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Category Archives: Making rugs

My way of doing it

By | Design, Making rugs | 8 Comments

What to work on next? Well, here is the story of how one rug is getting underway. I wanted to do a flag rug, just out of feeling patriotic these days. I looked at a lot of designs and graphics to get some ideas. But while there were a lot of versions of the Red, White and Blue out there (espeically some great primitive patterns around), it suddenly occurred to me that I should do my flag, the one hanging outside of my house.

So I went outside and stood in the driveway, and took a few photos of my porch, with our flag, and the door into our house. I finally chose the photo above for my design. I liked that it included the little stone wall on which I keep my stone cat sculpture, and flowers in pots – they would add some bits of bright color in the foreground.

Then I took my photo, and ran it through an app called Waterlogue that I have on my iPad. As you can see, the colors get simplified, and the outlines of objects stand out:

I also made a plain black and white copy of the photo, and on this, I took a black marker, and traced all the major lines, just so I could see them easier once I got to the light table:

I wasn’t happy with the flag itself – didn’t think enough of the Stars and Stripes were showing, so I waited for a windy day, and took a few close-ups that showed it fluttering out a bit more. And I decided all the tree foliage can be filled in once I start hooking them.

Then I figured out about how big a rug I wanted to make. This will be a hanging piece, not a floor piece, so I kept it small-ish, about 15″ wide by 21″ tall. And went down to my local copy shop with my marked-up black-and-white version to enlarge it to rug size.

Then down to use a friend’s light table, to trace it onto my linen backing:

I think everyone has a slightly different method for transferring a photo to a design on backing material. I have done without a light table by using masking tape – taping both the design and the backing (on top) to a bright window for tracing. I’ve even tried making my own temporary light table by putting a small lamp on the floor and balancing (on stacks of books) a piece of plexiglass above it. It worked ok, but my friend Mary has a real light table – it is easier and more stable!

Now the color planning. I had the right reds, whites and blues for Old Glory, and scrounged through my wool room and pulled out a few browns for the porch, dark maroon for the porch trim, grays for the roof, a bunch of bright colors for the flowers and pots, a lot of grays and beiges for the stone wall, and a whole pile of greens for all that foliage. And some more grayish-tans for the ground. That is about the extent of how I color plan for a pictorial!

The problem is this: I will be starting to hook this rug at the rug retreat next week, out on Star Island. So there is no throwing anything you might concievably need for wool colors in your car. I think pictorials are the hardest to choose the wool for, when going away – you might need just a bit of this-or-that, right? So here is a photo of my initial wool sorting:

A friend reminded me that I probably will not be able to finish the entire rug in four days at camp, so if I take enough wool to get started on the porch and flag, and maybe begin on the green leaves, I will probably have enough! I know she is right, but… but… I always pack wool like I might somehow get stuck at rug camp for a month or more. And you can never have too much wool!

First Rugs

By | Creativity, Making rugs | No Comments

When I meet someone who is just starting to hook rugs, I usually tell them to always keep their first rug. This one is mine. It was a kit I got from the Dorr Mill Store, and I have no idea who did the design – I didn’t know enough to write the designer’s name down or try to remember it back then!

The loops are a bit lumpy, and on the back, I just hemmed it around a piece of cotton for a backing. Hemmed it poorly, I might add, but I never claimed to be good at sewing:

But that’s ok. It still is a design I like, and I still use it as a chair mat. As first rugs go, it was a pretty good design – nice arching lines on the tree, needing to learn a little control to do the leaves and the little apples. Now as I look at it, the outside dark border is uneven – thicker on one side, thinner in other places.

I have always thought a beginner’s first project should be a kit, where the cut wool is provided. Unless they have a friend who sets them up with a cutter and wool, it is better for a beginner to focus on just pulling loops at first. And one of the reasons to always keep your first rug is that it helps you to remember what it was like to just start out hooking.

