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Let’s talk about hit or miss rugs…

Quite a few people ask me a lot of questions about doing hit or miss rugs, so I thought I would take a few minutes to talk about making them. I love doing hit or miss from time to time – watching odd color combinations of wool find their way together into a whole. I am always surprised when I meet an experienced rughooker who has never done a hit or miss!

And of course, “hit or miss” can mean doing just a section of hit or miss – just a border, just an internal element – or you can do a large hit or miss. Above, you can see “Jane’s Remains“, by Jane Ploof of South Starksboro, VT. I loved seeing this one, because it is a hit or miss boiled down to the essentials – just running rows of color, with a simple border!

In this next rug (of mine), I combined hit or miss circles in various sizes on a plain hit or miss background, with a vine-and-leaf border element, also in hit or miss:

One of the beauties of doing a hit or miss is that you can start with the simplest design – the varied colors will supply the fascination. For this rug, I used three sizes of circles – using a coffee can, drinking glass, and small bowl to trace – and just scattered them inside a rectangle. If you are an “unsure” designer, just trace the circles (or other elements – stars, etc.) on newspaper and cut them out, then move the newsprint circles around on your backing until you like the placement.

First hint:
Look at your worms (cut wool). If like me (and 90% of my rugs are hooked with a #6 cut), you have a lot of wool cut in the same size (whether it is a #6 or #8 etc.) you have a pretty good shot at doing long rows of random wool and having the rows stay straight. But even with good cutters, there are always some pieces slightly wider or narrower. And some thin wools hook up narrower than really fat, plushy pieces. So in the defined area you are hooking in straight rows, make guidelines every so often, to keep your lines reasonably true.

Second hint:
Using hit or miss inside smaller units is a good way to begin. Find a basic geometric pattern or a quilt pattern with repeating blocks, and just use hit or miss for some blocks, and maybe do something else (flowers etc.) in other blocks. When you are doing hit or miss in a smaller area, whether in straight lines, circles, or swirls, you can use worms of different cuts much more easily – one leaf, block or circle can have thick and thin pieces mixed together quite easily.

And by “hit or miss”, we mean using random colors, right? No. C’mon, I can’t believe that anybody, ever, really just stuck their hand in a basket of worms and hooked, in order, whatever came out. You are not going to have your cut wool stored evenly distributed by color, anyhow. You finish a rug, and all the odds and ends left over get tossed in the basket, with a clump of blues, or a handful of reds landing together. So let’s forget the word “random” and think of hit or miss as using a mixed variety of the cut wool that is at hand.

Unless you are going for a special effect, you want to aim for a balance of your colors as you hook, and yet you don’t want to dither over picking each piece of wool, either. Seeing the unexpected color combos is the biggest delight of working on a hit or miss! Here is what I do:

Third (and most important) hint:
Remember, like a mantra: dark, light, dull, bright. Dark, Light, Dull, Bright. Think of it as you choose colors. You don’t have to really pick one dark, then one light, but you want to think about the few colors you just hooked in, and see if one of those elements is missing and needs to be added. Most people tend to leave out the “dull”, especially when you have a big basket of lovely bright solid colors. “Dull” does not just mean your neutral tans or grays, but just a dull version of any color. The hit or miss needs dull, just as much as it needs those really bright colors to be a bit separated from each other, and the mediums and lights to be set off with the real dark pieces. Dark, light, dull, bright.

And to that mantra, I would also add “texture”. Make sure you use worms of plaids or multi-color checks or tweeds. You don’t want all solid colors, and the plaids or textures give hints of several colors in one worm, and really add depth and breathing space to the many solids you are bound to have.

Here is a hit or miss rug that I did, in a very basic blocky pattern I just drew out – but I added a few blocks of all-one-color hit or miss. There is one block where I used just blues, one of just various reds, another using all greens. So this is one of the “special effects” you can use, and still have basically a hit or miss rug. Note how I added in zigzags and arches, and had the lines of the hit or miss going horizontal here, and vertical there:

Here is a close-up of the “purples” block in the same rug:

Maybe “all one color hit or miss” is stretching the concept of hit or miss a little but hey, it’s my rug, I can do what I want, right?

And even for the zigzags and arches, I made sure I drew guidelines every few inches to keep the shapes true.

Finally, because you are using the worms “at hand”, remember the origin of hit or miss – these are the rugs to use up what you have. So if you get 2/3 of the way across the area (block, etc.) you are hooking, and you want all your rows to go across the entire block, and that yellow piece of wool is not long enough, just find a more-or-less similar piece of yellow to finish the row. It works! If you are doing longer, running rows of color, like Jane used in her rug, you just switch to another color.

What you do really need for a hit or miss is a basket (or three) of wool worms. There is just no getting around that! Relax and have fun!


  • Saundra Porter says:

    I have done hit and miss in a geometric rug, on rug borders, block worm borders using those worms and it isn’t as easy as it appears when done. Totally agree with your hints and for as long as I’ve been hooking the hit and miss will never be easy for me. I’m presently using my worms to hook my project on my frame. It is so rewarding to use up those precut strips of wool but bet you at the end when cleaning up my hooking area it will appear as tho very few were used. Keep up this great blog…love reading yours.

    • Mary Jane Peabody says:

      Thanks, Saundra! And you are right, I just finished a pretty big area of hit or miss, and my three baskets of worms are just as full as when I stated, I swear!

  • Jane Ploof says:

    Lovely article Mary Jane with great I formation. I have always loved your hit or miss with the circles. Thank you for including my rug in your article.

  • jeni says:

    I have done a couple hit or misses. They are great for wiping your feet as you come into the door. I used mostly dark worms and they still look great after 4 or 5 years. What everyone says is true…….the worm pile never gets smaller. Don’t know why.

  • Lin says:

    I love your use of the half circles and various rectangles, and of course the hit and miss colors.
    Thank you!

  • Phyllis Shapiro says:

    Love reading your thoughts

  • Susan says:

    I enjoy your blog.

  • Anne Hazelwood says:

    Thanks for the interesting article.

  • Michele Watters says:

    Great article!
    Thank you

  • Sandra Jones says:

    You speak of three baskets of wool, and I am curious why three if the mantra is light dark dull bright? Why not four basketS

    What wool worms are separated into three baskets?

    As I work up nerve to do one!!

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