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Category Archives: Composition

Let’s look at some old rugs!

By | Antique rugs, Composition | 7 Comments

It’s been a while since we looked at antique rugs, so let’s jump in and see what can be found in the spring auctions. Above, you see Lot 22, HOOKED RUG WITH DOUBLE CORNUCOPIA & FLORAL DESIGN (33 1/2″ X 65 1/2″) from the Gallery at Knotty Pine, in West Swansey, NH. Price estimate is $200-$300. It will be coming up for sale June 10th, at 11 am. There was no detailed description, but I like the colors, the nice fine shading, and the symmetry of the design.

And now a little side trip relating to this design: I just learned the other day, that this is an example of Point Symmetry, meaning it looks the same upside down… or from any two opposite directions, ie, from the same center point. Here’s an illustration of point symmetry:

Point Symmetry is when every part has a matching part: the same distance from the central point but in the opposite direction. You learn something new every day! Thanks to Ania Knap for this one!

Now here is Lot 77, “Hand hooked vintage rug” which is coming up for sale on June 11th at 11 am, at Denise Ryan Auction House, in Manchester, NH, with a price estimate of $100-$500:

What a sweet scene! I especially like that the maker (unknown, of course) gave plenty of room to the lake itself, confining the near and far shores to (roughly) half of the entire rug – just the feeling you get sitting near a lake, with the vast water reaching into the distance.

This one is a little different, and is coming up for sale at Schwenke Auctioneers on June 14, 2017, at 10:00 am in Woodbury, CT. It is Lot 673:

The description reads “Depicting “White Horse Tavern”. Stains. 27 1/4″ long, 38″ wide. Provenance: Property of a Woodbury CT Estate.”

Well, it is a very nice signage rug, and while it’s not something I would make, I know sign designs have become quite popular. For the right person, it would be a great choice, and the estimated price on this one is $80-$100.

And finally, in the same June 14 sale at Schwenke Auctioneers, is this wonderful rug, Lot 614:

The colors on this lovely hit or miss are so bright, I wonder how old it is, but the only description is “Striped Rug with Floral Center. Use wear, center holes. 36″ high, 40″ wide. Provenance: Property of a Woodbury CT Estate.” And the estimated price on this one is $100-$200.

All photos are shown courtesy of the auction houses. The Gallery at Knnotty Pine is online at www.knottypineantiques.com, Denise Ryan Auctions is online at www.deniseryanauction.com, and Schwenke Auctioneers is at www.woodburyauction.com.

So. Which one would you pick? For me, it would be the little lake scene, reminiscent of many happy childhood days “up at the lake”.

Two more rugs in the world!

By | Composition, Contemporary rugmakers, Making rugs | 4 Comments

Sometime along about last June, I showed you this original design created by Sarah Jansen, of Westport, MA. Sarah had been asked by her daughter to do a rug for her “with different farm animals”. What an interesting design problem – do you make one farm scene with all the animals in together, or something different?

I loved how Sarah went for “something different” – she placed the groups of different barnyard animals each in their own little tableau, but unified and tied together each scene with the flowering vine that connects them! Just a great design solution!
So I heard from Sarah the other day, and this rug is done:

Sarah said she used a #6 cut of wool for all the animals, and a #8 cut for the rest of the rug. And the red flowers and the yellow birds combine well with both the individual animal scenes and the mixed coffee colored background.

It seems to me that Sarah could sell this pattern complete with the animal scenes, or just sell it with the different tableau areas blank, for people to fill in with their own personal “scenes” – maybe of family stories, or scenes from family trips, different family homes, or their own animal friends.

And for those of you who have not already seen this on facebook, I did finish my big (for me) hit or miss rug. Here it is:

After the riot of color in the hit or miss center, the wide charcoal gray border was pretty boring to hook, all in one dark color, but I do like the width of the border, and the darkness of it, now that I am done with the hooking and can stand back for a good look.