Then, I tell them, find a pattern you like, and emerge into the wonderful world of choosing your own colors, and learning how to cut your wool. Here is my second piece, a small pattern I got (again no designer recorded!) and also still like a lot:

When that second project is done, I encourage people to dive right in, and draw out a design of their own. Any rughooker can show a beginner how to run a pencil down the gully of their linen to get straight lines to then use a marker on, for the borders. Then, draw it out! It can be a little crooked house with a cat in the yard, it can be a group of stars, leaves, flowers or whatever. I just think it is empowering to see one’s own drawing come to hooked life. It may not be a ornate, fine-shading sort of design, but it will be all yours!

Even if you end up hooking mostly patterns, drawing out a few of your own will give you the confidence to adapt patterns if you want to, down the road. Here is the first rug design I drew out myself:

Of course, I did not realize how tricky all those little pine needles (and the background between them) would be to hook, but I figured it out. To my eyes now, the colors I chose left a lot of, uh, room for improvement, but not bad for a first design.

And I always remind beginners, nervous about facing that first blank piece of backing, to try out drawing your idea a time or two on newsprint, and then either cut out the design elements and trace them, or just start in once you feel you’ve got a design you like. If you make a line wrong in black marker, just correct it in a different color marker, so you remember which is which! And you can always turn the backing over and start again! And you can always change a line as you are hooking.

If you could draw a cat, a house, a lizard, a star, heart, or a tree in the fourth grade, you can still draw!

If anyone would like to share a photo of their first rug, what you remember about doing it, what was the hardest to learn, or what you think about it now, please do! Or if you have advice you tend to give a beginning hooker that really helps, or what you wish someone had told you early on, send it along. Just send photos and any accompanying comments to me at mjanep(at sign)yahoo.com. And keep on hooking!

Ruby in the Garden

By | Composition, Making rugs | 4 Comments

Back in March, I drew out this design, Ruby in the Garden, pretty quickly, since I needed a new rug to work on. At first, it had a butterfly and a second bird in it, but as I finished working on the cat and flowers, decided that they made the composition unbalanced, so left them out. One bird was enough to keep Ruby mesmerized, anyhow!

The only other conscious decision I made about the composition as I drew it out, was to have one of the tulips arch just parallel with the curve of Ruby’s back. I just thought it would, in a subtle way, give her more presence.

The lilac pussywillow flowers were done with the Waldoboro sculpting technique – just enough to add interest, even if you can’t really see it in the photo. And maybe pussywillows are not really lilac, but that’s what seemed right at the time. After I had hooked Ruby and the flowers, I set this rug aside to work on a wide-cut rug for a class I took.

Then about a month ago, I lost Ruby. I had just finished that wide-cut rug, and so a few days later, I pulled out this rug again to finish it. It did help to work on a Ruby rug during those first days of feeling her absence after 15 years. It just worked out that way.

It may not be the last rug I ever make of Ruby, but it will be the last one that has her cat fur embedded in it, from her lying on it from time to time.

May you always have just the right rug to work on, to soothe your soul and raise your spirit, as you go through your days!

Designs right around you

By | Composition, Design, Making rugs | 2 Comments

A few people asked me about this rug I showed (with Ruby gracing it) the other day. So today let’s talk about it a bit. It was one of the rugs that I’ve had the most fun hooking, maybe because I drew it out quite quickly, and only had the most vague idea of how it would end up looking. I couldn’t wait to see how it turned out!

A few years ago, I took a class called “Designing From Nature” with Liz Alpert Fay, up at Shelburne, VT. A three day rughooking class, and none of us ever picked up a hook! We just looked at things and worked on designs. And we talked a bit about techniques to transition a design from drawing-size to full rug size. I came home with at least three full designs on backing, ready to go. And this was the first one I finished hooking.

Liz had asked everyone in the class to come with about 6 or 8 “natural treasures”. We brought little pieces of driftwood, seed pods, flowers, little rocks. And though most of us were not at all experts at drawing, she had us just sit down and sketch out our versions of the natural treasures that struck our fancy.

