Monday, February 25, 2008

A Hobby For When Your Social Life Is Really Dead

Rug-hooking, akin to latch-hooking, but not to confused with a street hooker, is not a hobby for sissies, I'm afraid. Rug-hooking involves pulling approximately 2-inch look 1/8-inch wide strips of 100 percent wool in and out of fine burlap with a tool with a crochet-like hook. Yes, you read rightly. Burlap. That scratchy stuff. And you no matter what you do to avoid having that coarse fabric abrade your skin, including putting a soft fleece blanket on your lap, your hands constantly brush against the burlap. So much so that you get to the point, you would scream at the next person who says, "So-and-so could wear burlap and still look like a knock-out." Burlap is not stylish, it is not fun, and it's not something you want anyone, including Miss America, to wear.

So rug-hooking has that going against it. At least with latch-hooking you're working with a canvas which is not nearly abrasive, and soft, possibly polyester yarns. Latch-hooking is a little more hip too. Anything from the 1970s is very "in" and making little rugs with bits of yarns was so trendy back when the Partridge Family was on the air for the first time.

Rug-hooking with wool strips is considerably more antiquated, much more Little House on the Prairie than the Brady Brunch or that other musical brood I mentioned earlier. This is a hobby that dates back to I don't know when. It's a fixation that's celebrated in the likes of Country Living and Victoria, not Craft or Readymade Magazine. I've seen examples from the late 1800s, but I'm certain that are earlier ones.

I was fascinated by rug-hooking because I'd see all these ancient examples in the Shabby Chic series of books by Rachel Ashwell. I thought, "Aren't those gorgeous?" Then my mother started making them by taking lessons with a teacher who specialized in these rugs; her name was Sally. I remember my mom made a little chair cover with a cat on it using old wool clothes. I was so impressed by her handiwork, I wanted to do it too. Then she made a paisley table runner. I was such a sucker for paisley (and still am), I had to try this hobby now.

So I started to take lessons from Sally. But I wanted to make something a little more au courant, and less pioneer-looking than what my mom made. I saw some of these old patterns from the 1940s by Pearl McGown. Plush peonies and cabbage roses spilling from Victorian urns. Very romantic. That's what I wanted to make. Sally and I ordered a pattern pre-printed on burlap, and got down to work. My social life must have been really been down the tubes, because I made two of these rugs, before I began and abandoned a very ambitious room-sized rug strewn with the florals similar to what you see above. I have to tell you that making rugs isn't exactly a portable hobby. You can't take it easily to a coffee shop to hang out with knitters. No, you have to do it at home, on the couch. No wonder I started going out swing-dancing, no doubt with bits of burlap fiber hanging off from my retro dresses.

There was another reason I liked this hobby, especially my patterns. This particular passion for textiles was all about the 1940s, which I was 10 years ago. I filled my closet with dresses, blouses and skirts from the World War II era, most of it to go dancing. I played Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey on my boom box, trying to imagine myself in the arms of a handsome soldier who could do the tuck-turn really well. Anyhow, rug-hooking was popular during the second world war with gals lonesome for their men, and soldiers recovering from battle injuries (it no doubt kept them away smoking cigarettes. Burlap and matches do not go together.)

The above rug was actually sewn onto a wood frame made by aforementioned carpenter friend. That frame is a fireplace screen, which would be handy if I ever own or rent a home with a fireplace to cover. Right now, that screen welcomes visitors by the entryway. My late cat Freaky liked to rub up against it too, so this specific artwork has much sentimental value.

Will I ever finish the living-room-carpet-in-the-making? Sure. When I'm stuck in bed temporarily and I can't get out, not even to raid the refrigerator. When I'm tired of sewing and knitting. When I have no reason to escape from home for a dinner with a friend. When I'm about ready to jump into my coffin, but I can't because I haven't finished this 20-years-in-the-offing project. Until, I'll just buy a television set to put off completing all and any projects that have no reason to be concluded.


Kate said...

Sooooo glad you are back. I missed you!

My Mom used to hook rugs. Dad made her a wool cutting tool and she'd go to the Goodwill and buy old wool skirts by the pound to strip and hook into rugs. They are so beautiful. You GO, Girl! K Q:-)

the_lazymilliner said...

Thanks, Kate, for the warm welcome. I'm thrilled to be back.

I've used some of those old red wool skirts for my rugs...usually for a dark spot for the center of my roses. Unfortunately, the old wool tends to split apart easily so most of my rugs actually are mostly new white wool which I dyed. That's actually a lot of fun - cooking up wool on the stove in a big roasting pan filled with 8 Mason jars filled with different levels of dye. That's how I got the shading on my flowers.Hard work but totally worth it.