Coutts Memorial Museum of Art

El Dorado, KS



The Art of Rug Hooking


"The Art of Rug Hooking . . . El Dorado and area artists" will be on display at the Coutts Museum of Art through September 27, 2000. A special reception for the artists and a public viewing will be held at the museum Saturday, September 9 from noon - 2:00 p.m.

Many people have long seen and admired hooked rugs without the least idea of how they are made. It has only been recently that rug hooking has received the long-overdue recognition from museums, galleries and the public it deserves as a rich part of our heritage. But more importantly, not only is appreciation growing for hooked pieces made in the folk art tradition but the craft itself is being revived as a means of self-expression. (left: Marge Ward, Mother Goose, wool hooked rug, 1997)

Rug hooking reached a creative peak in early nineteenth-century America (in both New England and the Canadian Maritime Provinces), although both skilled and unskilled hookers were handicapped by a basic lack of materials and had to rely on their ingenuity. Before the availability of burlap (after 1850), feed sacks were frequently used as foundation material. The fabric to be hooked into the foundation came primarily from clothing no longer usable; the materials were washed, sorted and then colored in homemade dyes extracted from local plants (golden rod, sumac, sunflowers, wild grapes, walnuts and other plants). The dyed materials were then cut into narrow strips to be worked into the foundation using hooks made from nails, bone handled forks, or whatever else was available.

There were no fancy methods of transferring the designs for early rug hooker - she took a piece of charcoal and drew directly onto the feed sack. Many a strange looking animal was the result of a freehand attempt to portray some barnyard creature or favorite pet. Rug hooking was a craft confined not only to women: sailors frequently hooked rugs on their long sea journeys; they used canvas as the foundation material and short strands of yarn or rope. Oriental rugs, found only in the homes of the wealthy in early America, provided inspiration for many hooked rugs in more modest homes.

During the middle 1800s, Edward Sands Frost, an enterprising man from Biddeford, Maine, contributed to the development of the craft into a home industry by creating stencils of tin and then selling them from his peddler's wagon to the grateful housewives. He also made the first crooked hook to hook the rugs from watching his own wife working on a rug. By the end of the nineteenth century, with the growing demand for low-priced machine-made carpeting, the popularity of hooked rugs declined. The once-prized rugs which had graced the front parlor were often moved to the kitchen and from there to the woodpile. Or they were rolled up and tucked in the far corners of the attic.

Traditional hooking is the process of pulling up loops 1/8" - 1/4" high of narrow strips of wool fabric through the mesh of a foundation material. The loops pulled up many times close together form a pile. Several foundation materials are used today, such as burlap, monks cloth, rug warp and linen. Wool cutters are used to cut the fabric into strips of different sizes and frames are used to hold the foundation material firmly taut, making hooking easier.

Primitive hooking is another style of hooking. Little or no shading is used and the wool is cut wider than in traditional hooking. Most of the designs are made in the folk-art tradition. Originally primitive designs were drawn and hooked by people unschooled in art and rules of perspective. Today supplies are ordered through catalogs. Accredited rug hooking teachers give workshops on color shading and improved rug hooking styles.

The following El Dorado rug hookers have works represented in this exhibit: Marilyn White, Pat Durnil, Madelon Sandberg, Caroline Short, WilmaDon McGinnis, Marge Ward, Faith Eastham, Barbara Peace and Barbara Trent.

Read more about the Coutts Memorial Museum of Art in Resource Library Magazine

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This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 3/23/11

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