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Category Archives: Design

Dream on…

By | Creativity, Design | 2 Comments


Last night I had a rughooking dream, and, unusual for me, I remembered the entire thing quite clearly this morning.

First I have to explain that our NH ATHA group, White Mountain Woolen Magic, has just started a “fun challenge” – to make a small hooked piece using mostly alternative fibers (ie, not wool, but t-shirts, fleece, velvet, silk, cotton, ribbon, candywrappers – anything but wool). So I have been thinking about what design would lend itself to an interesting array of different materials. Maybe a basket of flowers? Maybe a landscape? Still mulling the possibilities over in my mind.

So last night in my dream, I was at a rummage sale, and came across a man’s shirt. It was really ugly: a very shiny white background, with one wide row of a checkerboard pattern with light gray and white blocks across the chest, and then, down at the bottom, another row of a checkerboard pattern, this one with a darker gray and white series of blocks.

It had to be some really synthetic material, since the whole shirt was so shiny – one of the ugliest men’s shirts I had ever seen. But I immediately grabbed it. It would be perfect for a snow scene. Shiny white, with light and dark grays for the shadows.

So when I woke up, and remembered this dream (and this ugly shirt) so vividly, I thought the snow scene idea over. I really have never been drawn to doing a snow landscape. I love some of the ones I have seen, but the more I thought about it, the more I got convinced that it really was not something I was drawn to do.

Then I remembered that I really did not have this men’s shirt to make a snow scene with, anyhow – it was just a shirt in my dream. I know I often feel like my brain is full of all sorts of odds and ends, but a whole rummage sale? Yikes.

I will have to keep thinking about my “alternate fibers” challenge design.

The moral of this story: I have no idea. Maybe you can think of one. But it does not surprise me that we sometimes do creative work in our dreams…

A woman sewing…

By | Art, Composition, Design | 5 Comments

image William Merritt Chase

We haven’t visited a museum lately, so let’s take a look at a painting from the Metropolitan. This is For The Little One, an 1896 oil by William Merritt Chase (American, 1849–1916). Long-time readers of this blog know I love paintings of women doing some kind of hand crafts, and this is an excellent example.

A woman sits, and stitches an article of baby clothing. As in most of these women-at-work portraits, she is sitting by a window, and its daylight illuminates the scene, and shows off the artist’s ability to capture the lights and shadows.

The woman is completely absorbed in her work.

Now let’s take a quick look at the composition of Chase’s painting. Composition, if you remember, refers to how the elements of the picture are arranged within the work, creating (hopefully) balance, harmony, tension or even mood.

First, go back to the painting, and look at where the light is brightest, and where the shadows are darkest. Then take a look at the distribution of various colors. Notice where the bits of orange are, and where slight tints of orange can be seen. How about his use of blue? And where are the brightest whites?

Even if you think Chase did not rearrange anything in the interior for his composition, he still decided the exact angle of view in his portrait. If he’d positioned himself several feet to the left or right, all the lines and angles would be different.

Here is my version of marking out the strongest lines and angles in the painting:


I know this is rough, but it is my way of looking at “the bones” of a painting – trying to see more of how the horizontal lines are balanced by the verticals and diagonals. Notice how the woman, sitting, forms a rough triangle shape.

When we look more closely at any very good piece of art, we strengthen our “looking muscles”, and this will help when we are planning out our own work.

I had this post mostly written, when I discovered that there will be a major exhibit of William Merritt Chase’s work at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, from October 9, 2016 – January 16, 2017. Look on the MFA website at www.mfa.org for details. A very good reason for getting yourself down to Boston, if you can. For The Little One is in the Metropolitan Museum’s collection, online at www.metmuseum.org.

Sheep, sheep, sheep

By | Contemporary rugmakers, Design, Food for thought | 3 Comments


It all started because I was sort of sick and jetlagged, and didn’t have a design ready to hook, so I pulled out a small pattern someone had given me. And it has a sheep in it. So I was looking at this minimalistic shape of the sheep’s head:


So…hook in hand, ready to begin, I realized I had to stop. What does a sheep’s head look like, anyhow? And that got me reading about our friends, the sheep.

