Deanne at Soul Food

Introducing Deanne Fitzpatrick

Deanne talks to Heather Blakey in the Salon du Muse

Contact Hooking Rugs
Deanne Fitzpatrick
RR 5 Amherst Nova Scotia Canada
B4H 3Y3 1-800-328-7756


The Story of Rug Hooking
by Deanne Fitzpatrick

Early Settlers Covering Cold FloorsPrimitive Rug Hooking is believed to be one of the few crafts indigenous to North America. No doubt it has roots in those many countries that our early settlers journeyed from, but the unique way of tearing worn out clothing into strips, and hooking it loop by loop onto an old burlap feed bag with a hook, that was fashioned from a curved nail with a wooden handle seems to have emerged somewhere along the eastern seaboard of North America in the early to mid eighteen hundreds. Of course the strong traditions of other types of rug making and needle work in Europe, Asia and India undoubtedly had an impact on the development of this craft in North America.Wherever it began, and however it developed it was a craft that grew out of necessity. Early settlers battling the sea spray and cold Atlantic winds needed to warm their homes. There was little to spare in the subsistence of a fishing family’s life. Drafty floors were covered with rugs made out of cast off clothing..

As practical as it was it was also a means of self expression, as well as a past time for after the work was done. Both my father and my mother talked about how their own mothers loved to work on the mat. For my father hooked mats were a reminder of his mother in the kitchen by the comfort of the stove where she kept her mat "bars" or frame. She was known in the community of Paradise, Newfoundland, for her ability to draw mat patterns. She would take a piece of charred wood from the fire and draw a design onto an old feed bag. Often she would draw on patterns for other women in the community to hook. As my uncle described,"She’d draw a boat, with a house and a path going up to it." When she ran out of old clothes to hook she would take a part the brin(burlap) bag strand by strand, dye them and hook several strands together onto another brin bags.

At any given time, my grandmother Emma would have twenty to thirty mats spread around the floors of her coral coloured flat top house. The best of these would be rolled up underneath the bed to spread in the parlour when the parish priest made his yearly visit. The next best were routinely used in the parlour, and the bedrooms, while the hit and miss rugs made with bits of leftover scraps were relegated to the kitchen or the back porch. Rugs had a way of migrating to the backdoor. As they lost their shine they migrated from the parlour, to the bedrooms, to the foot of the stairs, into the kitchen, finally winding up at the backdoor as they neared the end of their usefulness. My Aunt told me that one of the least favorite chores was cleaning the mats. She would have to shake them out, then haul them down to the wharf to dip them in salt water, ring them out and lay them on the fish flakes to dry.No doubt this rigorous cleaning lead to an early demise for many of the loveliest of rugs because water is terribly hard on burlap causing it to rot quickly. Hooked rugs were an everyday part of the household.

In the early 1900's rug hooking grew in Atlantic Canada as catalogs offered women the opportunity to buy "stamped backs", or commercial patterns. Mats were often sold or traded for squares of linoleum to peddlers who went door to door, and later sold the rugs in upper Canada. Today this story is often told with regret but I smile at the thought of a woman at home with no money of her own being able to use her hooked rugs to make a little money or acquire the square of linoleum to decorate her kitchen. As linoleum, and later commercial carpeting became available the old hooked rugs or mats went out of style. As a girl growing up in Newfoundland in the nineteen seventies I remember only one or two women hooking rugs. By then it was a past time of a by gone era. My own mother, who had to hook on the mat every day after school as a help to her mother, described it as"a chore of poverty". It was something she wanted nothing to do with. It was in the new and out with the old. When I first began hooking rugs she was surprised by my interest, and even more surprised later on when I began to sell my rugs. She would say,"My God Deanne, I can’t believe people are giving you money for hooked mats!" It was not because she did like my rugs, she did. It was because she had watched sixty years go by and saw very little or no interest in rug hooking. In her seventies, I am happy to say, she did start to hook rugs again making fourteen rugs before she died. She found it a great past time preferring to make the traditional floral designs that her own mother had taught how to make with hit and miss blocks around the border.

Rug hooking never disappeared in North America. For years it continued on under the radar of popular culture. It has endured as craft, and is developing as an art. There are many active guilds, and individuals through out North America who have ensured that rug hooking, or mat making as it was referred to in Atlantic Canada, continues to thrive and grow.Basic Instructions for Hooking the Mat

1. Put your pattern onto a frame such as an embroidery or quilting hoop. It should lay flat and be tight like a drum. As you hook, keep your burlap tight on your frame as this makes the hooking quite a bit easier.

2. Your wool should be clean, and ready to use. You can cut it into one quarter to one half inch strips. A simple method for cutting wool is to take an eight by four inch rectangle of wool cloth, fold it accordion style, and cut it into strips. This saves a lot of time and works best with five and a half inch scissors as they have a shorter blade.