One thing I brought was a cross-sectioned slice of blue agate that I have kept in a window for more than thirty years. I have always loved seeing the light from the window coming through it, and highlighting the layered rings:

As you can see, the rug only remotely looks like the agate slice. It was just a starting point. One large squiggle for the outside border (without any really sharp curves that would make it hard to finish when the rug was done) and then echoing inner squiggles that varied a bit each time. I tried to vary thicker “layers” and thinner layers. And I remember I ended up changing these a bit as I actually did the hooking.

I did keep to the overall blue coloring of my original agate, but added in some purples and blue textures as I went. As often happens, I picked the colors as I went along, just mindful of getting enough contrast between the “layers” and enough variety overall.

One thing about designing that I learned in this class with Liz: You don’t actually have to try drawing an exact replica of something. Think of it as drawing your own impression of it. A seed pod can become such an interesting form to create an abstract yet natural design!

A handful of shells can suggest forms and shapes to create a design that might end up having nothing directly to do with shells at all:

Can you envision using the lines of this shell photo to make an interesting pattern for a hit or miss rug? There you go!

A branch of a tree, currents in a stream, the curves of a piece of driftwood, or even the cracks in a rock can be the starting point of a lovely rug design.

Look at this simple photo of a tree branch:

Now, try to stop yourself from seeing it as a branch, and look at it just as a form, a series of lines. What if each section of the background was a different color, instead of being all green? Can you start seeing it as a design, maybe a design that will become completely separated from “a branch”, that you could develop into a pleasing rug form?

I just quickly went into an online paint program and came up with this:

It was done quickly to illustrate a point, and nothing beautiful – but can you start seeing it as lines and forms, and areas of color, rather than a branch? Can you imagine where it could develop from there? There is something organically pleasing about the designs you find in nature.

That’s how I came to design my “blue agate” rug. At some point, it stopped being a picture of my agate slice, and just became a design I really liked. I would like to do another version of this general rug design, maybe in reds, oranges and yellows.

You don’t have to be an expert in drawing to look around, and play with shapes and lines, forms and colors – to create your own designs! Abstract designs might not be for everyone, but they are a great change of pace, and a good way to stretch your “creative muscle”. And don’t forget: rugs do not always have to be rectangles or circles!

Keep on hooking, and hook what you love.

Goodbye Ruby, my friend

By | Making rugs | 18 Comments

This morning, very unexpectedly, my sweet cat Ruby died. She made it to the emergency vet, but died, on her own, in my arms a few minutes later, as I was saying goodbye. She was 15 years old, and my constant rughooking companion. This is my favorite rug of her, looking at the wildlife out the window and turning back to me, as if to say hey, come take a look at what’s going on out there:

She was quite patient when I was busy hooking. Next to my hooking chair, I had a cat post where she could watch what I was doing, from above. She did not mind sharing her perch with my wool.

I’ve done more rugs of her than of anything else. In this one, I used “wild colors” for my “wild cat”:

And this was one of the first rugs I drew out myself, when I first started hooking:

She would watch me hook for a long time, and then let me know when it was time to stop and spend time with her instead. She would sit right on top of my wool, climb up onto my frame, or just give me a cuff, when she decided it was her turn.

I never got tired of hooking her.

Here is a rug I did last year, using “anything but wool” – hooked with velvet, velour, ribbons, t-shirts, and for her, a chunky yarn in just the right colors:

And when I stopped hooking for a while, she would come lie on the rug, just to see how it was coming along:

She sharpened her claws on various pieces of our furniture, but never, not once, did she scratch or sharpen her claws on one of my rugs. I’ve always thought this was because she watched so closely as I was making them – she understood.

And when I was done with a rug, wanting to take a picture of it, I would always have to take the first photo of Ruby on the rug. I think I have a photo of her on every just-finished rug I’ve ever made.

So to my sweet girl, goodbye, pretty one, I will miss you so much. And to all of you: hook what you love. And if you have a dog or a cat, give them a kiss on the head, for Ruby.

Summer days…

By | Color, Design, Making rugs | 8 Comments

I confess, I went to a wonderful few days at Green Mountain Rughooking School, and I took no photos for the blog. If I take photos of other people’s rugs, I then have to wander around and find them to get permission to show them. Maybe the photos are all over facebook, but on the blog, that’s how I do things.
So I took a blog vacation in favor of sitting with friends and just hooking, hooking, (visiting, eating, telling stories, laughing, comparing projects and…) hooking.