There are over 1,000 breeds of sheep. There are more breeds of sheep than breeds of any other livestock species, except poultry. Sheep were among the first animals domesticated. An archeological site in Iran produced a statuette of a wooled sheep which suggests that selective breeding for woolly sheep had begun to occur over 6000 years ago.

Sheep breeds are divided into long-wool, medium wool and fine wool. And then there are those breeds grown primarily for meat. In England, the place I have lived closest to flocks, one day you would hear the ewes bleating very loudly, when their lambs were taken away to market. That’s why I don’t eat lamb.


The Merino (ewe and lamb pictured just above) is one of the oldest breeds of sheep in the world, with one of the finest wools. Merino sheep originally were developed in Spain, and during the Middle Ages, Spain’s wealth was based on these sheep, and it was a capital offense to export a Merino sheep. They are regarded has having the finest and softest wool of all sheep, and many other breeds were cross bred from Merino.

Fine wool sheep like Merino produce wool fibers with a very small fiber diameter, usually 20 microns or less. And mind you, there are 25,400 microns to an inch. Fine wool sheep account for more than half of the world’s sheep population. Found throughout Australia, South Africa, South America, and the Western United States, most sheep of this type are Merino or trace their ancestry to the Merino.

The Rambouillet (pictured in the top photo) is related to the Merino, and is the most common breed of sheep in the U.S., especially the western states (California, Colorado, and Wyoming) where the majority of sheep in the U.S. can still be found.

No wonder people try to get to sleep by counting sheep.

Wool is a freely-traded international commodity, subject to global supply and demand. Wool represents only 3% of world fiber production, but it is important to the economy and way of life in many countries. Australia dominates the world wool market. Though China is the largest producer of wool, it is also the largest wool buyer. The United States accounts for less than 1 percent of the world’s wool production and is a net importer of wool. Probably because of us rughookers.

OK, but what do we do about hooking a sheep? What color? What shape ears? Brown face, droopy ears? Black face, pointy ears? White face, with pink ears? Relax, it’s all good. Take a look at this chart of colors in only one breed – Shetland sheep:


So before I went off the deep end completely, I hooked my little sheep like this:


Now let’s look at an example of someone who really hooks sheep. Here is one of my favorite sheep rugs, by Sarah J. McNamara, of Greenport, NY. She named it Paisley Sheep:


Sarah wrote, “The sheep’s coat is made from the Standing Wool Rug technique. Lots of people incorporate this technique into their mats these days — they are often called “quillies” after the Victorian paper craft of quilling. I like to stick with the original name, but I don’t stick with the original technique. I like to shape my circles using a needle and thread, squeezing and manipulating them as I go, often using layers of different colored wool. I love to do it, but it takes a lot of time, as every piece is hand sewn and then applied to the linen backing before I begin hooking.”

Marvelous! What a great rug!

Sarah sells the pattern for Paisley Sheep on her etsy page, The Paisley Studio, here, and her design is copyrighted 2014, and so protected, and used here with her very kind permission. And on her etsy page and her blog, you’ll see a lot of other fine sheep rugs. Her blog is online at


And no talk of sheep rugs could go without mentioning Patty Yoder (1943-2005). If you ever get a chance to see her 2003 book, The Alphabet of Sheep, go through it, slowly, and you will fall further in love with sheep, as Patty clearly did. She hooked them so well, and so creatively. It’s a hard book to find, and currently sells online for about $200+. How I wish I had met Patty!


Or head up to the Shelburne Museum in Shelburne, VT to see many of Patty’s rugs in person. The museum is online at shelburnemuseum.org.

Well, now my little sheep-face looks a little, uh, basic. It’s entirely possible that if I told someone it was a dog’s face, they would believe me. But I bet they won’t know how many microns there are to an inch…

Visiting a rug show in St. Just, Cornwall 2nd try!

