Rug Hooking: Fine Craft, Authentically American

Traditional crafts tend to grow from a functional basis as well as incorporating culturally influenced symbols and art. They often convey a naive or untrained sense of design. One of my favorite fine crafts is rug hooking.

Three projects in the snow: top by Nancy Smith, “Eyelet Bird,” bottom two by Jane M. Mason, trivets.

Originally, rug hooking recycled fabrics to create rugs, wall hangings or other textiles to warm up rooms in early American homes. Rug hooking is considered an indigenous American art form. Early Euro-Americans started hooking rugs in New England in the 18th-century.

Materials included a crochet hook, burlap sacks for the backing, and worn-out clothing cut in narrow strips for the loops.

Traditional “Antique Rose” pattern in progress.

Basically, the same tools are used today, although generally the hook is now secured in a wooden “spool” for a more comfortable grip, and often the fabric is new and hand-dyed by the artist.

(See quickie instructions below, and link to “how to” video by Gene Shepherd.)

And, as with really all crafts, rug hooking designs can be based on the styles at the time the craft was developed, updated for a contemporary look—or adapted for a look somewhere on a riff in between the two options.

These choices are personal preferences as to the way the artist enjoys rug hooking. It is dictated by the tension in the loops, color and design choices, and the geometric symmetry in the rows of loops.

Here are some examples on a continuum from contemporary styles to more primitive styles.

Liz Albert Fay, “Tree Skirt: Moss and Lichen Series &1,” 2007, wool and nylon on linen, hand hooked. Found wood and paint. {h. 23 in, w. 27 in, d. 15.5 in}. Photo/Brad Stanton.

Contemporary artist, Liz Albert Fay, as exhibited at the Brookfield Craft Center, Brookfield, CT has used rug hooking as a way to incorporate a textural colorful element juxtaposed against the natural brashness of a piece of a tree trunk.

Her choice is to use the technique of loops through a backing as a component of an avant-garde, contemporary piece of American fine craft.

“Rug hooking can be compared to where the art quilt movement was about 20 years ago,” says Fay, as quoted in a blog post in American Craft Magazine.

Rug by Deanne Fitzpatrick, Nove Scotia.

Deanne Fitzpatrick, a rug hooker, shop owner and teacher from Nova Scotia says, “I think the thing that draws people to hooked rugs is the texture and depth.

They are so very real; you just want to run your hand along them like you would a piece of velvet or a stone wall. We are drawn to authenticity, whether it is in craft or people.”

Deanne’s work tends to reflect the energy of the subject matter or the preferences of her clients.

Her loops are intentionally not structured as precisely or evenly as some other rug hooking artists.

Deanne Fitzpatrick, Nove Scotia.

Some small pieces, Deanne frames as wall art.

Note how the loops are made of various types of fibers and are not uniform in size.

See her article in Rug Hooking Magazine about “Thinking Outside the Box.”

Victoria Josobson, Stillwater, MN. Gobblers. Note the wide cut strips used for the feathers in the turkey.Victoria Jacobson, Checkered Cat. Stillwater, MN.

Victoria Jacobson, a rug hooker, teacher, and owner of Angel Girl, a rug hooking studio in Stillwater, MN says she has come to see rug hooking as “truly an art form” yet she modestly continues to be amused when considering herself as an artist.

Victoria describes the appeal as a “forgiving” art form—no counting, no sewing.

She says jokingly “it’s relaxing; you don’t have to think.”

She also points to the unlimited possibilities, such as mixing various widths of fabric strips, or mixing yarn, ribbon or strips of clothing into the pattern, to make each finished piece unique due to the material on hand at the time.

As seen in the “Gobblers” piece of the turkey with the wild feathers, Victoria often incorporates areas of big exaggerated loops, other fibers, or novel alternatives for texture.

Victoria has classes and monthly “hook-ins” at her studio inviting local rug hookers to share in a community of fellow craftspeople.

Like old-fashioned sewing bees, the hook-ins allow the craftspeople to share the projects they are working on and to be inspired by each other.

She has kits available on her website.

Victoria’s style is a bit more traditional than Deanna.

Nancy Smith, an interior designer and rug hook artist, creates her rug hooked artwork with a whimsical tone and a primitive style.

Nancy Smith, Lincoln, NE. “See You Later.” Pattern available from her website.

She defines “primitive” as inspired in part by the intuitive balancing between exaggeration and minimization as seen in children’s drawings.  Scale is distorted. A cat may be huge relative to the house. (See my blog post on “scale” with Lego characters at Mall of America.) Nancy says she never tries to make figures (human or animals) realistically.

Nancy Smith, Lincoln, NE. “Merci.” Pattern available on her website.

She considers “the wool itself a drawing medium. I draw with wool much better than I draw with a pen.”

And, she concurs that for her one of the early and ongoing attractions to rug hooking is that it is user-friendly. “Unlike knitting or embroidery, it is so forgiving—just rip it out and redo—you don’t count 10 rows back, etc.”

