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Amsterdam style!

By | Contemporary rugmakers, Food for thought, History of Art | 2 Comments

I thought you blog readers would get a kick out of this…about 12 rughooking friends got together for the weekend at a great B&B, as we have a few times before. So as we usually do, we stopped at one point to take a group photo. Came out pretty good, and at least everyone’s eyes were open.

Then someone (who clearly read my recent blog entries) suggested we take one more photo, but “Amsterdam style” – meaning only one or two people looking directly at the camera/viewer, and the rest looking at each other, or at least not looking directly out. So we took one more picture – as in the style of the Dutch “golden age” group portraits from the mid-1600s. Here is the group photo, Amsterdam style:

I got an enormous kick out of this. First, that someone thought of it after reading my last blog entry (well done, Lynda!) and second, that it came out as such an interesting group photo – just a little bit different!

So if you are having family get-togethers for Thanksgiving and start taking photos of the group, maybe give this a try and let me know how it goes!

“What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” – Ecclesiastes 1:9

One more from Amsterdam…

By | Art, Composition, History of Art, Museums | 3 Comments

I took this photo directly across the street from the Hermitage-Amsterdam Museum – my “one more” museum stop before heading home tomorrow. And here is one more Rembrandt painting I saw. This is Portrait Of A Man Sitting At His Desk, painted in 1631, when Rembrandt was only 25 years old:

This man looks up from his work, as if surprised at our appearance – much like Rembrandt posed the later “Wardens of the Drapers’ Guild” portrait we saw the other day. His mouth is even slightly open in surprise, not typical in a portrait, but otherwise he looks entirely natural. Now look at this close-up I took of his hands, pen and books:


You can’t look at Dutch art without learning about the country’s culture and history. In the 1600s, other European countries were run by monarchs, sovereigns, nobility and the Church establishment. But the Dutch culture was based around trade and the individual, and in the mid-1500s, there was an uprising against the Church, and many religious artworks and statues were destroyed. By 1648, the Dutch rebelled outright against rule by Spain, and separated completely from the Catholic church. No more portraits of cardinals, popes and bishops. The Dutch “Golden Age” put citizen groups in the center focus of their art:

There were group portraits of leading merchants and citizens – militias for the public defense, guilds of tradespeople and craftsmen, and many civic groups that combined the power of running the city in an orderly way, with friendship and what we would call “networking”:

There are a lot of these group portraits, tracing the rise of the merchant class from hardworking “burghers” and traders to a class of incredibly wealthy merchant-nobility as the city prospered. Here is one single room in the museum:

And I was happy to see quite a few women represented:

These women were most often the directors of charity groups, running hospitals, poorhouses, schools. Men would oversee the finances of the institutions, but these women ran the day to day functioning, and had veto power over all decisions.

One other thing I noticed. In these group portraits, many times everyone would be looking out directly at the viewer. Each individual included would contribute to the cost of the portrait. But, in a few group portraits, as in this example, only one or two of the subjects were looking directly at us. Only the man closest to us, in the lower foreground (looking over his shoulder) actually meets our gaze completely:

And the effect of this not only gives him prominence, but it makes us continually look around at the others in the canvas. What’s going on here? Who is that guy looking at, who is this fellow talking to? What is this guy pointing at? It definitely adds movement to the composition. It took me a minute or two to realize what kept my eyes moving around the canvas, and why I kept returning to the guy down in front, who was looking straight at me!

Finally, at the end of this exhibit, there was a whole section of very recent group photographs of today’s prominent citizens of Amsterdam – leaders in industry, law, art, science, trades, medicine, education and cultural groups. The photos are now being made into paintings, as a way to continue the tradition of the classic “Dutch Golden Age” (and the importance of the individual) into the future:

And you notice, in this group photo, only one person is looking directly at us…
Very nicely done, and one more good memory to end a busy week in Amsterdam. Tot ziens!

More of Amsterdam

By | Art, Color, Museums | 4 Comments

This is the best picture I have taken here in Amsterdam. I had just come out of the Rembrandt House Museum, and crossed the street to take a photo of the canal and row of houses. I noticed the sky was getting very dark, but all of a sudden, the sun came out. And I spotted a bird flying over the canal: click!