By | Contemporary rugmakers, Creativity, Design, Making rugs | No Comments


For all of us who did not make it to Sauder, are having a too-quiet Sunday afternoon, or those of us recovering from a summer cold, here is a delightful, well-produced film (about 6 minutes long) featuring the Summer 2015 rug exhibit of the “We Are Not Doormats” group in St. Just, Penwith, Cornwall, in the south of England. These women have so much fun with their rugs! I found watching this liberating and inspiring.


You’ll see a lot of hooked rugs, and a lot of proddy, and like the chair above, some pieces have a little of both. There are many delightful 3-D pieces, and rugs that break the rules with creative playfulness in design, shape and color. And yes, in the best English tradition, even the film takes a break in the middle for tea and cakes! Here is the link – enjoy it!

Inside and out

By | Design, History | 6 Comments


I’m at Heathrow Airport, ready to fly home. Had a wonderful trip, with other pictures to come. But for now, here is a photo of me (by the fountain) of Appuldurcombe House, built in 1702 by the Worsely family in Godshill, on the Isle of Wight.

It’s considered one of the very finest examples of Baroque architecture – but all is not as it appears at first glance. Take a look at the back exterior of the house:


Yes… sitting on its still perfectly manicured grounds, it has no roof, no windows, no inner walls. It’s an empty shell. The ruined structure was only saved because some present-day architect at the UK Dept. of Interior decided it was just too beautiful to be torn down any further. So it allows you to walk through, and see the structure’s bare bones:


The Worsleys abandoned the property after various hard times – a child who died in infancy, a failed marriage with a public scandal, large debts. Others came along to try it as a hotel (that failed), a boys school (that didn’t last), and a temporary home for monks heading to a new abbey.


Troops were billeted in the house during both world wars, and at the onset of the Second World War the house was taken over by the military. On 7 February 1943, a Nazi Luftwaffe plane that was engaged in a mine-laying mission turned inland and dropped its final mine very close to the house. The resulting hole in the roof was left unrepaired, and the lack of a good roof is the death knell for any building. After the war, much of the remainder of the roof and the interiors were removed and sold off.


There is one section that was not stripped completely, and the roof of that section was rebuilt to preserve what was left of the dining room wing, giving an enticing look at the style of the interior-that-was:


So now, Appuldurcombe House sits – open to the public at no charge – and gives its visitors a rather unique view of an English stately home. Lovely lines, shapes and shadows wherever you look…


Another one done…

By | Design, History of Art, Making rugs | One Comment


About a year ago, for this blog, I was looking at designs made by the famous Vienna Workshop designers, back around the turn of the century. And I saved one, just because it appealed to me. Here is the design as I found it:


The designer was Ugo Zovetti (Croatian, 1879-1974), and he did this in 1911. I’ve looked at so many design sources and artwork, and having an excuse to spend lots of time meandering through art history is one of the main attractions of doing this blog! But this is the first time I actually saved a historical design and adapted it into a rug.

Just as a quick recap, the Vienna Workshop was the European center for the Arts and Crafts movement (often called the Craftsman school of design in the US), and it was a production community of visual artists who believed in the ideal of the Gesamtkunstwerk (total artwork), a coordinated environment in which everything down to the last detail was consciously designed as an integral part of the whole project. So designers there worked on architecture, fabric, furniture, ceramics, leather goods, enamel, jewelry, postcards. The “Wiener Werkstätte” even had a millinery department. It lasted as a design center until the depression in the 1930s.

I believe Zovetti mostly worked on fabric design and paper goods. Here is another piece by him – a very attractive repeating pattern done in 1910:

Wonderful! But, yikes, the one I picked to adapt was hard enough! I did enjoy seeing the birds design come to life. And to get the detailed effect in the birds, I did a lot of the beading stitch (starting two strands of wool on the same line, and alternating loops of the two colors). A slow process at first, but I definitely gained speed as I went along. Some of the designs in the leaves were too “wormy” for me, so I simplified them to a more basic leaf-vein look. And I confess I sort of color-planned it as I went along.