Sarah’s rug is her own design, and protected by copyright. It is possible that her design will be available soon as a pattern to buy, so if you are interested in it, let me know and I will pass that along to her. My rug was based on an antique rug, and I re-drew it to have clusters of flowers in all four corners. If you want to use the same idea and draw it out for yourself, feel free. I can tell you that drawing the ovals, both for the inside and outside borders, was the hardest part! I finally solved that by taking an old oval cheap “wipe your feet on it” rug and tracing the borders. I was still worried about whether it would look like a true oval when done, but I steamed it after taking this photo, and it looks ok to me!

Hook on, and happy Spring!

With needle and thread

By | Art, Composition, Creativity | One Comment

We’ve been talking a lot about hooked rugs lately (of course!) but today let’s take a look at some very fine needlework. Sarah K. Benning is an American contemporary embroiderer, who lives a rather nomadic life and studio practice (primarily splitting her time between the U.S. and Spain). Above and below, you can see examples of her well-designed and detailed work with needle and thread.

Sarah’s formal training was in fine arts, but she writes that she is a self-taught embroiderer. In fact, she says she discovered her love for embroidery almost by accident, and what began as a hobby has turned into her full-time career. But her studies at the Art Institute of Chicago have their effect – her sense of strong composition and her training in illustration really show in her designs.

Her works are quite small:

And her sense of humor comes through, too, as in this piece:

Sarah wrote that each piece begins as an illustration, and then she treats her thread as if it were ink or paint, meticulously bringing her drawn design to life. She frequently forgoes traditional embroidery stitches in favor of bold shapes and playful patterns. And because drawing is at the heart of each work, she keeps a sketchbook of ideas, composition thumbnails, plant details and textile diagrams to work from.

And don’t you love how she uses interior rugs to add depth and pattern to her plant scenes? See, we are right back to talking about rugs again! OK, here is one more of Sarah’s pieces for you:

Many thanks to Sarah, whose works are all her own and protected by copyright, for giving me permission to show them here. You can see many more of her designs on her website at www.sarahkbenning.com.

In the spirit…

By | Art, Color, Composition | 6 Comments


Here we are in December, so let’s go visit a few museums, looking for Wise Men, and for the spirit of the season.

First, a stop at the wonderful Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Here, above, is a panel from the V&A collection, Adoration of the Magi, made in Faenza, Italy, circa 1490-1500.

This is quite a small piece (about 24″ x 16″, and about 6″ deep) and I think it attracted me because there was something “rughooking-primitive” about the portrayal, and of course because of the deep, rich colors used. And the perspective of the figures, sheltering in the grotto (cave), with the landscape above, made it an intriguing composition.

It is described as “modelled in high relief in a recessed frame, and painted in blue, orange, manganese purple and copper green. The three kings are on the left, while on the right is St. Joseph and the seated Virgin Mary with Baby Jesus on her lap. The figures are depicted in a grotto, and above it, a landscape with a tree. Techniques: Tin-glazed earthenware painted with rich colors.”

Just to give you a better look at the depth of the relief, here is a sideways view of the panel:


After that colorful version, let’s stop at the Rejksmuseum in Amsterdam to look at an engraving of Adoration of the Magi, by Dutch artist Hendrick Goltzius, a century later (about 1598-1600):


Interesting because it is unfinished, yes, but also because it is so personal – the focus here is not the entire manger scene with a small crowd of people and animals, but the emotions on four faces, as they gaze upon the still-missing Christ child by candlelight.

And when you look at the fine lines of an engraving, you can see so clearly how the lines and crosshatching create dark, medium and light areas, and how the direction of the lines and curves create the folds in the clothing, the shape of the fingers, the curls in the hair. Here is a close-up for you:


And here is one more, and very different, Adoration of the Magi, by Pieter Brueghel II, (Dutch, 1590-1638), also from the Rejksmuseum:


Now this is almost the opposite of the Goltzius etching – here the entire town is portrayed, and the nativity scene is almost completely hidden in the bottom left corner. And the more I looked at this, the more I liked this odd composition – for as this holiest of events was happening, only a few were aware of it at all, and the majority of people were going about their daily business, completely unaware. There may have been Wise Men bearing gifts, but in no version of the Christian Nativity story were there a lot of them.