Above, you see my current project, started in mid-May. I wanted a rug to do in a wider cut than I have tried before – an #8 cut – and was not feeling very creative, so I ordered this pattern, called Birds In The Border, by Lin Wells of Lin’s Primitive by Design.

I liked that it was sort of symmetrical, but not completely symmetrical. And in choosing my colors, I made sure that I continued this slight unsymmetricality. Is that a real word? Well, you know what I mean. I used the same group of colors for the small and large flowers, but changed the order and pattern of them.

And how did I do, using a #8 cut for the first time? Just fine! I expected to have to work harder to pull my loops, but really, it felt just like hooking with my usual #6 cut. I do use a hook with a fairly thick shank, even when working with a #5 or #6, so maybe that is why I had no difficulty. I just had to remember to space out my loops a little more than I usually do, since even with a #6, I tend to pack my loops in.

The other great thing about this design is that, once I finished all the design elements (birds, flowers, leaves, vine) there was not that much background to do!

One of my favorite parts of hooking is when you put that first row of background around all your design elements. That flower or this leaf looks so different when it is finally surrounded by the background color! And that first background row is what locks your loops into place, so that is the time to nudge a loop a little bit this way or that way to smooth out a curve or a straight line, or give final shape to a bird’s beak or tail.

And as you can see, I only have a bit left to do. As I approach the “home stretch” on a rug, I usually have to set it aside to finalize my next project. Then I can relax and finish up the current one. We would never want to find ourselves rug-less, would we??

Hoping you are enjoying the summertime, and that the rug on your frame is coming along, too!

A fine rug, and blessed wool

By | Contemporary rugmakers, Creativity, Making rugs | 6 Comments

At rug camp there was a great display of over 100 rugs, and this one really made me gasp. It is Reflection, by Mary Hays, of Bass Harbor, Maine. Happily, the part of the exhibit with Mary’s lovely rug was hanging in my classroom, so I got to look at it throughout the week at Sebago Lake Rug Camp. There were so many beautiful and creative pieces, but I just could not stop looking at this one. Such a natural landscape… and though I heard many viewers comment on how well Mary caught the trees and mountains reflected again in the water (certainly true!), I just kept looking at the way Mary caught the rocks that gradually disappear as the water gets deeper! What a great effect in wool!

And late in the week, during the show and tell “throwdown”, I found one rug that again made me gasp in appreciation – this time because in the bottom corner of the border of this just-begun landscape, someone had added a small, beautifully rendered hand, hooking. Yes, it was Mary’s current project. I just fell in love with the creativity in adding in that small hooking hand:

Happily, I found Mary and had a chance to talk a bit with her, express my admiration for her rugs. I was also surprised, on her new project, at how sketchy her initial drawing is – she said she just wants a rough outline, and does the rest as she hooks. Here is the whole rug, showing her “outline”:

When I complimented her on the sky in her new project, she said she finds skies easy to do, because in nature, there are so many infinite variations on the sky and clouds, that nothing really will look wrong!

One other thing. Three women, by chance, sit next to each other in their class. All had projects well underway. One of them, a different Mary, decides that she has hooked the vase in her rug in the wrong color. It needs to be lighter – but she does not have the right wool. She looked at all the wool for sale (and there was a lot of beautiful wool for sale) and couldn’t find anything just right. Then the woman sitting next to her, Kathy, glances over, reaches into her wool bag, and pulls out a piece of wool, just the right shade of maroon, with just the right small dots of color. “Try this”, she says, “I don’t need it, I just stuck it in my bag for no particular reason.”

And Kathy’s wool worked perfectly for Mary’s vase. So then Mary has a big pile of the wool that had not worked – the wool she just pulled out from her rug and replaced. And the woman on the other side of her, Diane, looks at the pile of rejected wool, and looks again. She asked Mary if she could use it, and Mary said “Of course!”. And Mary’s pulled-out wool turned out to be the perfect wool for the dragonfly that Diane was working on. I call this a case of blessed wool.