In two days I leave for a few weeks in England! So blog posts may happen from there, but they might not be as rug-oriented as usual. I am planning, though, to visit the wonderful Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, so it’s likely I will have something to talk about, don’t you think?

Enjoy your hooking, and wherever you are, keep an eye out for good design!

Sun and Light

By | Composition, Design | 3 Comments


This is a photo from the UK’s Daily Telegraph newspaper from this morning. At first I thought it was a painting. The caption was “The sun peeks over the horizon on Wednesday morning at Cutt Mill in Dorset. Showers are forecast later in the day however.”

Since the rising sun can be seen, it’s a good example to use in practising our sun and light perception skills. A rughooking teacher once told me that, when doing a pictorial, you should decide right at the start where the light source is, then take a sharpie and mark its direction with a big arrow on the outer edge of your backing – and then keep checking back to that arrow to keep your highlights and shadows consistent.

But first, it helps to train your eye in seeing the logic of where the highlights and dark shadows would be, based on the light coming from whatever direction it illuminates the scene. So just take a moment or two and look more closely at this photo. You already know where the sun is, so you can figure out what direction your “reminder arrow” would point. If you are unsure, look at the line of sunlight reflected in the water, and where in the field sunlight hits directly and where it is in shadow. Find the shadow created by the old mill building blocking the sunlight.

Then do this little exercise a lot, when looking at a photo or good painting – or, even better, in your own living room, garden or wherever else is right in front of you. Where does light from a window or lamp fall the brightest? And notice which sides of things are in deep shadow.

Draw that “light source arrow” in your head when you are just sitting and looking around. Repeatedly. And then, when you go to plan out a pictorial, you will have a more intuitive “light and shadow muscle” to rely on.

Ok, here’s another photo to practise on, of the sunlight coming in to my porch in late afternoon. Try to determine the correct direction of the light source:


If you practise pinpointing the direction of the light even from one or two clear shadows, soon you will know just where the shadows need to be added in your rug design – if you decide on a consistent source of light. And do this even if the light source (the sun, window, lamp) is not itself included in the design.

Here is a good reminder illustration:

You can find good articles about light and shadow online, from a more elementary one at willkempartschool.com to a bit more advanced piece at design.tutsplus.com.

The Cutts Mill, Dorset photo at top is courtesy of the Daily Telegraph,CREDIT: MARTIN DOLAN/SWNS, and the above illustration is courtesy of the design.tutsplus article mentioned above.

Vienna and New York

By | Contemporary rugmakers, Creativity, Design | 4 Comments

image MJ vienna birds

You can certainly travel the world in rughooking. You can see rugs of lions and tigers, and giant iguanas, and rugs based on places we’ve been to ourselves – from beach scenes and mountain ranges to cityscapes and country barns.

Above is a quick look at my progress so far on the 1911 design I adapted from Ugo Zovetti, an artist of the Vienna Workshop. Just so you know I did get a lot of hooking done during four days of rug camp! So far, so good. I’m not a big color planner, but now that I have the last two panels to go, I will start making sure I balance out the colors used in the other finished panels.

But for our real treat today, here is a rug being worked on at rug camp by Catherine Heilferty, of Yardley, PA. You can see it is almost done:

image Catherine Heilfirty

Catherine took a trip to New York City with her daughter, and they made a point of taking the NYC subway everywhere they went. If you’ve been on the NY subway, you will remember that almost all of the stations, underground, are decorated with lovely plaques that relate to that area of the city. And they are what Catherine recorded and used for her rug design:

image Catherine Heilfery

I don’t know the story of all the tiles, but the plaque of the beaver (lower right) decorates the Astor Place subway stop, and dates from 1904 – the Astor fortune was based on trading beaver pelts. Here is a photo of the actual tile:


And so each tile tells one story of the city, and Catherine has put in amazing detail to commemmorate her trip. When I saw the rug (which is quite large) she had just finished the sign up in one corner of the rug:

image Catherine Heilferty

Catherine consulted a simplified tourist map of the subway to keep the design roughly true, and to place her station tiles. And when you see it in person, the “subway tiles” she so appropriately used for her background are lovely, with slight changes in color throughout the rug.

