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In late 2015, rughooker Kris Burnett was contemplating her retirement after 20 years as a librarian at the Howe Library in Hanover, NH. She got the idea to do some hooked wallhangings using the look of vintage postage stamps as a unifying design element. Above, you see her rug Hats Off to Howe, based on a 2010 Netherlands circus poster, and adapted to be a self-portrait.
But the first “stamp” wallhanging she did was this lovely piece, Golden Stag, of a large Czech dancing stag, based on a 1963 Czech folk image stamp (used with permission):
Kris writes, ”This first piece inspired me to consider making a small folk stamp wallhanging as a gift for each of my friends at Howe Library, a remembrance of our years together.”
As you will see, Kris’s rugs, with all their fine detail, are impeccably crafted. She makes it look so easy to get all that fine lettering (in a foreign language, yet) looking perfect! And the composition of her designs is so good that you don’t even notice it – each rug just looks naturally balanced.
Here is The Wolf and the Seven Young Goats, an adaptation of a Bulgarian postage stamp from 1964, based on one of the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tales, which I especially loved:
So she started planning. About thirty rugs, with the hope to be finished in three years time, to coincide with her retirement date in August, 2018. Yes, she did worry about the stamina it would take to produce more than thirty individualized rugs for her co-workers, but she did it. What a wonderful undertaking! Kris’s exhibit of these rugs is now on display at the Howe Library in Hanover (through October 3rd), and if you are at all close by, it’s well worth your time to go see these 35 rugs before they each go to their new homes with Kris’s workmate friends.
This rug is called Pot of Flowers, based on a 1963 Czechoslovakian postage stamp:
The thoughtfulness that Kris put in to finding an image that would speak to each separate coworker is obvious. She wrote to her co-workers, “From the wealth of stories we have shared over the years, an idea emerged that somehow spoke to each of you. Some of the designs are rooted in old stamps, folk tales, matchbook covers, posters, program covers, or medieval manuscripts…Some just formed in my imagination.”
As I looked at the variety of rugs Kris made for her friends, I couldn’t help wondering about each individual she had made this particular rug for. The collection of rugs really did seem like a collection of friends, of stories shared over the years. It is not for us, the viewers, to know the full story of each rug, but I could tell that each will be very meaningful to the person Kris has gifted it to. Here is Mixed Breed:
And I found the unifying theme of postage stamps really wonderful. It allowed Kris a wide latitude of images and art traditions – from Pennsylvania Fraktur designs and Pacific Northwest folk images to a tropical scene on St. Croix and a Russian Ballet program cover – while keeping a consistency that ties all the images together. This rug is White Tiger, based on a Vietnamese postage stamp:
When I walked into the library, I went up to the librarian who was at the front desk, and asked directions to the exhibit of Kris’s rugs. The friendly man gave me clear directions, and when I mentioned I was a rughooker, he was interested, and smiled at me. But when I asked, “And did Kris make a rug for you?”, his face absolutely lit up. It was wonderful to see his reaction! He told me a little about the rug Kris made for him, the significance of the tree, the prayer flags hanging on it, the stone wall, the mountains. Here is “his” rug, titled Sacred Places, and adapted from a postage stamp from the Republic of Korea:
Kris writes, “This project fired my creative life for three years… This show is a tribute to the good friends and colleagues with whom I have worked for 20 years. Just as sharing our stories over the years has given me great pleasure, so too has creating these little pieces.”
Kris, I am so inspired by the creative vitality of your rugs, and so happy that they are – for the next six weeks – on display all together! And mostly I am moved by the wellspring of friendships that must have sustained you through making each of these pieces as your gifts of thanks!
The Howe Library website is here, with hours and directions. Try to get there before October 3rd! All images are used with the permission of Kris Burnett, and many thanks to her for letting me show them here!
On the left is the rug that my good rughooking friend Sue Hammond, of New London, NH, designed and hooked. As soon as I saw her design, I loved it. It’s not a hit or miss rug, but the multi-color leaves, and the birds perched on the tree dazzled me. And so I asked if she would draw out the same design for me.
It’s not every rug designer that would agree to a request to copy out a rug they have just started making. So I felt completely honored that she agreed to draw out the same design onto linen for me to make. My version is on the right.
