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Category Archives: Design

A little experiment… in looking.

By | Composition, Creativity, Design | 2 Comments

I was thumbing through a notebook I have, with a lot of notes from past blog entries, and also programs about rughooking and design. Somebody (a speaker, I think – no idea who!) was saying that if you see a scene you like, but you do not have a camera with you, you can do this:

Stare at the scene, looking carefully. Then close your eyes for a few seconds. Then stare at the scene again, again looking closely, and then close your eyes again for a few seconds.
Repeat this five or six times, and you will have created a permanent image of the scene in your brain.

Do you suppose it works? Try it, and let me know! I tried it, and it worked pretty well, but I suppose there is a limit to how much detail in a scene you could capture. I tried it with the sunrise picture, above, which I look at frequently out my window anyhow.

One benefit of then drawing or sketching out the scene from your own memory is that it will now be your version of the scene. The details that were most meaningful to you will be the ones you remember most clearly.

And even if it does not work as well as trying to draw something while it is right in front of you (rather than from memory), it is still an interesting experiment in looking at things more thoroughly and carefully than we normally tend to do, going through our days.

Now that I am thinking about this, I do remember a childhood party game we used to play… a number of objects would be put on a tray, covered by a sheet of paper or a towel. Then, on “ready, set, go”, the tray of objects would be revealed for perhaps 20 or 30 seconds, then covered up again. And the winner was whoever was able to remember and write down the most objects correctly.

Yesterday I drove by the house my family lived in, from when I was born until about age 6. I was surprised by how close to my vague memory it looked. Yes, the trees around the house were all much bigger, but the house itself was pretty much how I remembered it. I remembered the steep driveway, but was surprised at how much up a hill it really was. But if I had drawn out, from memory, a picture of the house, it would have been pretty correct.

Looking carefully and remembering – they are so intertwined. This memory technique really is about “creating an impression”, isn’t it?

If you really want to do this experiment, take a photo of your scene first, (or in a pinch, use the sunrise photo I put in at the top), then grab a piece of paper, and after you use this technique to remember a scene, try drawing it out, or at least (“but I can’t draw!”) sketching out a design based on the scene you tried to remember. Send it to me at mjanep@yahoo.com. And we’ll see what happens!

Hope you are enjoying the spring weather. I know yesterday was National Naked Gardening Day, but here, it was a little too chilly, and the first of the black flies are out… so that was a no-go here! But I did do a little hooking – hope you did, too!

Three projects…

By | Contemporary rugmakers, Design | 3 Comments

Thanks to Jeni for reminding me I had not posted my finished rug of the René Lalique jewelry design. Yes, it is all done, and I like the way it came out. Here is a close-up where you can see a few of the five “pearls” I did in the sculpted Waldoboro technique:

In person, the sculpted pearls do add something special to the rug. Doing Waldoboro is challenging and fun, but I do not see myself doing a project with lots of it! And starting with such a lovely, graceful design by Lalique, I did not have to worry about the design or the composition itself – just focussed on the colors and the hooking!

And my Tuesday morning rug group was invited to do an exhibit over the summer, on the theme of “Red, White and Blue”. I have my flag rug that I finished this spring, but not much else where those colors are dominant. So I pulled out a small oval pattern I was given, “Charlie Brown Christmas Tree” and used the oval linen and bunting border to design my own pot of red and white flowers instead of the spindley tree. It was fun because, once I decided I would use a background of hit or miss blues, I really could make it up as I went along. Here it is, just finished this weekend:

It only took me about two weeks to do this, and I found it very relaxing. And it did help to get me through two of our recent snowstorms…

So now on to my next project! My good friend Sue Hammond (one of the original founders of the Green Mountain Rughooking Guild, and one of the real emotional and creative anchors of our Tuesday morning group) had drawn out a tree, with birds and leaves of many colors. I loved it, and Sue kindly agreed to draw it out again on linen for me to make. So I am working on a Sue Hammond original!

