was successfully added to your cart.

Category Archives: Making rugs

A little fine tuning…

By | Color, Food for thought, Making rugs | 6 Comments

I was at rug camp, and figured on the first day I would work on doing a “New Hampshire Postcard” for our guild’s challenge. The “Postcard” could be any image that resonates NH to us, but had to be either 6”x8” or 8”x6”. It’s for an exhibit we are planning. I chose a mental image of my sister and I, rowing around in our little dinghy up at the lake. I decided on this image partially because it resonated deeply as symbolic of our growing up in NH, and I thought that after the exhibit, it would be a little piece I could give to my sister, who I know will love it.

I really did get it done in one day – because I worked on it in a class, where we were all hooking all day long – and because it was a tiny 8”x6” piece!

I was pleased with it – everyone could tell it was two people in a rowboat. But I took a picture of it, and looked quite a while at that. And then the next morning, looked again at my little “finished” piece. It needed a little fine tuning.

The dinghy was too wide, it looked more like a tub. And the faces, small as they were (only 4 or 5 loops each), could be better. Should I leave it be, or start in on it again? As much as I hated to start messing with it (afraid, of course, that I would be messing it up, not fixing it), I started in on replacing maybe 50 or 60 loops in all. And those final loops made it much, much better.

First thing next morning, I took out one row of loops on the top far edge of the boat, replaced it with blue “water” loops, making the boat one row of loops narrower. And replaced the first row of gray “boat edge” loops with a slightly darker gray, to give it more of a defined top edge.

Then I just manipulated the face of the girl at the back of the boat – just by adding a tail of wool in two places. Both boat and girl did look better:

I was pleased at the improvement. OK, now I was done! I worked on another project for the rest of the day.

Then I looked at this little piece again, especially at the far shore. I wanted there to be two points of land to the left and right, and a much more distant shore in the middle. It was ok the way it was, but I decided to live brave, and try to get that middle shore looking like it was further away. I replaced the trees in the distant middle shore with greens much lighter than I had originally used. Better. And then, thinking about how the lake looks darker blue at a distance, I changed the wool I had used just in front of that middle “far shore” to a darker blue for the more distant water.

So here is a close-up of the “far shore” now, and I think it does now look more at a distance than before:

So now I am really finished. The moral of this story is that when you think you are all done with a piece, set it aside for a little bit, and look at it one more time. You know I am not a big believer in “reverse hooking”, or tearing loops out on a whim.

But as you finish a rug, look for any small details that could be sharpened up or improved, with just the right, very small change here or there. Before you go to the rug finish-line, check if there are 20 or 50 loops that would improve your final piece.

I call it Hooking Brave.

Style… in a while.

By | Color, Design, Making rugs | 5 Comments

A rughooking friend wrote this to me recently:

One more question, with sooo many different ways/methods/techniques of hooking, how does a hooker go about honing in on what their style is? I guess I am feeling kind of unfocused and just hook whatever, but it seems like everything I read about, the artist/craftsman has a “specialty” they do–kind of their signature look for lack of a better description. Thoughts?

Hmmm. I can only speak for myself. First thought is that I don’t want to have one style. If I’ve just done a pictorial or one of my “fussy rugs”, like this one above, I am likely to want to work on a geometric or hit or miss next – something that doesn’t need you to make a decision for practically every loop, like pictorials often require. I want my next project to be “something different”!

I can look back on rugs I’ve done, and see threads of what might be a style – my doodle rugs are a category of rugs I like working on, and variations of hit or miss rugs will always be a favorite sort of rug for me. And I like to experiment. One morning, I woke up wondering if you could do “a hit or miss landscape”, and ended up with this:

There is a drawing style.
Part of one’s “style” is how you draw, with whatever drawing abilities you may or may not possess. Anything I design with a cat, a dog, a house – you’ll be able to tell it’s one of Mary Jane’s, because I only know one way to draw a cat or dog, like in this rug:

I think I love rughooking because its primitive tradition allows room for people like me, who still draw stuff like they did in fourth grade. And there are people who can really draw, whether it is architecture or faces, or a field of corn – and their way of drawing leads them to have rugs with a distinctive style.

There is a color style.
Even people who don’t design their own rugs have their own sense of color, or a palette of colors they gravitate to regularly. I like most colors but you’ll probably never see a rug of mine with a lot of olive green, or pink in it. And I have to swallow hard to make myself use much aqua.

But I think to develop a style, you need to draw out your own rugs. Even if they are simple. Keep your projects a nice challenge, a little bit of a stretch! If you find a new technique, whether waldoboro, fine shading, a bit of proddy or using fancy stitches, find a way to work them into a project as your next interesting experiment. You’ll be adding a new tool to your rughooking toolbox.

And wait a minute. I don’t want all my rugs to look the same, do I?

Maybe when thinking about “your style”, it’s worth it to think about music as a model. If you love jazz, you can also love opera. If you like symphonies, you can also truly enjoy good country and western.

So in the end, my answer is: don’t worry about it. Just keep doing what attracts you and interests you. After a while, if you do this, your own taste – attraction – to certain projects may create a “style thread” that you can see in retrospect. But I think the more you “try for a style”, the more elusive it will be. You just have to go the long way around on this one.

If you ask other hookers, you might get different answers, but to me, your “style” as a hooker is something you can find when you look back on your completed works. Don’t worry about whether you have a style or not. Hook what projects interest you, and challenge you, or that you most enjoy working on.

My version of a Lalique design

By | Art, Design, Making rugs | 7 Comments

I was walking through the Rejksmuseum in Amsterdam. I turned into a smaller room, and on one wall there was a very small frame alone on one wall. Amid the hundreds of huge artworks, I almost passed it by, but for some reason, I went over to take a look. It was a small drawing, a sketch for a piece of jewelry, done by René Lalique in 1901 or 1902. The photo I took, above, is almost full size – the drawing was maybe 3”x 5”.

Among all the artwork I admired in the museum, this was the only piece that made me think, “Ooh, I would love to do a rug of that design!”. I knew from the age of the piece that it would not be copyrighted, but of course I will always make clear that my rug is my version of his design.

When I got home, I converted my photo to a line drawing, using an app on my iPad called “Sketch”. Here is the line drawing, which I then had enlarged to rug size at my local copy shop:

When the line drawing got blown up to the size I wanted (about 30” across on the long side) some of the lines got darkened in. But it was good enough for me to trace onto linen on a light table, and I used the original print of my color photo to refer to as I hooked the details, like the little stems the pearls hang on.

The places in the design that were the color of the paper he drew it on (the yellow/brown) were meant to be open. That is, if you were wearing it on a blouse, the blouse’s color would show through those parts. So when planning the colors, I decided to keep his aqua tint where he used it, and would use a deep hand-dyed purple for the “open” areas. And I picked a mottled tan/brown for the vines and stems. Here is what it looks like so far:

For the pearls, I have used three shades of white, though you can barely notice the shading in the photo. And five of the pearls (marked with an X on my linen) will all end up being sculpted in the Waldoboro style. Here is the one Waldoboro pearl I have done so far – the top of it stands out about two inches from the surface of the rest of the rug:

I am afraid that the rug will not be as graceful as his original design was. But I do like it, and have been loving working on it.

Lalique was well established as a jewelry designer in the art nouveau style before he started making art glass, though today he is more recognized for his work in glass than his jewelry. He went on to be the first glass designer to find a way to mass-produce art glass so the pieces could be owned by more than just the wealthy.

I will end this just by giving you a glance at one of his glass pieces to admire. This is his piece called “Oranges Vase”:

It is February! Surround yourself with warm wool and hook on!

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.