Wonderful, creative work, Catherine, and thanks so much for letting me show it here!

Catherine’s design is hers and hers alone, and so protected – and used here with permission. Please don’t pin, paste, copy or otherwise spread it all over the internet without her permission.

At rug camp…

By | Contemporary rugmakers, Creativity, Design | 5 Comments

image green mtn 2016

There is nothing like being at a long-awaited rug camp! I’m at the first session of Green Mountain Rug School, in Montpelier VT. Four solid days of hooking, visiting and being inspired. I’m in the retreat session (no teacher, just doing your own thing) and as always, it is a delightful group of congenial experienced hookers doing an amazing array of hooking projects.

Here is one project just started, designed by Sarah Jansen, of Westport, MA:

image Sarah Jansen

I wanted to show this design to you because I love the way Sarah met this design challenge. She is making this rug for her daughter, who wanted “something with barnyard animals”. So instead of doing one barnyard or pasture scene with animals, she designed the flowering vine framework, with several insets for pigs, a horse, cows, sheep and chickens, with the outer flowering vine (with birdies) tying them all together.

And this is why rug camp and hook-ins are such a good learning experience. We all approach design ideas in such a different way! So here’s a reminder – never get so caught up in your own hooking that you forget to have really good look around at how people have come up with novel ways of capturing their ideas in their rugs!

I have always wanted to do a rug featuring historic buildings in my town, but haven’t ever hit upon the right way to tie them all together. A map format would be difficult, because of the town’s odd geography. So it is one of the ideas I have in my head that got “stuck”. And Sarah has already told me I can use her idea for uniting a number of different vignettes into one rug. Way to go, Sarah!

And of course, the other lovely thing about being at a rug gathering is:





So thanks to Green Mountain Rug School, and all the other folks from coast to coast who work hard to organize rug camps. Learn and grow, wherever you are – and always keep your eye out for the new angle, a different approach and an artistically solved design problem!

A wonderful hooking day

By | Contemporary rugmakers, Design, Making rugs | 3 Comments

image Helen Johnson

Summer brings many hook-ins and rug camps, and as far as I have experienced or heard, every single one of them is a treasure. Sunday was the annual Canaan, NH hook-in and it was wonderful. Above you see the rug that I spent the most time looking at and admiring. It is “Aboriginal Symbols”, by Helen Johnson, of Williamstown, Vermont.

Helen said she has always really admired the “dot paintings” from Australian aboriginal artists, and loved that each symbol tells a story. She designed it from the symbols she researched, freehand, and said she spent more time getting the spacing right than anything else.

image Helen Johnson

Helen said she just used wool she’d already had – judging from the lovely transitional colors she used, she must have a wonderful basket of worms! Helen said that to honor the tradition of painted dots, she surrounded the symbols with a black and white beaded row of hooking. Beautiful!


And what really impressed me was the intricate background of creams and beiges Helen worked around all the symbols:

image Helen Johnson

The rug would have been lovely with a plain hooked background, but the beige geometric figuring she used added depth and real artistry to this rug.

As always, the Canaan hook-in was held in the historic Canaan Meeting House, and hookers from surrounding small towns look forward to it every year.



So many thanks to Helen for permission to show her rug here, and many thanks to Judith and Pappi and everyone who made the day so special. Days like this are what give you ideas, allow you to appreciate the variety of hooking talents, projects and techniques, and build friendships and a wonderful rughooking community! I hope you all get to go to some rughooking get-together before long!