Many thanks to Mary Hays for permission to show her work here. Both rugs pictured are her own creative work, so are protected by copyright. Please do not copy, paste, pin or pass them on, as a courtesy to her. Many thanks to Gail Walden, for running a wonderful rug camp, and to my teacher, Loretta Scena, for her talented guidance! And a quick hello to blog reader Priscilla McGarry, who actually searched me out just to tell me she likes this blog – how nice it was to talk to her!

A great photo, good friends, and a piece of ugly wool…

By | Creativity, Making rugs, Rug Community | 3 Comments

Look at this great photo, taken by my friend Karen Cooper, of three members of my Tues. morning rug group consulting about a rug. I love this photo! To me, it captures the best part of being in a rug group. Marion, Sue and Mary are deep in conversation, considering Mary’s current rug project. The pattern is Lilac Time, designed by Jane McGown Flynn. The focus of the rug is a bouquet of tulips and lilacs, in a glass vase.

Mary first saw this design at the Hooked Rug Museum of North America, and fell in love with it. She worked on all that fine shading of the flowers with no problem, with guidance from teacher Betty McClentic at rug camp. Here is a close-up of Mary’s project, with just the rest of the maroon background left to hook:

What Mary had problems with was the glass vase. The vase is not the focus of the rug, but it did have to look right. She got the darker maroon of the vase interior, and the flower stems just fine. But that one row of loops, defining the edges of the vase, and the bottom base of the vase… well, let’s say there was more than one consultation with rughooking friends, as in Karen’s photo, above.

Mary tried a number of different wools to hook that base, and the one row of the outside edges of the vase. She tried a light blue, and that stood out too much. She tried light brown. Nope, tear it out and start again. She tried a pale gray and that was better, but…it still did not look quite right.

At one point, she was ready to entirely sacrifice the “glass-ness” of the vase, and the view of the stems inside it, and almost decided to tear it all out and just make the vase a solid color. But with the encouragement of our group members and with her own persistence, she stuck with it.

Fast-forward several weeks and many consultations. One day after rug group, I went into my wool room, and looked around just in case I could see anything to suggest. And there was that one piece of wool I had dyed several years ago, which I thought of as the ugliest piece of hand-dyed wool ever. Every time I saw it on my shelf, its ugliness would make me sigh:

Ugly, yes, but there it still sat on my shelf. It was halfway between a dirty beige and gray, with darker blue/gray blobs. Well, you never know. I brought it down to Mary to try.

The first thing she said was “Oh, it looks like my husband’s dirty oil rag, out in the garage!”. I had to agree – a very good description! But here’s the thing – Mary gave it a try, and it worked! The one-line edge of the vase is defined, without being too dominant, and the base of the vase fits in, and seems to even reflect the colors in the table below it and the flowers above.

The moral of the story: You never know!

That one piece of ugly wool, at least in this case, was just the thing to solve a tricky problem. And, more important, it’s wonderful to have rughooking friends to help you step back, look at your work, listen to what you like and don’t like, make a suggestion, and encourage you to not give up on what you want for your rug. And the rest of us, who watch and listen, week by week, as each rughooking problem is encountered, grappled with and finally is solved, all learn together.

Many thanks to Karen Cooper for the lovely photo, and to Mary Miller, for permission to share her work here.

Two more rugs in the world!

By | Composition, Contemporary rugmakers, Making rugs | 4 Comments

Sometime along about last June, I showed you this original design created by Sarah Jansen, of Westport, MA. Sarah had been asked by her daughter to do a rug for her “with different farm animals”. What an interesting design problem – do you make one farm scene with all the animals in together, or something different?

I loved how Sarah went for “something different” – she placed the groups of different barnyard animals each in their own little tableau, but unified and tied together each scene with the flowering vine that connects them! Just a great design solution!
So I heard from Sarah the other day, and this rug is done:

Sarah said she used a #6 cut of wool for all the animals, and a #8 cut for the rest of the rug. And the red flowers and the yellow birds combine well with both the individual animal scenes and the mixed coffee colored background.