Here is Rembrandt’s house:

It was quite a palatial home in the mid-1600s, since Rembrandt was already well recognized by the time he bought it, at age 33. The kitchen:

And the living room, or “salon” where he would welcome patrons and visitors:

By chance, I went on a good day, since there was a woman doing an etching demonstration in Rembrandt’s printing room:

And there was a man in Rembrand’s studio demonstrating how his paintbrushes were made, how canvas was prepared, and how, in the 1600s, paint was made from linseed oil and pigment:

Some pigments were so expensive that the painter would first paint a dress, for example, in paint made from less expensive pigment like red ochre, and then just lightly brush the more expensive paint made with vermillion pigment for the highlights. It gave an optical illusion that the entire dress was painted in vermillion. And Rembrandt and his students would be working on several paintings at once, and mix up a very small batch of the most expensive pigment, lapis lazuli blue, and apply it to all the paintings that needed it at once.

I walked through the city on the way home, and came across a fabric store, with a rainbow of buttons on display, that made me realize how much we take for granted the almost unlimited selection of colors available to us:

and a very limited selection of wool, most either in black and gray for making suits, or much too thick for most hooking:

Still, it was fun to find this store, and it was a good day.

A day at the museum

By | Art, Museums | 10 Comments

After a day at the Rejksmuseum, I can only say oh my! Oh my! I am on art overload. I took so many photos that my phone battery started declining rapidly! First, the photo above is just a view from one of the canals I passed on the way.

And I liked this painting, done in about 1560 by Pieter Piterzs, showing a woman with a small spinning wheel:

The curator label said the portrait carries a clear message – as she looks directly at us, she is having to choose between virtue (the spinning wheel) and vice (the suitor with the tankard).

And here is my photo of the very famous painting by Rembrandt, “The Wardens of the Amsterdam Drapers’ Guild” (also known as “The Syndics”), painted in 1662:

The Syndics were elected for a year, to inspect the quality of dyed cloth, comparing the color of each batch to the official samples of each color. Rembrandt portrayed them looking up from their work, as though our arrival had interrupted them. The curator’s label said this was an artistic device to involve the viewer. I heard one of the tour guides also point out that the table they are working at is slightly tipped up, because Rembrandt knew the painting was to be hung high up on the wall in the Drapers’ Guild Hall. Very clever, that Rembrandt! Can one fall in love with an artist that lived five centuries ago? I think, yes.

And I do get the feeling that the portraits of these men gives us a very precise rendering of what they each actually looked like. Just transporting!

One more. Here is a photo of three Dutch fishermans’ knitted caps from the 1600s. Apparently they would be so bundled up during the winter, that each fisherman would wear a distinctively designed cap so they could easily recognise each other. The colors were quite bright, but I could not use my flash, unfortunately:

And one more, a plate that I thought had a scalloped border that was definitely rug-worthy:

That is all from me for today, my head is still so art-spinning, I have to go lay down for a while!

On my way…

By | Museums | 5 Comments

Today we leave for Amsterdam for a week. I picked this nice oil painting by Leonid Afremov titled “The Gateway to Amsterdam” to show you. This trip is really our “Ruby the cat” trip, planned a day after we lost her in July – a little consolation and to give us something to look forward to.

My first stop will be the Rejksmuseum, definitely one of the world’s finest art museums, packed with works by local heroes Rembrandt, Vermeer and Van Gogh as well as 7500 other masterpieces. When I was in Amsterdam about 6 years ago, it was closed for major renovations, so this time, I will hope to spend a whole day wandering around, or at least as long as my legs hold out!

And we are hoping to take a day trip to nearby Delft, just so I can tour one of the potteries where Delftware is still made, and all hand-painted:

I love that they have these vases specially designed, just for tulips!

So I may be in touch during my trip, or I may show you the highlights when I return. I did a search for Amsterdam rughooking, rugs, etc. but could not find anything. But you never know what surprises await!

Old rugs and new wool

By | Antique rugs, Color, Dyeing | One Comment

Any moment now, this charming old rug will be auctioned off. It’s in today’s sale (10 am) at Eldred’s, in East Dennis, MA. The estimate is $450-$650, and since it is Lot 440, you may still have time to bid on it.

I liked the nice bright, random colors of the autumn leaves in the outer border, and the bright yellow and orange lines of the oval inner border – the colors frame the pale horse well, and let’s face it, that just looks like a happy horse that someone loved!

The sale description was: “ HOOKED RUG: DEPICTING A PONY (25″ x 30″), 19th Century. Affixed to a modern painting stretcher.”

Now here is an antique rug that will be in another Eldred’s sale, on Nov. 17th (also 10 am). It will be Lot 994, described as “Lot 994: EARLY 20TH CENTURY HOOKED RUG 5’9″ x 7’2″ Multicolor geometric design.”