You can browse through collections at both these museums quite easily. The V&A is online here and the English-language site of the Rejksmuseum is online here.

The run-up to Christmas can be rushed, but we only are given a set number of Christmases in our lives, so do your best to make all of your preparations – whether making cookies, hooking an ornament, buying gifts, or finishing the tree – mindful and joyful.

Lynda’s “Legacy Rug”

By | Composition, Contemporary rugmakers, Creativity | 4 Comments


Here is a beautiful rug created and hooked by Lynda Hadlock, of Manchester, NH. Lynda’s Grandfather Scaletti had come to America from Italy, and he was a skilled stone carver, who went to work in the Redstone, NH granite quarry.

Linda writes, “My Grandfather was a stone cutter and I wanted to create a family legacy rug. We had a granite cornice stone that he helped carve – it was broken and could not be used, but I still have it in my garden:”


Pam Bartlett (owner and hooking teacher at The Woolen Pear, in Loudon, NH) was instrumental in helping me turn my idea into reality. We used the arch as a window, and envisioned my grandfather looking out to his future and seeing Redstone NH and the quarry. Here is the photo I took of the scene in Redstone:


It was a challenge to get the wool to look like granite, I wanted to get a tromp l’oeil look.”


Lynda wrote that perspective was also important. Look at how she used angled lines of hooking on the bottom and side edges of the arch to add depth to it:


Wow, that is really effective. Even her grandfather’s name really looks like it is carved in stone, because of the way Lynda used her shading:


The quarries in Redstone are a wonderful part of NH history. Redstone (now part of Conway, NH) produced two different rare colors of granite: red and green. Granite from Redstone was used in most of the early Maine Central and Boston & Maine railroad stations, and to make paving stones for cities all over the country. Redstone granite was used in many buildings in Portland, Boston, New York, and Washington, D.C. and as far away as Denver, CO and Havana, Cuba. Here is a photo of the stone yard and shed, in 1909:


The Hatch Memorial Shell, in Boston, is of Redstone green granite. Grant’s Tomb in New York, the National Archives building in Washington, and the George Washington Memorial Masonic Temple in Alexandria, V.A. were built mostly of Redstone pink granite. Supplying granite for the Masonic Temple was the largest job ever undertaken, including twenty-four polished columns, each 22 feet long and each weighing 18 tons. Historical documents about the quarries talk about the skilled Italian stonecutters who came to work to do fine detailing and carving, and settled in the area with their families. The Nature Conservancy and the State of New Hampshire now own the entire property.

What a wonderful piece of family history to memorialize in a rug! Lynda, I know parts of this design were a real challenge, and it is clear you brought all your skills to this rug. It’s a beautiful achievement, and a great legacy rug for your family! Thanks so much for sharing it with us!

Lynda’s rug is her own, copyrighted and protected, and used here with her kind permission. Please don’t copy, pin, facebook or paste it…unless you ask her.

Antique rugs on the block

By | Antique rugs, Composition | 2 Comments

image Garth's

A beautiful Sunday! Maybe you have time to read a blog entry, and maybe you are busy hooking or out enjoying the late September sunshine. But whenever you get to this, let’s look at a few antique rugs. All these rugs are coming up for sale (or just got sold) at auction. Above you can see Lot 1250A: TWO FOLKSY RUGS, from Garth’s Auctioneers, (Oct. 7, 1 pm) in Delaware, Ohio. Both have great colors. Here is the auctioneer’s description:
American, 1st quarter-20th century. Penny rug with pointed ends in red, gold, green, grey, etc., 33″ x 50″, and a hooked rug with flowers, 20″ x 50″. Estimate: $100 – $200.

Here is another great antique rug sold by Garth’s on Sept.10th:

image Garth's

Oh, boy… this is my favorite kind of antique rug. Clearly drawn in the most primitive style, capturing what seem to be beloved dogs, with that patchy look that signals (to me) that the hooker just used the materials she had on hand. And the hit-or-miss sections are great! This was described as: AMERICAN FOLKSY HOOKED RUG. Early 20th century. Rug has hearts, stars, horseshoe, and dogs, “Bob” and “Rose”. 27″h. 64″w. Sorry, it does not say what the sale price was.