The designs are slightly different – she did not trace this design, she just re-drew it for me from scratch. She made the birds on “my” version slightly bigger, and placed one bird right at the center top of the tree. In the version she drew for me, the tree is slightly larger, and I made a few of the branches a bit thicker. And while she really liked her leaves to be not actually touching the branches, I hooked my leaves to be touching their branches.
Sue is one of the founders of the Green Mountain Rughooking Guild, and one of its past presidents. She is the emotional anchor of our local Tuesday Morning Rug Group. So I mean it when I say it was an honor to do a version of her rug.
And we both took great pleasure in seeing each of our rugs take shape, week to week – hers with her light background, mine with its dark background. We both edited the colors of the wool we chose for the leaves against our backgrounds – her leaves could not be too light, mine could not be too dark.
Yesterday, for the first time, we looked at both rugs, finished, side by side.
I will be putting my rug into the Green Mountain Guild’s next Hooked In The Mountains show, and the title of my rug will be Sue’s Tree of Life.
So here is a salute to Sue, to good rughooking friends everywhere, and to all those people like Sue who are relaxed in manner, creative in energy, and generous in spirit. They light up our lives…
Tonight I am flying to England. I will spend a week at Christ Church (that’s the name of the college) in Oxford. The graceful Tom Quad is pictured above.
And what will I be doing there? Taking a one week class in medieval illuminated manuscripts. I have always loved seeing them, but know very little about them, so figured it would be a good class choice!
This is a page from the Old Testament, created in England in the first half of the 15th century.
I think the class will be a combination of history and art, and that will be fine with me! The word “illuminated” just means decorated and illustrated, and “manuscripts” really does mean “written by hand”. These were made in medieval times, right up until the invention of the printing press. Scribes and monks carefully spent years creating Psalters, books of Hours, copies of the books of the Bible, whole Bibles and even copies of sacred music. Here is a closer look at another manuscript, from 1425:
I am really hoping that I will learn about the different scrolls, vines, leaves and other design figures used. Here is another page of script, which was left uncompleted, so you can see the design at an early stage:
I have packed a small sketchbook and a few drawing pens, just in case I want to try out reproducing some of the simpler elements I see… you never know what something like this will lead to!
Well, I will know more about these manuscripts before the coming week is out, and know absolutely that my time at Christ Church will be magical, and will go by fast!
All these examples are from the collection of the British Library. Stay well, and hook on!
Let’s just call it serendipity. I have still been struggling to put creative words to paper (ok, to blog post) with recent current events having a jarring and debilitating effect. But yesterday I thought I could try to find another in my series of paintings showing women absorbed in some kind of needlework. It’s been a while since I posted one. So I started searching around for something new – just to send greetings and something interesting to you all…
Through the marvels of the internet, and one link leading to another, I somehow came across this painting, above, by Ugo de Cesare. What a wonderful work of art!
Look how the hard, square lines of the piano, the music sheet and the back of the little girl’s chair set off all the rest – everything else is curved, soft, and rounded.
Look at how the two girls (surely sisters?) are arranged to form a rough triangle on the canvas. And the focus of both girls’s attention is so interesting. The older girl is so concentrated on her needlework, while the younger one is so focussed on her big sister. Having three older sisters myself, I remember well looking on at their accomplishments, watching the things they could do well that I was still a beginner at. So as well as admiring the painting, I found something quite true in the relationship between these two girls. Lovely! It is oil on canvas, and titled Music and Embroidery.
So I looked up Ugo de Cesare, and was expecting to find something like “Italian painter, 1835-1900”. Well, I was right about the “Italian painter”, but he was born in the same year I was, 1950. He is our contemporary, and lives close to Naples, Italy.
An online bio for de Cesare says “Ugo de Cesare, Italian painter, was born in a small village near Florence. He studied at the Academy of Naples and Florence, and originally wanted to become an art teacher. To get his degree, he had to create an oil painting, which created such a sensation that he was awarded his degree with distinction.“
There is something so classicly beautiful about his work, and for me, there is an emotionality that shines through. Here is another oil painting by de Cesare that I liked just as much as the first one, titled In The Garden.
Are these the same two girls? I wonder if Ugo has sisters? Look at the embroiderer’s blouse, and all the subtle color shading that have gone into painting this “white blouse”. And if you look at the girl’s hat, and how it shades her face, you can determine just where the light is coming from. And that foliage background! Wouldn’t you be pleased to get that effect in a background?
