Anne Arundel guild hooked on an old-fashioned art form


September 19, 2002|By Joni Guhne | Joni Guhne,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

WHEN MEMBERS of the Anne Arundel Rug Hookers meet each month at the Severna Park branch library, they practice a true American art form that can be traced back more than a century.

In the mid-19th century, the average housewife who wanted to furnish her home with rugs often had to make them herself because rugs were an expensive luxury. Inventive and industrious women used whatever they could find. There were always old garments, too worn out to wear, but too good to throw away and, if the woman lived on a farm, there were plenty of empty burlap seed and grain bags. And, her sewing basket usually held a crochet hook or two.

When the burlap bags were washed and stretched, they produced a suitable rug backing, about 48 inches by 36 inches, the right size for a rug to lay beside the bed or in front of the hearth. Families sometimes used the "rugs" for bed covers or wall decorations.

The art form returned to popularity around 1940 when American craftsman Pearl McGown introduced printed patterns and taught students how to dye natural-colored wool. The Anne Arundel guild, which was organized in 1980, is associated with the Pearl McGown Guild, says local guild president Lissa Williamson.

Today, rug hooking is a fast-growing hobby among the artistically inclined and those who enjoy period decorating. Because the burlap backing on old hooked rugs wore out before the strips of fabric, modern rug hookers use cotton and linen backing. They also use 100 percent wool because of its strength and if only one type of fiber is used, the entire rug will last the same length of time.

The wool is cut into narrow strips, as thin as 1/16 of an inch and only as wide as half an inch. The length, averaging 10 inches, is up to the artist. The design is a simple black outline drawn on top of the backing.

The hardest part of making a rug, says Williamson, is choosing the colors. The first strip, called the tail, is drawn through the backing from above. Subsequent pulls create loops until the strip is used. How deep the loops are depends on the width of fabric - fine strips producing shorter loops.

While many rug hookers prefer woolen fabric, the more adventurous are adding unexpected touches to their designs by incorporating the shine of Mylar balloons and silk or the rough texture of raffia.

Rugs are made inside a frame or a wooden hoop like crewel or cross-stitch embroidery. Like their predecessors, today's rug hookers can't go into a craft store and find supplies for making their rugs. They're not available.

To encourage participation, the local guild makes rug kits that include a pattern, cut wool, a hook, a hoop and basic instructions. The kits cost $37 and are available from guild members and when the guild gives one of its frequent demonstrations. A demonstration will be held Oct. 6 at Hancock's Resolution on Bayside Beach Road in Pasadena.

Williamson, a guild member for seven years, entered one of her latest creations, a circular rug featuring lighthouses, in the pictorial category for hooked rugs at this year's Anne Arundel County Fair. She earned first place. When she's not in Severna Park or visiting the Eastern Shore, Williamson says, she spends her time on the eastern end of Long Island and has always loved lighthouses.

The guild is raffling one of its creations, a 32-inch by 47-inch nautically inspired rug called Chesapeake Life. Tickets are $1 a piece or six for $5.

The guild meets from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., the fourth Monday of the month. To learn more about the guild or to obtain raffle tickets, call 410-956-5105 or 410-987-9661.

Book sale volunteers

American Association of University Women is seeking volunteers for its annual fall book sale. Proceeds will benefit AAUW award college scholarships for students who graduate from Anne Arundel Community College and transfer to a four-year institution.

Books will be collected from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sept. 28, Oct. 5 and Oct. 19 at the Safeway and Giant in Severna Park. Receipts will be provided.

Information: 410-647-6232 or 410-255-8330.

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