Rags to Rugs

  • Downhome Magazine
  • Posted: Feb 21, 2012 6:59 PM
By Linda Browne

A crafty person I am not. I can't sew a button onto my coat; I used to think that a "running stitch" was something people got when they went jogging directly after stuffing their faces; and the only time I've ever picked up a pair of knitting needles was to challenge a friend to a sword, or "lightsaber," fight (which, in my case, was just last week).

So, suffice to say, I felt quite out of my element when, along with a dozen other brave souls, I marched through the doors of the Anna Templeton Centre in downtown St. John's to learn the secrets behind the art of rug hooking.

Catherine McCausland, a veteran textile artist living in Tors Cove, has been rug hooking for about 18 years and has been teaching it for the past four. Her three-week course is intended to give newbies like myself an introduction to the craft (and perhaps to get a few more people "hooked" on this time-honoured tradition).

Here in this province, rug hooking was a popular and practical winter activity that helped people wile away long, chilly evenings while creating something they could use to keep their feet toasty warm. These days it has evolved into more of an art form, letting people express themselves while reusing old fabric and giving it new life. If 12 people are given the same design to work with, Catherine says, chances are they will create 12 very different rugs.

"Rug hooking really reflects your own choices and personality," she says.

"There's one basic stitch and really what changes the look of that stitch is the choice of materials...once you master that basic stitch, then all these doors open up. And so it's not a case of adding more technique, it's actually adding more imagination. And I think it is addictive because as you work...you actually can see the image starting to form, and I think that's really satisfying."

For my own project, I decided to boldly go where no rug hooker has gone before (at least, not to my knowledge) and create the iconic Downhome logo. At five-by-five inches, the square is more like a large coaster rather than a rug (I had just three classes to complete my mission after all!) - but, considering this is my very first foray into the world of rug hooking, I'm quite happy with the end result! If you'd like to try your hand at this particular design, follow the steps below. (Keep in mind that each rug hooker has his or her own method - just do what feels right to you and, most importantly, get those creative juices flowing!)

Fabric in assorted colours
Scissors or rotary cutter
Frame (I used an eight-inch embroidery hoop, since it's small and creates good tension. If you're making a larger rug, you would staple the burlap along a bigger fixed or non-fixed wooden frame.)
Rug hook or 2.5 mm metal crochet hook
Transfer cloth (I used kitchen curtain fabric)
Pins (for finishing)
Permanent marker

(click thumbnails for full view)

1) Prepare the fabric
Wash and iron the fabric. Turn the garment inside out and cut away the things you don't need (i.e. hem along the bottom and sides, neck and sleeves).

Using scissors or a rotary cutter, cut your fabric into 1/4''-wide strips. A good rule of thumb, Catherine says, is to have 10 times the amount of fabric of the area you're hooking. (So, for a 5''x5'' square, you should aim to have about 50''x50'' inches of material.)

2) ImageCreate your design
Draw your design onto a plain white piece of paper. If you're working on a larger project, place numbers in the spaces so you'll know which colours go where - kind of like a paint by numbers.

PinImage a piece of transfer cloth onto the paper. Using a permanent marker, trace your design onto the transfer cloth.

3) Transfer your design
PinImage the transfer cloth with your design onto the centre of the burlap. Secure well. Then trace the design onto the burlap.

4) AttachImage burlap to frame
Place the burlap into the embroidery hoop (centering it as best you can) and secure the screw at the top tightly. Go around the hoop and pull the burlap taut (making sure the hoop doesn't pop out of place).

5)Image Start hooking!
Position one hand above the hoop and the other below. Hold the hook in your top hand and lean your arm against the hoop. With your bottom hand, hold the strip of fabric between your thumb and index finger. Bring your hook down through the burlap, wrap the fabric around it and bring it back up. Bring the first stripImage up an inch or two, leaving the end sticking up.

Bring your hook down again, wrap the fabric around it and pull the stitch up, pulling it back towards the stitches already made. (If you pull in the direction you areImage heading, you will shorten or pull out your previous stitch.) Outline your design by hooking a hole, leaving a hole, etc. (If you're hooking rows, hook a row, leave a row.) Leaving holes empty in the burlap between stitches helps the burlap to lie flat.

WhenImage you reach the end of a strip, hook it up through the burlap and leave the end sticking up (like you did with the initial loop). Give the beginning and end pieces a tug and trim to match the height of the other loops. Once the design is outlined, start filling it in (hook a hole, leave a hole).

6)Image Cut off excess burlap

Remove the burlap from the hoop and lay it on a table. Measure a border of 1.5" from the outside edge of the rug. Mark a dot with your marker. Continue around the rug and use a ruler to connect the dots. The marker line is your cuttingImage line.

Create a miter corner: Measure 1" from the corner. Draw a cutting line across the corner by connecting two dots. Cut off excess burlap.

7) PinImage the burlap edge

To make for easier stitching, lay the rug face down on a table, cover with a damp cloth and press with a hot iron. Then remove the cloth and fold the burlap edge in towards the underside of the rug and press with the hot iron. Repeat for all four sides.Image

Lay rug face down on the table. Fold miter-cut corner over the back of the rug and pin. Repeat for all four corners. Fold under all raw edges of the burlap, pinning every 1" - 1.5", starting in the corners.
8) Stitch the edges
With a needle and thread (try to match the colour of the burlap), stitch the edge of the burlap to the back of the rug using a tacking stitch. Start at the centre of any side. Anchor the knot of thread under the burlap edge. Bring the needle up 1/4" from the edge and stitch into the back of the rug. Pass the needle diagonally to the nextImage 1/4" spot along the burlap. Space stitches about 1/2" apart. (Don't pull too tightly otherwise the rug will curl.)

9) StitchImage miter corners
Use the "lacing the skate" technique to close up the gap between the two sides (slight overlapping of one side over another is fine as long as it isn't too lumpy). Start at the top and bring the needle up at one side, down through the opposite side, and then diagonally through the rug to come out on the same side you started. Continue until you reach the tip of the corner.

Finish stitching close to the corner. Bring the needle from the last stitch under the burlap edge. Move the needle through the rug back to come up 1/4" from the edge to continue stitching along the edge.

10) Finish
Use a lint brush or wrap some tape around your hand to pick up excess fabric, burlap, etc. from your rug.

Lay your rug face up on the table and again, cover with a damp cloth. Press stitched burlap edge with a hot iron to flatten the rug and lock in your stitches.

Using your rug hook, go around and poke at the fabric to help define the shape of your design.

Finally, sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labour - and wait for those Christmas orders to start rolling in! (If I get cracking now, Mom and Dad might get an actual rug by Christmas 2013.) Give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back. You've just learned an extremely valuable new skill, and if you're in my shoes, you might just be hooked for life!