How to create your own hooked rug

Hand-hooked rugs are part of America’s heritage. In the early days of the settlers, women busied themselves making artistic rugs out of scraps of unusable fabric. This was a valuable skill in the days before central heating and carpets. In order to make the rugs more interesting, the early rug hookers paid close attention to the colors in the fabric and created beautiful designs. Today, some of those rugs are excellent examples of primitive American folk art. Two hundred years later, we have access to many more fabrics and can create any design that we wish, and many do just that. Rug hooking is a craft that is still common in the United States, particularly in the Northeastern states.

There are two ways to do rug hooking. The traditional way is to get a piece of burlap and draw a design on it. This can either be done freehand, or from a pattern. If you decide to use a pattern, you will want to enlarge it to the desired size at a copy shop (you may end up with several sheets of paper) and then use a transfer pen to trace the pattern on the paper. After you have traced the design, iron the design onto the fabric. Stretch your burlap tightly over a frame. The frame can be a handmade one, or can be purchased from a rug-hooking catalog. There are many varieties to choose from. One note: for your first project, I do not recommend starting out big. You may want to try a hooked rug pillow, so that you get a sense of how much time it takes to hook. Of course, you will get faster as you practice this engaging craft.

You will want to collect a variety of wool fabrics. Patterned fabrics work just as well as plain colors, as they add extra dimension to the color of the finished rug. Then you will need to cut the wool fabric into strips that are 3/8 of an inch wide. You can use a good pair of fabric scissors, or if you will be making a large rug, or hooking rugs on a regular basis, you may wish to purchase and use a rotary cutter or a strip-cutting machine in order to save time. Once you have your pattern drawn on the burlap, the burlap stretched onto a frame, and your wool strips cut, you are ready to begin.

Hold the hook like a pencil and stick it down through one of the holes in the burlap. In your other hand, hold the fabric. With the hook, pick up a loop of the fabric that is towards the end, and draw the hook back up through the fabric until you have a loose end. Then continue to hook loops, only this time, since you already have your end, you will continue to make loops on the fabric. You will want to be careful to work evenly, leaving two or three threads between each hole you make in the fabric, and make the loops even. When you come to the end of a strip of fabric, simply pull the end through towards you, and begin again with a new strip in the same hole. You will trim the ends to the same length as the loops when you are finished.

If your design has outlines, you will want to do those first, and then fill in the design. Also, do not feel as though you have to go back and forth. You can hook using a circular movement, or even make spirals in your work.

There is another rug hooking method for those rug hookers who either like to complete the work at a faster pace, or who simply prefer working with yarn, and that is to use the punch hook. A punch hook uses yarn, and is literally punched into the fabric over and over, leaving loops on the opposite side of the fabric. If you decide to use a punch hook, you will want to remember to reverse your design, since you will be working from the back of the fabric. Punch hooking goes very quickly, since the hooking process itself is faster, and there is no cutting of wool strips involved. It is can be less economical, as used woolen clothing is less expensive than new wool yarn. It is entertaining, however, to walk into a yarn store and look at the palate of colors as you plan your rug design.

One advantage of using punch hooks is that you can purchase adjustable hooks that will allow you to vary the depth at which you are punching. This makes the pile short or deep, whichever you prefer. You can even vary the pile within the same rug for an artistic look.

Whatever method you choose, keep in mind that there is no right sort of design to go by. You can make up your own, choose one from a book or catalog, or copy a design from some artwork or a photo that has inspired you. I used an illustration from a children’s book I wrote for my first rug. My children simply adored it. Do as our foremothers did and try using designs that reflect your own life. By doing so, you will create a highly personal piece of art.

When you are done hooking your rug, you will need to finish it. Double-check for any gaps in the hooks that show the background and fill them in if necessary. Take the rug off of the frame and block it. In rug hooking, blocking means the same thing as it does for a knitted garment. Cover the back of the rug with a damp cloth, iron, and allow to dry, making sure that the shape is the perfect square, rectangle, or circle you were looking for. Then sew rug-binding tape to the edges of the rug. Miter the corners, if there are any.

Make sure that you sign and date your rug just as if it were a precious painting that you had completed because that is exactly what it is. A hooked rug is a personalized painting done in wool strips or yarn and is a wonderful addition to your home decor.

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