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Follow the blog

By | About the blog | 46 Comments

To follow the blog by email, open up any blog post, (click on the colored title) and at the end, leave your name and email, a short comment and then, below that, check off the “notify me by email” option. To follow in a blog reader, copy and paste http://www.maryjanesrugs.com/?page_id=3284 into it. As you browse, most photos will enlarge if you touch or click on them!

A balance of two passions

By | Composition, Contemporary rugmakers, Creativity | 3 Comments

Last week our White Mountain Woolen Magic guild speaker was Kris McDermet, of Dummerston, VT. I told our members ahead of time that if they had ever seen one of her rugs, they would remember it.

Kris has blended braiding and hooking, to take both to a new level. Above, you can see her rug Leaves of Grace, based on a Shaker Tree of Life design. Notice how, even in the rug’s center, the “fruits” of the tree are small braided pieces:

And the outer border features hooked and braided leaves with empty space between them:

Kris works on smaller sections of her rugs, and then pieces them together into the larger whole. Here is another of her rugs, called Passion:

In this beautiful work, Kris even encorporated some wet-felting, to do the hearts in her design:

Kris finished each piece of hooking separately, using wool rug padding and a back lining to bring each hooked area up to the same level as the thicker braided areas. Here is a close-up of one hooked piece, almost finished, with the hooked layer, the linen backing, rug padding and finally the red lining, ready to turn in and finish the stitching on:

And here is a hooked piece, all padded and lined, and about to have a line of braiding added:

Kris explained that, as much as she tries to get a precise fit between the hooked and braided pieces, sometimes, it does not come out right, and she has to figure out a way to “make it work” – her sharing these moments with us made her process much more accessible to the rest of us!

Here is a close-up of another of Kris’s rugs (too large for me to photograph well) that was based on a contemplative labrynth:

And this piece is called Peaceful and Quiet Offerings, with the design
based on the idea of a string of lanterns around a koi pond with the birds and bugs surrounding the pond:

Kris says that when one of her designs really works, neither the braiding nor the hooking is more important than the other. There is a balance.

Many thanks to Kris for sharing the story of her rugs with our group, and allowing me to show them to you here. Her website is online at www.krismcdermetrugs.com, where you can find her schedule of classes, too. Kris’s book “Combining Rughooking and Braiding” is available from Shiffer Books online here, and has a lot of detailed instructions for anyone wanting to know more of her techniques!

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.

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!

Simple, repeating, captivating.

By | Antique rugs, Textiles | 3 Comments

From time to time, I stop by the Nazmiyal Antique Rugs collection, just to see rugs from all different cultures – Moroccan, Scandinavian, Art Deco, Ottoman, Chinese, Berber, Persian, and many more. But today I found this rug, pictured above, in their gallery of antique hooked rugs. Just had to show it to you!

It is hand-hooked, and huge – 8’7″ in x 12′ 6″ – so must have been years in the making. It’s dated to be “early 20th century”. Not only is the overall design captivating, but look at how there are hit-or-miss borders in a basketweave pattern to the squares, and the inside of the squares are solid color! Just the opposite of the hit-or-miss rugs I have seen or made myself. It really becomes three-dimensional once you look at it for a little while.

Here is the online description:

Beautiful and Early Antique American Hooked Rug, Country of Origin: American, Circa Date: Early 20th Century – Ingenious in its style, color and composition, this spectacular antique American hooked rug features a splendid allover pattern that creates an illusion of depth and texture. The beautiful basket-weave pattern with its poly-chromatic stripes follows a strict under-over form that sets it apart from the monochromatic and subtly variegated squares featured in the background. Like a patchwork quilt that incorporates innumerable colors and prints, this stunning antique hooked rug is a joy to behold. The varied earth-tone hues are juxtaposed beautifully against the vivid pink, vermillion and turquoise accent colors that are set between the basket-weave stripes. This outstanding antique rug, an American hooked carpet illustrates the amazing versatility of a simple geometric repeating pattern, which is executed in a way that is full of color, texture and visual appeal.