Here is a hooked rug up for sale on Oct 2 (11 am) by Jenack Auctioneers, in Chester, NY. It is just described as: Lot 336, VINTAGE “PIG” HOOKED RUG. 23 X 34″. Estimate: $50-$100. Notice how the checkerboard red border color draws your eye to the pig’s red nose…

image Jennack Auctioneers

Here is another, well, let’s say “unique” rug, sold by Kaminski Auctions in Glocester, MA back on Sept. 17th. No info on it, but worth seeing – rughookers do have a sense of humor!

image Kaminski

Finally, I saw this painting in the Oct. 29 (1 pm) auction at Bakker Auctions, Provincetown, MA:

image Bakker auctions

Lot 18: NICOLETTA POLI (1958-2014), Hooked Rug, 1996, Oil on canvas. Estimate: $800-$1,200.

What first interested me about this painting was that it is so clearly a braided rug, not a “hooked” rug! But the more I looked at it, I was impressed by the perspective the artist used. I would tend (if planning out such a design) to do a straight-on sketch of the dog laying on the rug, but Poli used almost a bird’s eye view, and added to the composition by having the dog on the diagonal, encircled by the curves of the rug. A good example of creative composition, I think!

All photos above are used courtesy of the auction houses, and the photos gelong to them, not you or me! Garth’s is online at www.garths.com, Kaminski Auctions is online at www.kaminskiauctions.com, and Bakker Auctions is online at www.bakkerproject.com. Janack Auctions is online at www.jenack.com.

Hope you get to hook a little today!

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.

A good start on Star Island

By | Composition, Creativity, Making rugs | 9 Comments


Sometimes it is just hard to start a new project. Maybe it’s because it’s a type of design you’ve never done before, or maybe it’s partly a sign of doubt about the project or maybe, about your ability to “get it right”.

During these last four days at the Star Island Rug Retreat, I finally got a good start on a rug design I have been planning for way too long. I fiddled with the design for quite a while. It is going to be the first rug I’ve done of this type – a portrayal of an old historic home in my town.

I took pictures of it, and fooled around with them for a while. Here is my photo after I ran it through an app called Waterlogue, which just simplifies the colors as it adds a watercolor look:

And then I fooled around with my photo a little more. Here it is, after I sent it through some sketch app on my iPad, to accentuate the details:


Then, after I had it all drawn out on linen, I turned the linen over and started all over – this time making the house itself larger. The house was the whole point of the rug, and it just needed to be bigger.

And because I had put off getting started on it for so long, I decided this was the project I would take to the Star Island Rug Retreat this week – a lovely spot on an island eight miles off the New Hampshire coast. And that meant I had to decide on all the colors of wool I would need. No room to haul all those “just in case” wools one can easily shove in the car if it is just a regular rug camp that you can bring your car to.

So… design done, colors chosen… I finally got started on it. And it’s gone quite well. I got the majority of the house hooked, then decided I had to pull out and re-hook the windows so they showed up better against the white of the house. I hooked the house roof, then pulled that out too, and re-hooked it in a paler gray. But though I am usually very resistant to “reverse hooking”, these changes seemed to be ok with me, partially because it took me so long to just get going on this project. Here is how far I’ve got, at the end of our Star Island retreat:


So the moral of this story is that sometimes, you just need to jump in and do it. Be brave! I came across this saying recently: “Just get started – you can’t steer a parked car.”

With needle and thread

By | Art, Color, Composition | 2 Comments

image Naomi Renoif

As we enjoy the last days of summer, I have a yearning to go see the sea. Instead (at least for today) I am appreciating the textile seascapes of Naomi Renouf. Naomi creates textile art that captures the land and seascapes of Jersey, a large island in the English Channel where she lives. Above is her work St. Ouen’s Sunset.

