Taking a revealing look at an early rug of mine

The Chicken In The Garden rug was one of the first handful of designs that I created for my Primitive Spirit catalog. As is most often the case, the tiny photo that is in the catalog really does not show all of the detail and color in this 22″ X 33″ piece. Just taking these photographs brought back memories of hooking the rug. Memories took me back to what was happening in my life at the time.

I had been living in a tiny apartment, trying to make ends meet with a job that barely covered my living expenses. I decided to start a rug hooking pattern business, but wanted first to have enough finished rugs to create a catalog of my designs hooked as I envisioned them. This meant I had to have wool, but I could only afford thrift store garments that I took apart. This was a big challenge because I was limited by what was available, and the fabrics varied from being very thick to very thin.

I found a big camel-hair coat. It was not the right weight for hooking, so I didn’t nab it right away but waited for it to go on sale. I had no dyes and I desperately needed more colors. My solution was to bleed the color off the dark-colored wools, and add light colors, such as the camel, to the dye pot to make a tints. The head of the chicken is hooked with some of that over-dyed camel wool. Notice how nice and plump each loop looks, kind of like corn on the cob. I love this look. Since the wool was thicker, I cut it narrower so that it was easier to hook with. I did not have a strip cutter, but I was not going to let anything stop me, so I used a rotary cutter.

The blue and white herringbone and the pumpkin plaid in the above photo were mens shirts. I can still see them as I found them, hanging at the Salvation Army. Word got out, and so people who I worked with donated their old clothes to my craft. Of the cast-offs, wool from an aqua plaid jacket found its way into my chicken. See it hooked here, too. Even though the wool was very thin, I made it work by cutting it into 1/2″ strips and folding it in half as I hooked it to give each loop more body.

Many of these wools were as-is colors that I tea-dyed to make them into softer versions of themselves.

The chicken was not much more than a hit-or-miss coloration using scraps. My next challenge was the background.

Once again, necessity being the mother of invention, I had to make do with using a blend of wools to get enough fabric for the background. Hence, my style was born!

In this case, I had a great collection of dark greens. Instinctively I added other dark colors into this mixture. I loved this little spark of color. My experience in painting guided me as I used colors of wool like dabs paint.

For the leaves, even though the greens were not all the same, they shared a common element of being soft, mellow colors. I found that hooking them together, a few loop here and there, helped them to blend into a vibrant mixture, like an impressionist painting. Look at a Monet up close and what do you see? Bits of color. And they don’t look like anything until you step back.

Even though my palette of colors was limited I was able to pull together enough variety to do a simple hit or miss border. Many of these colors were already in other places in my design.

I finished this rug with binding tape gathered at the rounded corners. This was before I learned the crochet edge finish that I prefer. Actually this rug was made before I learned many things about the craft of hooking rugs. I believe that sometimes it is good to have no preconceived notions. Just wing it and see what happens.

One of the great masters of painting, Leonardo DaVinci, was known for experimenting with new techniques and ideas, even to the point of  making some mistakes. An example of this is his painting The Last Supper,  which he painted by applying paint directly to plaster with his new formula. Unfortunately, his work started deteriorating within 25 years.

We all fail from time to time. But what if we did things without any fear of judgement? Would our work change?

Thanks for reading ~ Karen

37 thoughts on “Taking a revealing look at an early rug of mine

  1. I LOVE this rug, in fact I have bought the pattern. Your story makes this rug extra special. As always, love your style………


  2. What a lovely story and hit so ckose to home. It makes me remember that feeling you get when you are so excited to create in a new way and the enjoyment in finding the materials to work with. I feel your story and ss always thank you so much for sharing. I look forward to hearing your adventures.


  3. Dear Karen,
    I read your story three times before I could leave it alone. I think I lived it while I read it. I feel like I went through that. What determination you had. You have uplifted me today and I reflect on what I own today in the ways of wools, etc., I feel very blessed today when I look at the georgeous colors you guys have created and made available to us. Your time being tested, makes us who we are today. Thank you and all the other wool artists for your endeavor. Thanks again.


  4. Karen,
    I agree with Connie. What a great story and what a great beginning. See where that chicken has lead you to be today. One of the great primitive hookers in this wonderful world of rug hooking.


  5. This is now marked as a favorite entry of mine. I love how you perservered when many would have given up. Its wonderful to see you appreciate where you were then and where you are now-if more of us did this we would be a lot more assured that we have something to offer. Thanks


  6. This post was so enjoyable to read. It brought back great memories of how I started in rug hooking. It is such a good feeling to look back and then see where you are now and what inspired us all. I love your chicken pattern and reading about how you put all your creativity into it! Very inspiring for all of us. Thanks for sharing .


  7. Karen, Hands down this has always been my favorite rug of yours. Now even more so knowing the journey that created it. Thanks for your inspiring, thought provoking posts. Maria


  8. I love your work and agree with what Larry, Robin, and Diane said. I always find the process of how artists and even authors think and work so interesting. A few years back I called you and ordered your DVD. I think I received the DVD before you even got my check….. 🙂


  9. Well as usual you have addressed all fears a person can have when newly creating and “making due” with the resources at hand. Commendable, thank you for sharing.

    On another note….we had our First Annual Rug Show in St. Louis, and had I your circular 14″ pattern on my frame. You would never imagine how many people knew of your blog, recognized this from your blog and was thrilled with how it looked!

    You and your blog were a great hit today. Look for more bloggers from today’s exposure!


  10. What a great story . . . and timely too. I was looking at some of my early rugs and contemplating rolling them up and tucking them away for posterity. Now I see them in a whole different light, a brighter light filled with rich memories.Thanks so much for saving them from the dark depths of my closet!
    Much love from Vermont!


  11. You’re so right! That judgment, or monkey mind, can be a tough oponent. That’s why I love kid art so much; no judgment, lots of color, and free in the design. PS I love your chicken.

    PS Not to be a PIA, but is there a way to sign up for comments all the time and not have to “subscribe” each time I leave a comment? I’m not very familiar with Word Press. Thanks.


      • That would be wonderful. I’ve not taken the times to search chat boards, but on Word Press, I’ve been confused when I’ve tried to figure this out. Perhaps I should go again, with new eyes, and see. Thanks for putting that out there!


  12. Hi Karen. I’m not sure if you are able to help. I’m in new zealand and rug punching is not a popular thing, I would love to try to make a rug and have purchased a couple of needles, monk cloth and a gripper frame from america. However wool cloth here is expensive and to cut it up seems a shame. I’m looking in thrift shops for clothing to cut up, but as I’ve never done it before I’m unsure what to look for weight wise. Your post inspired me to keep looking. Are you able to give me some advise on what weight/weave structure to look for in old clothing that works?


    • when there’s a will, there’s a way! that’s what your comment reminds me of today. the thing about wool is it is resilient and repels stains. but other fabrics would also work. experiment with some rags. if a fabric seems too thin and makes too flat of a loop, cut your strips twice as wide and fold it in half as you hook it to make it plumper. i would go with natural fibers, but really anything would work. it is a scrap craft. look for fabrics that are soft and pliable to work with, easier to hook. have fun!


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