The odd thing about this rug (especially as it is a hit or miss) is that I actually don’t like it much. That seldom happens to me! So I stopped to think about why I don’t like it. I think the geometric border is great, and you know I love hit or miss, but for me, the two just do not go together well. It feels like the precision of the border is almost the complete opposite, in style, of the hit or miss center. If the outer border was done in slightly less precise squares, maybe I’d like it more. Or if the color palette were brighter…But as it is, it actually made me feel a little tense to look at it. Well, sometimes you can learn from thinking about what you don’t like, as well as from what you like and admire.

So on to the “new wool” part of this post. I had a “Jumbo Size” Hefty bag, full of multicolored snippets from the last many months of hooking. When I work on a rug, my snippets go into a little tin next to me, and when the tin is full, I go dump the wool snippets into the plastic bag.

So the bag was full, and it was getting in my way. I was still pretty down-and-out with my cold, so thought I would do some spontaneous and unpredictable dyeing, mostly to get rid of that full bag, and of course to see what would happen. And while feeling punky, it would make me feel like I got something done.

So all the snippets got emptied into my biggest dye pot. I soaked three small pieces of white wool (each about a foot long and 6” wide) in synthrapol for a few minutes, and then rumpled them up and shoved each of them into a different part of the pot. Then I just left it to cook for about an hour, not stirring it at all. And I poured in a “glug, glug” of white vinegar for the last 15 minutes.

Somehow, I thought I would get three completely different colors of wool, or maybe something with many multicolor flecks of color. I was amazed that each of the three pieces basically came out the same color! A nice bright but light green, with highlights only here and there of other colors. In person, they are more green than this photo shows:

The snippets I started with really were every color of the rainbow, collected during the time I hooked at least four different rugs, each with a wide variety of colors. Were there a lot of greens, plus a lot of blues and yellows to make more green? Who knows?

But I was greatly pleased with the experiment, and will definitely find these three new pieces of wool useable. My conclusion: dyeing is magic. So if you have snippets and are willing to give up a few small pieces of white wool to fate, try it yourself with your own snippets and see what sort of a surprise you get!

The photos of the antique rugs are courtesy of Eldred’s Auctions, online at www.eldreds.com.

My Country ‘Tis of Thee

By | Antique rugs, Design, Making rugs | 3 Comments

Let’s start by looking at this patriotic-themed rug from the late 19th or early 20th century. A grand-looking eagle, looking somewhat fierce, as all American eagles should look, carries a red and white banner in its beak. Its wings are a somewhat improbable red and tan, with blue stripes, but it looks just right. It sits on a gray-ish background, and is surrounded by a double red, white and blue border.

Oh, for antique rugs which have a tag saying exactly where, when and by whom it was made… but in the passage of time, this eagle holds its own meaning, love of country, whenever it was made. And on November 15, (10 am, EST) it will be auctioned off by Freeman’s Auction House in Philadelphia, PA. It is Lot 344, and the description reads “Hooked rug with eagle and bannerette. Late 19th/early 20th century. Worked with polychrome wool and cotton. 31 in. x 52 1/2 in.” The estimated price is $800-$1,200.

And now here is an early 21st century rug, also meant to convey a love of country. This one you may recognise from its beginning stages. It was designed and hooked by me, adapted from a photo I took of my own flag flying from my own porch.

I wanted to do a patriotic flag rug. I remember I spent the good part of a day looking around on the internet for flag patterns, and ideas for primitive designs featuring our flag. There were many nice ones, but all of a sudden, it occurred to me that I wanted to do a design based on my own US flag. And so this rug began. I took one photo of the porch and flag, but the flag was hanging somewhat limply that day, and I thought not enough of the “Stars and Stripes” were showing. So I waited for a quite windy day, and took another photo where the flag, fluttering in the wind, showed itself more. I used the first picture, and when tracing it on my linen, just used the flag itself from the second picture. Just right.

I really stuck to the photo pretty closely. The cat on the little stone wall is actually a stone cat sculpture, and that is exactly where the stone cat sits… but of course it is also representing Ruby the cat. I always have a little trouble hooking stones. Each time, I usually hook them first in dark grays, then realize that is not right, and re-do them in lighter grays and beiges that look more like the big rocks around my yard.

It came out well, I think, and as usual, I tried to be patient with the multi-greens of the tree foliage, which I did using “pixilating”, where you take strands of various greens and do three loops of one strand here, four loops of the same green there, skipping around, making tiny little three- to six-loop patches here and there. Then you take the next shade of green strip and do the same, and gradually fill in the leafy area. I like the effect, but it the slowest of techniques!

So I’m happy with the rug. Now the big challenge is finding a place in my house to hang it.

The web site for Freeman’s is at www.freemansauction.com, and the photo of the antique eagle rug is courtesy of 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!


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.