It seems to me that Sarah could sell this pattern complete with the animal scenes, or just sell it with the different tableau areas blank, for people to fill in with their own personal “scenes” – maybe of family stories, or scenes from family trips, different family homes, or their own animal friends.

And for those of you who have not already seen this on facebook, I did finish my big (for me) hit or miss rug. Here it is:

After the riot of color in the hit or miss center, the wide charcoal gray border was pretty boring to hook, all in one dark color, but I do like the width of the border, and the darkness of it, now that I am done with the hooking and can stand back for a good look.

Sarah’s rug is her own design, and protected by copyright. It is possible that her design will be available soon as a pattern to buy, so if you are interested in it, let me know and I will pass that along to her. My rug was based on an antique rug, and I re-drew it to have clusters of flowers in all four corners. If you want to use the same idea and draw it out for yourself, feel free. I can tell you that drawing the ovals, both for the inside and outside borders, was the hardest part! I finally solved that by taking an old oval cheap “wipe your feet on it” rug and tracing the borders. I was still worried about whether it would look like a true oval when done, but I steamed it after taking this photo, and it looks ok to me!

Hook on, and happy Spring!

A rug from the past

By | Creativity, Making rugs | 5 Comments

I am still getting over the flu – no energy at all – but starting to be able to do the normal things of life. I just have to do one at a time, with resting afterwards. My niece says I should stop thinking of it as taking naps, and to start thinking of it as “lying down and pursuing my dreams”. Since I am still not thinking very creatively, I thought I’d show you a rug (above) that I did several years ago, when I was living in England.

This is a view of our house in a small English village, designed from a photo taken from the road just above our house, so looking down at our stone house, and to the mountain, Ingleborough, that is just beyond the nearby fields.

It is not the best rug I’ve ever done, but I am quite fond of it, and it’s one of the two rugs hanging in my bedroom. Beyond my fondness for the scene itself, it is a favorite, because it captures some of the free-and-easy rughooking style that I learned from my English rughooking friends.

There are no Dorr Mill stores in England, where you can buy a wide variety of wool fabrics. You might find men’s suiting (black, brown, dark blue or gray only, and thin, non-fluffy wool) or else tartan wools – but all of these are way too expensive for cutting up – think $80-$100 a yard. So one buys wool clothing at thrift shops or jumble sales, and you use cut-up sweaters, or yarn, or polartec fleece, or thin blankets. You use what you can find. What a huge change this was for me!

The larger sheep was done with roving, and the lambs were hooked with wool yarn. The pink proddy flowers were from a cut-up sweater.

To use the roving, I just took a small hank of it, twisted it up a bit, and just hooked it nice and tightly.

And to catch the feeling of all the hedges between the fields, I added texture, by making the loops very high, and clipping them, and then added a row of colored flowers – think primroses and daffodils. The fringe of heather green, on the right side, was actually the fringe from a wool scarf. I just cut the fringe and the last 1/2″ of the knitted end, and hooked the fringe through the backing.

Getting the stone house right was just a matter of collecting the right colors, and there is a little yarn, some cut wool, and some polartec fleece mixed in.

You’ll notice, if you look, that I hooked the trees with much longer loops, to give them a little added texture, too. And of course, in the land of proddy, I used proddy flowers here and there, to add color.

Here is another close-up showing the trees in the far fields, accented by longer than usual loops:

I’m not sure if this is true for everyone, but for me, the lack of materials we take for granted here led to a different sort of creative energy, and a bit more playful “looseness” in making rugs. I am sure the people I was hooking with contributed greatly to doing things just a little differently than we do at home – start thinking less about “perfect” and more about “playful”. If you have ever taken a class from English rughookers Heather Ritchie, or Cilla Cameron, you will know what I mean.

Mix things up! Brighten your colors! Change the lengths of your loops! Add a little yarn, or sari silk, or fleece! Look for a man’s silk tie for 50ยข in a thrift shop, then cut it up and use it for just the right touch in a rug!

You go ahead and get started on hooking more playfully, and I will catch up to you once I am feeling better!