And the nicest part of coming across this wonderful artwork? Ugo is on Facebook! I contacted him (in English) asking for permission to show his work, and he wrote back quite promptly – in Italian. Thank goodness for Google Translate, but even I could understand his “thumbs up” icon! And later in the day, he even sent several “likes” for my rugs that have shown up on my own facebook page!
Here is one more of Ugo’s works for you, again oil on canvas, titled Friends. Just look at the sunlight and shadows:
So beyond feeling inspired by his wonderful paintings, and being able to thank this living, breathing, talented painter personally for his lovely artwork, tonight the world seems a little smaller, a little less harsh, and a little more friendly.
All images are used with the permission of the artist – “Ciao Maria. Grazie per gli apprezzamenti per la mia arte. Ti dico già che puoi disporre delle foto di ogni mio.dipinto che ti piace. Buona giornata.”
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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!
Sometimes our creative instincts can catch us by surprise. A friend showed me her copy of this book, The Ashley Book of Knots, by Clifford W. Ashley, and I was enchanted!
But let’s back up a little. It is good to know that Clifford Ashley was a very skilled and famous maritime painter. Here is his work, A Whaleship on the Marine Railway at Fairhaven (ca. 1916):
Wow. I would be able to look at this painting for a long, long time, and still find things to discover. Many of his works were less impressionistic, but full of detail and accuracy, like this illustration from one of his books on the whaling ships at the end of the 19th century:
The carving at the bow of the ship, the basket holding the drill, the chain and ax – all are very precisely rendered. Ashley, born in New Bedford, MA in 1881, went off to sea for several years on a whaling ship, and then came home to study art in Boston. What a change of careers! But actually he used his knowledge and love of the sea throughout his artistic life.
Here is another painting of his, A Clipper Ship at Full Sail, which I thought any rughooker who has done a sailing ship design would appreciate:
That sky! And look at how the colors of his sky are reflected on the sails!
Ashley also spent years learning and collecting the details of knots, along with their uses and detailed instructions, culminating in his book of knots:
This definitive book on knots features his precise illustrations of over 3,600 knots and instructions for making them, with a history of when they appeared, and what functions they serve. And each chapter heading has funny, charming illustrations about each category of knots:
And he did not limit himself to the knots of seamanship. He studied knots used by butchers, steeplejacks, cobblers, electric linesmen, poachers, surgeons, and “elderly ladies who knit”… He includes decorative knots and rope buttons:
…and even the mats that a ship’s cat might curl up on:
I must say that his instructions are a lot more understandable when reading the descriptions that accompany his illustrations. Some knots are beyond confusing, and a few brought back memories of the macrame I did years ago:
And yes, the string game of ”cat’s cradle” we played as kids was included, along with how to tie a tie! And some of the knots are simply beautiful:
Does this have anything to do with rughooking? No, it doesn’t! But I just found this man, his paintings and his big book of knots fascinating, so I thought you might, too.
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.
Textiles are as old as the hills. Textile fiber can be braided, hooked, woven, felted, and used to create in a multitude of ways. But even as far back as the first millennium, in the Andes of South America and during the time of the Incan empire, knotted textiles were the primary counting and communication device. These “talking knots”, or “knot records” were called quipus.
Above, you can see a particularly lovely example of an Incan quipu (pronounced kē-pu), from the Larco Museum in Lima, Peru. From Wikipedia: “A quipu usually consisted of colored, spun, and plied thread or strings made from cotton or camelid fiber. For the Inca, the system aided in collecting data and keeping records, ranging from monitoring tax obligations, properly collecting census records, calendrical information, and military organization.”
Here is another example, this one from about 1300 AD, again from the Larco Museum, of this quite precise and highly portable system:
There are good records of quipus from the first millennium through the 1500s, and ethnographers have unravelled their secrets, by and large. The fibers were either spun and plied thread such as wool or hair from alpaca, llama, guanaco or vicuña, or, more rarely, from cotton. Some of the knots, as well as other features, such as color, are thought to represent non-numeric information, but these secondary elements have not yet been deciphered.
For an explanation of how the counting works, let’s turn to Wikipedia:
“Each cluster of knots is a digit, and there are three main types of knots: simple overhand knots; “long knots”, consisting of an overhand knot with one or more additional turns; and figure-eight knots. A number is represented as a sequence of knot clusters in base 10.”
