Sointula Gill Net Rugs

Weaving Stories from the Sea

Unravel the tale of Sointula Gill Net Rugs – where old fishing gill nets transform into something special! In 1952, Helmi Pakkalen immigrated to Sointula from Finland with her husband and children. Seeing lots of unused fishing nets, Helmi had an idea. Eager to repurpose these materials, she embarked on a creative journey. With Mrs. Kaltio’s help, they cut and crocheted the nets into rugs, inventing the Sointula Gill Net Rug in 1958.

Helmi’s passion for the craft was so intense that, at its peak in 1969, she was producing three 2’ x 3’ rugs per week, eventually passing on her skills to others. Over her life she produced well over 400 rugs.

Repurposing a single gill net, approximately 28’ x 3000’ can yield up to nine 2’ by 3’ rugs. The net’s twine determines the rug’s texture, and after washing out the salt, it is meticulously cut into lines with tails. Crocheted together using a latchhook, the lines form a rectangular rug, with variations in shape and dimensions. What brings this story home to Sointula, is that the gill net drum was invented in Sointula in 1931, laying the groundwork for this unique art form.

The changing face of commercial fishing

The exhibit not only explores the history and process of crafting gillnet rugs but also reflects on changes in the fishing industry. With the decline in the gill net commercial fleet, and a shift to synthetic materials in net construction, there’s been a reduction in rug construction. A special thank you to Helmi Pakkalen and family, Heather Orr Lansdowne, and Wendy Davis for their stories and belongings.

For the past several years, the Sointula Museum has been fortunate to receive a gill net rug as an annual gift from Heather Orr Lansdowne. This stunning creation is raffled off each summer, as an essential fundraiser for the museum. Check our News page for the next chance to own a piece of Sointula’s maritime history.

plan your visit

Every journey to Sointula begins and ends with a boat trip – it’s part of the adventure!