entirety. Colors were noted at the time on the image but final colors were determined from the original box itself. While each box was being done Sally had it by her side at all times and would take the box with her to match the yarn to the original colors.

Then the work began. Stitching as she had the time, especially while traveling to and from gun shows, while at the show and whenever time permitted at home. Funny incidents occurred during all this time too. Sally discovered that from time to time when she was not around Todd would take it upon himself to do a few stitches to see if she could tell the difference. He finally slipped up and was caught. Did a nice job though.On another occasion, as we drove into a service station a car pulled in behind us and a man walked up to Sally’s window and said  ” Would you mind telling us what you’re doing? We’ve been following you for about 50 miles and we can’t figure out what all that twisting, turning and shifting that you are doing is all about”. Sally told him she was making a rug and he said “a rug?”. She then explained how and what all the machinations were about and all he could do was shake his head. Many hours were spent in needlepoint stores and yarn shops in order to find the correct colors.

This went on for 2 years from 1974 to 1976 and is truly a labor of love. Considering the surface area it required some 2,000,000 stitches to complete. Strangely enough, she says the most difficult part was joining the two halves because of the thickness of the material. We have spent many hours admiring its beauty and uniqueness and hope that others may appreciate it as well.