Now for my rug hooking:

I am venturing to find my voice as a rug hook artist.

Jane M. Mason, Rosemount, MN. “Fishy Minnesota.”

My “Fishy Minnesota” piece, shown in part here, is in a style similar to Deanna’s in that the loops are less mechanical than Nancy’s in “Merci” for example.

Although this may not be the style I really land on as a rug hook artist.  I am experimenting. Note, my geometric pattern in the trivet in the snow (at the top of the blog post), shows more controlled, even loops with more regimented rows. But given my artistic personality, it is likely the wild style will dominate more than the controlled style.

By examining my “Fish” you can see that my loops are not precisely even, nor are my fish in any way realistic–I like the hodge-podgey-ness and the casualness of the unevenness.  I frequently use wool that has different weights, so although my strips are generally 1/4″ wide each, the weight of the wool makes them appear different when hooked.

It doesn’t appeal to everyone. With the two images in sequence, it’s easy to compare the unevenness of my hooking to the precise even loops in Nancy’s “Merci.”

Although very different, either way is OK. It depends on the preference of the artist.

I recently completed a rug that I hooked but Nancy Smith designed. (This pattern is available on her website.) Again, it is primitive and lumpy. It hasn’t been stretched yet, so it is fresh off the frame. It will be finished as a half-moon crescent. A perfect shape for jumping out of bed onto hardwood floors.

A traditional rug hooked by Jane M. Mason, from a pattern designed by Nancy Smith. Hooking completed, December 2014. Now awaiting finishing.
A traditional rug hooked by Jane M. Mason, from a pattern designed by Nancy Smith. Hooking completed, December 2014. Now awaiting finishing.

Nancy will have an article on primitive style for rug hooking in an upcoming issue of Rug Hooking Magazine. Victoria has been on the editorial board of the magazine for a number of years, and publishes in the magazine periodically. Deanna has also published in the magazine. Gene Shepherd has The Rug Hooker’s Bible, and other information available from the Rug Hooking Magazine site.

Some Basics About Rug Hooking:

Rug hooking is often confused with latch hooking, a similar but different process. Latch hooking involves pulling two threads, usually yarn, around the fibers in a backing fabric and knotting the yarns on the topside. The term “rug hooking” is applied to the technique of using a hooked tool (originally probably a crochet hook, and some continue to use a crochet hook today) and pulling loops of woolen strips to the front of a canvas. The canvas is usually burlap, often a linen burlap. The ends of the strips of fabric are also pulled to the topside of the burlap. Ingeniously, the loops themselves line up so tightly that they do not pull out. There is no sewing and are no knots involved in rug hooking. Some rugs are hooked with yarn or ribbon, but the vast majority are hooked with wool strips generally cut to ¼” width and 8-20“ long.

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About artinthecenter

I am a lifelong artist having studied painting, photography, drawing, and other media, in schools in the US and Italy. I won my first art contest when I was five--at a museum-- and my point of view tends to be as a five-year-old creative child embracing life. Creativity is a core response for me. How can we bring the infinite knowledge and excitement held by our museums and academics into the heart and minds of everyone? There is so much to share. Let’s ask questions, and discuss. Follow me on twitter @janemmason. Check out all sort of artsy information at: www.watchingpaintdry.com +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ This policy is valid from 1 January 2016 This is a personal, educational, blog written and edited by me, Jane M. Mason. For questions about this blog, please contact: jane@watchingpaintdry.com. Sincere effort has been exerted to cite, recognize, and thank all sources of content, including images, quotations or concepts that are not those of Watching Paint Dry LLC (WPDLLC), including Jane M. Mason. If you feel we have included something in this blog that has not been accurately noted or recognized to be from a source other than the intellectual property of WPDLLC, please let me know and I will adjust the citation when presented with specific citation sources and details. As an artist and writer, a core principal of mine is to respect and recognize intellectual content of others. If you are interested in using concepts, photos or other intellectual property from this blog, please contact, Rights Manager, Danielle Raub at Hello@watchingpaintdry.com. This blog does not contain any content that is likely to present a conflict of interest, although opposing points of view, as long as they are respectful, are welcome. This blog does not accept cash or paid topic insertions. However, we will consider accepting and keeping free products, services, travel, event tickets, and other forms of compensation from companies and organizations. The compensation received will not influence the content, topics or posts made in this blog. All advertising is in the form of advertisements generated by a third party ad network. Those advertisements will be identified as paid advertisements. The owner of this blog, WPDLLC, is not compensated to provide opinion on products, services, websites and various other topics within the content of this blog. The views and opinions expressed on this blog are those of Jane M. Mason or the associates of WPDLLC. If we claim or appear to be experts on a certain topic or product or service area, we only endorse products or services that we believe, based on our expertise, are worthy of such endorsement. Any product claim, statistic, quote or other representation about a product or service should be verified with the manufacturer or provider. This policy has been adapted from DisclosurePolicy.org. For your own policy, go to http://www.disclosurepolicy.org

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