Here is another quipu (also spelled khipu), again from the Larco Museum in Lima:
The use of quipus as a central part of record-keeping faded out after the Spanish conquest of South America in the 1530s, though the Spanish would sometimes use them to settle local village disputes. But today, they are still used for ceremonies and rituals, and continue to be a powerful symbol of native heritage. Here is another, even more complex example, this time from the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, an ethnology museum in Germany:
Similar systems of counting were used by the ancient Chinese and native Hawaiians, and there is even a similarity to the bead-counting of wampum, in Native American culture. But quipus were a quite advanced system. The type of knot, the position of it on the string, the total number of knots and the sequence of the knots could all combine to create a potentially huge number of meanings. The whole method was based on a decimal system, like ours, with the largest decimal used being 10,000.
The Quipucamayocs (“quipu-authority”), were the accountants, those who created and deciphered the quipu knots. Quipucamayocs, once trained, could carry out basic arithmetic operations, such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. They kept track of taxation, the type of labor being performed, maintained a record of economic output, and ran a census that counted everyone from infants to “old blind men over 80”. The system was also used to keep track of the calendar. According to one authority, quipucamayocs could “read” the quipus with their eyes closed.
Does this have to do with rughooking? Well, no. But it is a pretty fascinating and elegant use of textiles as a complex code, and as textile artists, something good for us to know about!
For more pictures of quipus, go to www.museolarco.org and if you would like a more technical explanation of the counting system of knots, look to this article in Wikipedia, or this good general article from the Ancient History Encyclopedia.
Rejoice in your work, and hook on!
This interesting rug is one of several coming up in auctions soon. It is from the Wiederseim Associates sale on Feb. 24 (9 am) in Chester Springs, PA. The description: “Pictorial hooked rug of a running stag, as found, 42″h x 20″w”, estimated price: $150-$200.
At first, I could not figure out what the two dark poles were above the stag, then realized, after seeing the trees at both rug ends, that they were also trees. Do you suppose the maker ran out of the gold background, so the white of the center treetops turned into a less defined area? And was that white of the treetops once a light green wool that has faded? This is, of course, me just speculating, but that is part of the fascination in considering antique rugs, isn’t it?
At any rate, I liked this rug, the stag’s running motion is clear, and of course I like the use of hit or miss around the birds…
Here is another rug from the same sale. This one is described as “Hooked rug of flowers, 19th century, mounted on stretcher for wall hanging, 19 1/2″h x 32″w” and is estimated to be sold for $50-$100:
A classic flowers and scroll design, and it may well have been made from an early commercial pattern.
Now here is a nice rug that came up for sale the other day at Homestead Auctions in Norton, Ohio:
I liked the sweet little hooked floral center, with a two-border effect from the braided outer bands. It was just described as “Round Braided and Hooked Rug, 30″ Dia.”, but apparently it went unsold.
Now here is a beauty of a geometric, coming up for sale on March 9 (10 am) at John McInnis Auctioneers, in Amesbury, MA:
The description is “HOOKED AREA RUG w/ GEOMETRIC BASKET WEAVE PATTERN” and the size, quite large, at 68 x 94 inches. The estimated price is $100-$300. Here is a close-up for you to see the details and colors a bit better:
And finally, in another McInnis auction on the next day (Mar. 10, 11 am) is something pretty rare:
“Description: Octagonal whale bone handle, brass hook. 6 inches. Note: This tool was used to fashion “hooked rugs”. See McManus “A Treasury of American Scrimshaw page 48 for another example. **May only be purchased by a Massachusetts resident and will not be shipped out of state. NO EXCEPTIONS.”
Well. I am not sure how I would feel about using a scrimshaw hook, but it is beautiful, and I certainly have never seen one before. But I do not live in Massachusetts, so cannot buy it anyhow, especially for the $500-$700 estimated price. Glad I saw it, though.
Photos are used courtesy of the auction houses, and as always these days, all the items for sale can be seen (and bid for) online. And there are all kinds of other interesting items, if you have a chance to mosey around. Wiedersheim Auctions is online at www.wiederseim.com, Homestead Auctions is online at homesteadauction.net, and McInnes Auctions is online at