It will be fun to do, and I will mostly delve into my basket (ok, baskets, baggies, and plastic boxes) of cut wool strips for making the leaves. Here it is, with only the tree, one of the ten birds, and two leaves done:

I’ve decided to take Sue’s advice and add background to each hooked element as I go along, so there is not quite so much background later on! And both Sue and I are already enjoying how our hooking strategies are different. I definitely wanted to do the entire tree first. She did one small section – tree, birds, and leaves – all at once, then went on to the next small section. And her background is a very pale blue, while mine is a medium-dark green. It will be so interesting to see them, side by side, when they are both done!

Hope you have a good project or three to be working on, during this last cold spell (please make it be the last one!) before real spring arrives.

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!

Upside down, right-side up

By | Contemporary rugmakers, Design, Rug Community | 7 Comments

I was lucky enough to spend four days at Jackye Hansen’s rug camp in Kennebunk, Maine last week. This is, I think, my favorite camp – a fairly small and very talented group, and a great setting. And the timing, just after the holidays are over, in the middle of winter, makes me really look forward to it, and relish every moment.

Have you ever noticed that at a hook-in or camp, there is usually one rug that people gather around to study and marvel over?

There were many gorgeous rugs being worked on, but on this particular day, at this camp, a large rug by Kathy Hutchins, of Cambridge, VT, was what everyone was gathered around to examine.

Kathy is designing it as she goes, and it will be for her living room:

Because it will be in the center of the room, she is putting a lot of thought into making some elements facing one way, and some facing the other way, so it will never be “upside down”. So the central figures, the bear and the wild turkey, are both oriented with their heads toward the center of the rug. This is a very tricky undertaking, and right now she is planning to have what is the sky, looking from one side, turn into the water of a river, looking from the other side. Amazing design problem that she is solving!

And in the details of each animal, her drawing skills shine:

The rug will be chock-full of creatures and plants, and even the smaller ones, like the fox, turtle, irises and jack-in-the-pulpits shown here, are delightful.

Take a look at the detail in these ferns, half-unfurled, and the deep red trillium to the right:

Ah, I wish I could draw like Kathy! I would love to see this rug when every inch of it is finished. But it is one of those rugs that I know you will have to see in person, and in this case, walk all the way around, to appreciate.

Kathy, keep going! Your rug will be a one of a kind treasure! Thanks for letting me share your progress here.

In the “return to the real world”, coming home at the end of camp, I lost my notes about the other beautiful and challenging rugs that were being worked on. How typical of me, to leave for camp with everything neat and organized, and return home with everything in a jumble! But it was a treat to spend some days with many talented rughookers. Rose, Theresa, Jane, Kris, Linda, and everyone there were producing beautiful pieces in a wide range of styles that were truly inspiring!

And a tip of the hat to Nancy Taylor, who did so much to help Jackye organize another wonderful rug retreat!

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.

Out at sea…

By | Contemporary rugmakers, Creativity, Design | 5 Comments

It’s one thing to go to a great rug camp, but when you are six miles out to sea on a small island, the problem is that every direction you look in, there is a rug design just waiting to happen. This is a photo of early morning, just after sunrise, on the Isles of Shoals, where I spent four days at Pam Bartlett’s Star Island Rug Retreat. And yes, though I got a lot of hooking done, this time I did take photos of at least some of the projects people were working on to show you.

Last year, Pam set aside the project she had brought to spontaneously make this rug during the retreat:

And she challenged us to come back to Star with a rug reflecting our memories of the island. Three people brought beautiful pieces. First, Cathy Dupuis, of Holderness, NH, made this small piece, capturing the rowboats that anchor in the harbor:

Donna Rousseau, of Wells, Maine, finished her challenge rug this week on the island. She decided to call it Cornerstone:

And Dayle Young Wheeler, of Rutland, VT, brought back her wonderful view of the chapel steeple, with the words that capture the essence of a retreat on Star Island – just beautiful:

And while we were there, two rugs were completed. Biffie Gallant, of Randolph, VT, finished this lovely rug that she had been working on for more than a year. The pattern is Chinese Roundel, by Jane McGown Flynn:

And Bonnie Roycewicz, of Fort Ann, NY, finished this charming rug during our time on Star. The pattern is Love Birds, by Cushing, and adapted by Bonnie as a wedding gift:

And in our four days, I got a lot done on my rug, based on the photo I’ve shown you of my porch with our flag flying:

Each day, Pam spent a few moments talking with us about being creative, being in the moment, being mindful, and noticing the beauty of your surroundings. And of course, this, we can each do wherever we are.

