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Category Archives: Making rugs

My Country ‘Tis of Thee

By | Antique rugs, Design, Making rugs | 3 Comments

Let’s start by looking at this patriotic-themed rug from the late 19th or early 20th century. A grand-looking eagle, looking somewhat fierce, as all American eagles should look, carries a red and white banner in its beak. Its wings are a somewhat improbable red and tan, with blue stripes, but it looks just right. It sits on a gray-ish background, and is surrounded by a double red, white and blue border.

Oh, for antique rugs which have a tag saying exactly where, when and by whom it was made… but in the passage of time, this eagle holds its own meaning, love of country, whenever it was made. And on November 15, (10 am, EST) it will be auctioned off by Freeman’s Auction House in Philadelphia, PA. It is Lot 344, and the description reads “Hooked rug with eagle and bannerette. Late 19th/early 20th century. Worked with polychrome wool and cotton. 31 in. x 52 1/2 in.” The estimated price is $800-$1,200.

And now here is an early 21st century rug, also meant to convey a love of country. This one you may recognise from its beginning stages. It was designed and hooked by me, adapted from a photo I took of my own flag flying from my own porch.

I wanted to do a patriotic flag rug. I remember I spent the good part of a day looking around on the internet for flag patterns, and ideas for primitive designs featuring our flag. There were many nice ones, but all of a sudden, it occurred to me that I wanted to do a design based on my own US flag. And so this rug began. I took one photo of the porch and flag, but the flag was hanging somewhat limply that day, and I thought not enough of the “Stars and Stripes” were showing. So I waited for a quite windy day, and took another photo where the flag, fluttering in the wind, showed itself more. I used the first picture, and when tracing it on my linen, just used the flag itself from the second picture. Just right.

I really stuck to the photo pretty closely. The cat on the little stone wall is actually a stone cat sculpture, and that is exactly where the stone cat sits… but of course it is also representing Ruby the cat. I always have a little trouble hooking stones. Each time, I usually hook them first in dark grays, then realize that is not right, and re-do them in lighter grays and beiges that look more like the big rocks around my yard.

It came out well, I think, and as usual, I tried to be patient with the multi-greens of the tree foliage, which I did using “pixilating”, where you take strands of various greens and do three loops of one strand here, four loops of the same green there, skipping around, making tiny little three- to six-loop patches here and there. Then you take the next shade of green strip and do the same, and gradually fill in the leafy area. I like the effect, but it the slowest of techniques!

So I’m happy with the rug. Now the big challenge is finding a place in my house to hang it.

The web site for Freeman’s is at www.freemansauction.com, and the photo of the antique eagle rug is courtesy of them.

Tweaking…

By | Color, Making rugs | 3 Comments


I have been down and out with a bad cold for the past week, and the very first sign I had that I might be feeling better was that yesterday I did a little hooking on my flag rug. I didn’t do a lot, but was at a stage I like – looking at what I had done so far, and giving a few tweaks here and there that I thought would improve it or clarify what the viewer was seeing.

The biggest problem was the bits of blue sky filtering through the leaves above the porch roof, shown above. The more I looked at it, the bits of sky looked too random. I started focussing on the greenery around the sky-bits, and decided they just did not look like probable formations of branches. So I pulled out a few of the blue bits, and concentrated on making the groups of leaves seem more realistic. I may tweak them some more, but, being sick and not focussing all that well, a little improvement cheered me up:

You can see how I also got some of the “through the porch screens” leaves and sky done. I used only darker shades of green for the leaves in this section, and a much grayer shade of blue for the sky, to account for the view being seen here through the screening.

More tweaking: I added two loops to the cat’s tail, which, on looking at it, seemed a bit too short. And I pulled out the almost-charcoal color I’d used for the big rock, and re-hooked it in a lighter gray tweed. Looks much more like the rocks outside my house now, and more like a rock than a big dark blob. I added a smaller rock nearby, too:

And then I thought two of the pot plants in front looked too merged together. I had purposely used two different greens for their separate leaves, but they still just ran into each other. So I added just a few loops of a much lighter green between the two, just to define each of them better:

Sooner or later, I will stop feeling sick, and maybe have more creative thoughts to write about here, but for now, I have reason to particularly appreciate this “tweaking” stage of hooking a rug, particularly a pictorial – where one starts to see the weak spots and the ill-defined bits, and just giving them a nudge towards “that’s better”.

Old rug, new rug

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

This is the first proddy rug I ever made. I was living in the northwest of England, and saw a notice for a one-day class in making rag rugs in the parish newsletter, signed up, went, and had a wonderful time, and met some very nice women in the nearby market town of Kirkby Lonsdale in the process.

I’ve never liked the design very much – concentric circles are just not that interesting, but have always been fond of it anyhow, and it has laid in front of our stove for years. It’s a bit grimy and flattened from so many feet finding cushion and comfort from standing on it for hours and hours while cooking.

But this summer, I (finally!) got a new kitchen counter, and as I approach the end of my “Flag on the Porch” rug, I have decided to make a new proddy to go in front of our stove. Here is a close-up of our new counter:

It is so beautiful! Especially since I’ve lived with a black, 1970s leather-look (ie, uneven and hard to clean) counter for many years! It’s called Blue Sahara, by Silestone, by the way…

So this morning, after a very stressful week (5 hr. trip to the ER with my husband, doing credit freezes and changing passwords, nuclear war seeming imminent, minor but upsetting dog fight, and so on) I finally had enough creative juices running in my veins to go into my wool room and started pulling wool for my next project:

Making a proddy rug takes a lot of wool. How much? Way more than you anticipate. For me, this is good – my wool is overflowing it’s shelves. I still want to look through again to add more rust-colored wool. And maybe a piece or two of gray.

I am planning to make a “confetti” rug – where all the colors are mixed together somewhat randomly, like in this proddy I made for my bathroom:

English rugmakers also call confetti rugs “mizzy-mazzy” rugs – don’t even bother to ask me why, but it is a great name, isn’t it? The secret of having enough wool in different colors for a confetti rug is to use a lot of different blues, for example, so that as you run out of one blue plaid or solid, you can just add another one in. Some people cut a lot of wool and divide up each color into four piles or bags, so that most of the colors are evenly distributed for each quarter of the rug.

And proddy means a lot of cutting. I will start now, first cutting long 1″-wide strips, and then taking two or three long strips and cutting them into small 2 1/2″ or 3″ pieces. A good task while watching a movie or four… I can usually cut two or three thicknesses of wool at once into long strips, which helps. At least for proddy, your cutting does not have to be all that precise. If one long strip is slightly wider at one point, and thinner at another, it really does not matter, it will still be fine.

And during stressful days, “It will still be fine” sounds like just the kind of feeling I need.

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!