Learning how to do rug hooking

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hooked rug
This stunning early American hooked rug fetched over twenty-six thousand dollars at an antiques auction.
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Rug Hooking: a popular, creative craft with an early American heritage.

Rug hooking is a creative, simple and entertaining activity that can be enjoyed by adults and children alike. If you are interested in learning how to do rug hooking, it is important to begin with the correct supplies such as patterns, frames, a canvas or burlap base, wool, yarn, fabric, or a complete, pre-packaged rug hooking kits. It is also helpful to have a fundamental knowledge of the origins and history of rug hooking, as one of the earliest American folk arts.

Rug hooking in America can be traced back to the early 1800's in Maritime New England. Early New England women and housewives could not afford to purchase the luxurious rugs shipped from Europe. However, rugs were vital commodities for New England homes where winters were cold and blustery. Thick, heavy rugs helped to hold in the heat, and cover frigid floorboards and drafty walls. Learning how to do rug hooking was not just a pass time, but also a necessity for keeping warm through the long winters in maritime New England communities.  

Early New England women used creativity and ingenuity to create rugs from old rags, yarn, wool, and burlap sacks. Women saved the burlap bags from deliveries of potatoes, rice, and livestock feed. They re-used these bags as the base for hooked rugs, and drew patterns and designs with chalk upon the burlap. Coastal and maritime hooked rug scenes were some the earliest American folk art patterns.

During the 1940s and 50s, rug hooking gained popularity as a creative hobby, and many children were offered instruction in learning how to do rug hooking during home economics classes and summer camp programs. Today, the original designs of early New England hooked rugs have become a part of America’s heritage. Some of the earliest designs are even exhibited in museums.

Anyone learning how to do rug hooking is advised to begin with a small project. Many craft stores and online sites offer rug hooking kits ranging from beginner to intermediate and advanced. Designing an original project is also easily accomplished by hand-drawing a design onto a base of either burlap or canvas and then stretching the base material onto a frame.  

Decide whether you wish to use yarn, wool, or strips of fabric for your hooked rug. Then, select colors or match your selection of colored yarn or wool to the colors specified in your pattern or kit.  If you are using strips of fabric, employ a sharp pair of fabric scissors to cut your strips to a measurement of 3/8 of an inch wide. Experienced hooked rug needleworkers may wish to use a variety of fabric textures, lengths, or pyles of wool/yarn in order to achieve a more artistic, multidimensional finished project.

Use a metal fabric hook, punch hook or latch hook to loop your yarn, wool or fabric through your burlap base. Begin by holding your hook as you would hold a pencil. Next, loop your yarn, wool or fabric around the shaft of the hook. Punch your hook under the first weft, or horizontal strand of your burlap base, otherwise known as the first square of your pattern. Pass the hook back up through the top side of the burlap again, on the other side of the base weft.  

Using the thumb and forefinger of your free hand (the hand not holding your hook) firmly grasp the two loose ends of the yarn or fabric, and pull them over the particular weft or base bar of your canvas. Next, push these two strands through the latch of the hook. Close the latch by pulling the handle of the hook toward you. Finally, pull the strands of yarn, enclosed in the hook, back under the weft, and through the loop. Ultimately, each piece of yarn, wool or fabric should be attached to the weft of the base canvas by a slip knot.

Beginning rug hookers may find that the process takes some time. However, as you familiarize yourself with the technique, the repetition of the hooking motion becomes faster, smoother, and easier.

Some rug hookers work back and forth, horizontally across a rug project. Others work in a circular or spiral motion. Still others prefer to complete the outlines of a design before filling in the interior.  Ultimately, there is no right or wrong order for the process of rug hooking. Every project is unique.  

Once you have completed a rug hooking project, you may wish to apply additional sewing skills to transform your rug into a pillow, wall hanging, or even a fashion accessory such as a unique purse or hand bag.

Its easy to get hooked on rug hooking!  If you are searching for an artistic outlet, or are interested in learning the vibrant heritage of rug hooking in America, then this early fabric folk art is the craft for you.

Rug Hooking 101
Gene Shepherd Rug Hooking Video

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