I do love this rug, and it has given me ideas! And I also got a kick out of our “hit or miss” being referred to as “poly-chromatic stripes”. We’ll have to remember that! And isn’t it lucky that I don’t have a place for this large rug in my house – its price is $24,000.

Photo is courtesy of the Nazyimal Collection, online at www.nazyimalantiquerugs.com. You can go straight to their hooked rug gallery here, but I do encourage you to browse around in their collection to see many beautiful examples of rugs and carpets from around the world and throughout history. It is enough to make one dizzy with inspiration.

If you get Rug Hooking Magazine, look for my first published article (whee!) in the new issue, on making hit or miss rugs. I must say, seeing this rug is quite humbling!

Taking a closer look…

By | Art, Color, Composition | 6 Comments

I just came across this lovely painting, for the first time. It is The Homestead, by John Whorf (American, 1903-1959) and it is a watercolor done in about 1945.

Let’s look at it together, and see what we can see. After my very first glance (“what a beautiful old cape! Oh dear, abandoned…“) I notice that almost half of the painting, in the foreground, is taken up by the soft diagonal of the field. The black of the wellpump stands out from the tans and browns of the grasses. The pump draws my eye right to the house itself. In terms of color, the field has a bit of green and even some yellow in with the tans and browns.

Where does your eye travel when viewing the painting? I looked at the brighter colors of the field first, then the black pump led me to the green back door of the house’s ell, and the roofline. And then my eye goes to the hard shadow line across the house, and to the far door… My eye travelled back to the patch of black in the window just to the left of the white door – a broken window, I think, that adds to the abandoned feel of the house. And from the far door, I took in the boarded-up window on the far right.

It was only on the second looking that I really took in the angles of the roof, the two chimneys, and how the house is framed and softened at the top by the unseen tree’s branches.

Look at how the angle of the shadow falling across the house is as hard a line as the house itself. Look at the shadows from the tree on the top roof and far side of the house. Where is the sun coming from?

Did you notice that the diagonal of the hard shadow-line on the house is just the same as (parallel to) the diagonal of the left-most roofline? How do the different diagonals of the roof itself play off against the soft diagonal of the field?

The green bushes here and there in the field balance the greens of the branches overhead. And the field itself: it puts the house at a distance from us, doesn’t it?

Of course the shape of the house itself – the placement of the doors and windows, the rooflines and horizontal lines of the clapboards – is determined by the architecture of any good old cape. But the artist chose just that angle to view it from, with the sun and shadows falling at just that moment, when he contemplated his choices – his composition.

What is the focal point of the painting? I am not sure, and maybe it is different to different people. But I decided that for me, it was the white door – what I took to be the main door that would be used every day.

The whole abandoned look of the house brings to mind who lived there, why they left it, who went in and out of those doors a hundred times, a thousand times. And, at least for me, that is the emotional impact of the painting. I can so easily picture a woman coming out of that green door of the ell to pump water – for dyeing wool or yarn on the top of her old stove. Don’t you think there might have been a hooked rug in front of the stove?

Each art medium has its own look. Watercolor allows that very softness of color, and the wonderful almost blurry top edge of the field grasses, allowing you to feel you are looking right through the grass where it overlaps the house’s foundation. You could dye wool to get the different colors of the field, but it would be beyond me how to create that soft edge where field and house meet.

John Whorf’s The Homestead (August), c.1945 is being sold by Childs Gallery, Boston, MA for $8,500, and they are online at childsgallery.com.

The Gallery description of the painting reads “John Whorf was one of the most accomplished American watercolorists. In this watercolor he treats a Cape Cod house… with a style and technique reminiscent of two of his favorite artists, John Singer Sargent and Frank W. Benson.”

Whorf was born in Winthrop, MA, and died in Provincetown. I did not find much biographical information on him, but it is clear, after searching, that many galleries actively are interested in finding works by him. And a book has just been published about him, John Whorf Rediscovered, available from AFA Publishing. You can see a few more of his paintings here, all lovely.

Today, don’t look at the eclipse without special precautions, so you can continue to look, and then look again, at everything else.

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!