I admire Naomi’s use of color to bring her scenes to life. There is something intense, yet believably realistic in her work.

Naomi writes, “I often use a technique which involves layering small pieces of fabric with organza on a calico or canvas background and machine stitching into the layers. I also use techniques such as appliqué and burning or cutting back through the surface to expose the layers beneath. Whilst all of my work is free machine embroidered, I do also include hand embroidery in some pieces.

Here is another of Naomi’s seascapes, this one called “Islands“:

image Naomi Renouf

Sitting here, landlocked, I can feel the salty spray coming off those breakers!

Several years ago I developed a technique which enables me to produce work which looks similar to the hand-made paper I have made in the past. The background is made of fabric instead of paper. This is painted in the same way as the hand-made paper and then fabric and other media, including beads and found objects are applied using machine and hand embroidery.”

Here is her piece, which I really love, titled Grouville Bay:


Naomi writes, “My seascapes and landscapes reflect my love for the natural environment. The light, the time of year, the time of day and the weather all create their individual impression on the landscape and I find constant inspiration in these changes. I look at my surroundings letting ideas develop in my head. In my mind the colours intensify and the shapes become more abstract as I recreate my experiences of these moments in time. Through my textiles I want others to see the joy I have found in observing the world around me.”

Here is one of Naomi’s landscapes, called Vista, Harewood House:


About her work process, Naomi writes a description of her method that reminds me very much of rughooking:

Once I get started on a piece it progresses partly from my observations and feelings about a place and partly from the random things that happen as part of the process. The mixture of the random and the controlled elements mean that there is always a problem-solving aspect to producing a finished piece, which I find interesting. I like the spontaneity of working in this way as there is rarely a totally predictable outcome.

Ok, let’s look at one more of Naomi’s works. The piece is called Bellozanne Abbey In Spring:


And finally, this quote, from England’s Embroiderers’ Guild (of which Naomi is a member) that seems as true to me about a row of hooked loops as embroidered stitches:

“As the thread travels across the surface, stitches create paths which can direct the viewer’s eye, create a focal point, draw or deflect attention from a particular element and create a texture that is at once visual and physical.”

All Naomi’s works are copyrighted, and so protected, and used here with her kind permission. And you will find more of her lovely work on her website at http://www.naomirenouf.co.uk/index.htm. Thanks, Naomi!

In The Garden

By | Art, Color, Composition | 4 Comments


This painting is On the Balcony of Eugene Manet’s Room at Bougival by Berthe Morisot, 1883. Berthe, along with Marie Bracquemond and Mary Cassatt, was described by a prominent French art critic as one of “les trois grandes dames” – the three great ladies – of the Impressionist movement.

She grew up in a well-off family in Bourges, France, and from an early age, took painting and drawing lessons with her sister. Their art teacher brought them to the Louvre, where they could “learn by looking”, and copying the great works to advance their own skills. And while her sister married and ended her art career, Berthe persevered, and in 1864, at age 23, she exhibited at the prestigious Salon de Paris – the annual exhibition of the Académie des beaux-arts in Paris.

Here is her painting Lilacs At Maurecourt, done in 1874:


She had paintings accepted for the Salon for six more years, but in the year she did this painting, 1874, she broke away from exhibiting at the traditional French art establishment, and joined the Salon-“rejected” Impressionists, which included Paul Cézanne, Edgar Degas, Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. She married Édouard Manet’s brother, Eugène, so unlike her sister, she was able to enjoy a married life and continue her art.

Here is one of my favorites of her works, Doll On A Porch, 1884:


She was considered an excellent colorist – able to use color to create depth and space in her work. And her fellow impressionists considered the composition of her work (how she arranged the elements in a scene) outstanding. She focussed mainly on domestic scenes, painting what she saw around her, every day. And she mostly did plein air painting – painting from looking at the actual scene in real time, rather than making studies and drawings to paint from in a studio.

So on this lovely, hot and humid summer day, I hope you enjoy these paintings of Berthe’s, look around you, and see what ordinary, everyday scene might just make a terrific rug design. Or go out and look at your garden!