3. Take a strip of wool and hold it underneath your pattern. Take your hook, holding it your hand as you would your pencil. Put the hook through a hole in the burlap, underneath wrap the wool around the hook, and pull the end of the wool up through the hole. Continue doing this with the same strip of wool, pulling it up loop by loop to the top side of your pattern.

4. It is a good idea to start by outlining something near the center of your pattern.

5. Continue to hook in every second, or third hole, depending on the width and thickness of your wool. When your strip is used up, pull the end of the strip to the top side of your pattern, and clip the end so that is an even height with your loops. Your loops should be one quarter to one third of an inch in height.

6. You can hook in straight or curved lines. Be careful not to cross the paths of your wool on the back of the pattern. Always clip you wool and start in a new place, rather than carrying a color across the back of your mat because this will make your rug bulky, messy and easy to pull out.

7. Continue to hook, by outlining and filling in all the areas of your rug. Do not hook to tightly or your mat will not lay flat. It is the packing of the loops together that keeps the loops from falling out, but if you pack it too tight your rug will curl, and not lay flat.

8. There are many ways of finishing the edges of a rug. You can sew by hand black cotton twill tape around the outside edges of the rug. Hook right up to the twill tape, or sew it on after the rug is hooked. When your rug is complete, you can roll two inches of the excess burlap into the twill tape and hand sew it along the backside of your rug. If the rug is going on the wall , you can fold the excess burlap along the back side of the rug, and sew it up.

9.When you hook try not to go from left to right but cover many parts of the whole area in case you should run short of wool. If you do this you can always add more wool of a slightly different color to complete your rug. It may even enhance the primitive quality of your design.

10. Hooking rugs is meant to be a pleasant past time. To avoid sore shoulders or hands take lots of breaks, and make sure you are sitting in a comfortable position and that your body is relaxed. If you are comfortable, relaxed, and have support for your back, the hooking will go along much more easily.

General Tips for Choosing your Colors

You can use the colors on the picture on the cover of this package, or you can experiment by pulling in your favorite shades. Do not be afraid to change the sky to a night sky, or make the background darker or lighter. Colour is a personal statement. Put your stamp on the rug you are making.

Pull out the wools you have and lay them together on the mat and experiment with what looks good. Quickly pull away the pieces that do not work.

A simple tip for creating a color scheme is to find a plaid or tweed that you like, and use it as the basis for your color scheme by pulling the solid colors that are in the plaid or tweed out and using these colors as the color plan for your rug.

Remember rug hooking is a forgiving craft. If you hook in a colour and it does not work you can unhook it and rehook it in another colour.

Try not to keep hooking and rehooking. If you cannot seem to get the right colour go to another area of the rug and hook it. Sometimes focusing on another area of the mat will lead to the problem area working itself out.

You can create a shaded effect by mixing two or three colours that are close together and hooking them randomly in an area.

Choosing and Preparing a Backing

I have always preferred burlap as a backing for my rugs but there are many different choices available for rug backing. The backing you choose should be comfortable to work with, and should be woven so that you can pull the wool loops up through backing without stress or strain on your hand. There is nothing as uncomfortable as trying to pull up thick wools through tightly woven backings. As well, trying to hook a fine yarn through a loosely woven backing will only lead to trouble. The backing you choose should work well with the thickness, and width of wool you are using. You should be able to hook the wool cloth strips easily and with pleasure, as you relax and work on your project.

Primitive burlap has a loose weave and is the traditional choice of the old fashioned rug makers. It is excellent for hauling up thick cloths and wide cuts. Scottish burlap is woven in an even grid, and is good for finer cuts, and lighter weights of cloth. Scottish Burlap woven for primitives come up to seventy inches wide. It is an excellent choice for hooking wider cuts and thicker wools as it designed especially for this. Monks Cloth is preferred by some people because it is 100% cotton and does not have the scratchy feeling that bothers some people about burlap. It is stretchier that burlap or linen, wears well, and makes a good rug backing. Linen is the premium rug backing. It is a strong backing that wears well, and stands the test of time. I have used all types of backing and found they each have their strengths and weaknesses.

Your backing should be relatively new. Do not use backings that have been stored for years, as they may be weak and holes will appear seemingly out of no where. Make sure your backing is strong and in good condition as it is the foundation of the rug you are making. Also keep your backing taught when you put it on the frame, and as you continue to hook, as this will make the hooking easier and more comfortable.

You can transfer the pattern in this package onto the backing of your choice using red dot tracer, which is available at craft supply stores. You simply lay the red dot tracer over the pattern, trace it with a black permanent marker. You can then lay the red dot tracer on your preferred backing, trace it again with the marker. The marker will seep through onto your new backing. When you are finished tracing you can touch it up by going over the pattern on the new backing with your marker. This pattern is intended for a one time use, and is protected by copyright but if you have transferred it onto a new backing please feel free to give the original pattern printed on primitive burlap to a friend who likes to hook on primitive burlap. It would be a shame to waste it, and the more people we keep hooking rugs the better for the craft.

Please call us if you have questions or need supplies.
Deanne Fitzpatrick