Pam Bartlett does such a wonderful job organizing this retreat, as well as running a great rug shop, The Woolen Pear, in Loudon, NH, online at www.redhorserugs.com. It’s not that easy, when every single thing has to be anticipated and transported out to the island on the ferry. Thank you, Pam.

All photos of these rugs are shown here with the permission of their makers, and many thanks to each of them. And thank you, Star Island. More info on day trips, retreats, and conferences on Star, and the fascinating history of the island, can be found at www.starisland.org.

Before I go…

By | Antique rugs, Design | 4 Comments

Before I go off to rug camp, here are a few antique rugs coming up for sale for you to contemplate and consider. First, above, is a perfect combination of a floral pattern with hit or miss completing the geometric design. It is Lot 337, coming up for sale by Wooton and Wooton, in Camden, SC, on Sept. 16th (10 am). The description: Early American Hooked Rug Late 19th/early 20th century. Having floral pattern throughout. W 41 1/2″ L 61″. Estimate: $100-$200.

This next photo shows two rugs being sold together, by Locati Auctions, on September 18th (9 AM) in Maple Glen, PA:

The larger rug does not interest me that much – a bit too blotchy even for me – though I do like the border. If the center section had been hooked in all one color, the other areas of variation would not bother me nearly as much. But the Hit or Miss rug is great – the simplest of a geometric design, with an internal grid border to define the blocks. I can say it is simple, but if I got out a piece of linen to draw it out, I would really have to focus on finding the exact diagonals in each block that forms the pattern. One of those designs that look simple without being easy to reproduce! These two rugs make up Lot 917639. Description: The larger rug has floral decoration, the smaller rug has a geometric pattern, both early 20th century. Dimensions: 60″ x 35″ and 37″ x 24″. Estimate: $200-$300.

And here are three more antique rugs which will both be sold tomorrow (Sept. 9, 10 am) at Garth’s Auctioneers, in Delaware, Ohio:


This is a large rug, and I think it’s quite elegant – the bright flowers and center design are framed by the two-tone scrolling leaves. It is Lot 497, described as AMERICAN HOOKED RUG. Twentieth century. Room size rug with large polychrome bouquet of flowers in center, bordered with flowers and foliage. Backed with cloth. 9′ x 12′. Estimate: $600-$1200.

This next one is Lot 401 in tomorrow’s auction at Garth’s:

and what’s not to love about that charming, smiling dog? Even the star is sweet! Description: AMERICAN HOOKED RUG. Early 20th century. Large dog. With fringe. 26.5″ x 41.5″ Estimate $200-$400.

And here is Lot 408, in the same auction tomorrow:

I really like this one, both the design itself and the combination of colors used. Description: AMERICAN HOOKED RUG. Early 20th century. Floral design on purple ground. 31″x 65″, Estimate $100-$250.

Well, I am fairly ready to set off for my rug retreat on the Isles of Shoals this weekend. I took Lynne Fowler’s advice, and cut a lot of 3″-4″ wide long strips of wool in the colors I think I will need for my flag-on-the-porch rug. I put each group of colors together with a large safety pin, so all my grays and tans are in one bundle, all my greens in another, and so on. It cut down my pile of wool substantially, but I will have a good choice of colors to be getting on with. Great idea, so thanks, Lynne!

Here are links to the auction websites, and all photos are used courtesy of them: www.wootenandwooten.com, www.locatillc.com and www.garths.com

Hope you have a great weekend with at least some hooking involved, wherever you are!

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!

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.