Traditional rug hooking has existed in North America for about 200 years.Most closely linked to New England and the Maritime provinces of Canada, rug hooking was a craft born from poverty.As the vogue for machine-made floor coverings took off in the early 1800s, poor women began to search for ways to enhance their homes as well.Using burlap (free material from grain and seed bags) as the foundation canvas and bits of fabric (unusable for any other purpose) from their scrap bags, these women created an entirely new art form. Rugs were used on the floors in all seasons and also on the beds in the winter for warmth. Traditionally hooked rug styles include fine hooked rugs, with thinner strips of material used to produce more subtle shading; and more primitive styles, utilizing a wider strip of material and with generally little shading involved. The tools are the same, but the results will differ with shading techniques and width of wool strips.Fine and primitive style hooked rugs use a hand hook to form a loop pile on the surface of the foundation material. Backing material has an even weave and may include burlap, monk’s cloth, etc. At Off Soundings Design we use strips that are cut to 1/16 of an inch for the finest detail possible, even on primitive designs.
It is estimated that a 9’ rug can contain 10 miles of 1/4” strips!
For more detailed information on how it's done and how to get started, click here.
Bertha Chase Gardiner, ca. 1921
BCG rug, ca. 1965
BCG Rug, ca. 1960
A Long Line of Hookers
It all started with weaving those darned potholders as a child. When I was in grade school a potholder was my "hostess gift" whenever I went on a sleepover to a friend's house. (The mothers of my two best friends ended up with quite a collection of "Kit originals" over the years.) I've always been drawn to the fiber arts: crocheting and knitting, quilting, needlepoint, petit point, counted cross-stitch, rug braiding. Letting people know that I'm an avid "hooker" is sometimes a little problematic I will admit, but I come by my passion honestly. I inherited the hooks and frames from my Nantucket grandmother Bertha Chase Gardiner (1895-1991). She was taught rug hooking by her mother, Ada Chase (1870-1966) who spent the long Nantucket winters applying the skills she learned from earlier generations in the family. Ada's rugs were in the primitive design tradition, using fabrics, color palettes and materials available at hand--primarily any woolen family clothing she could grab and cut into strips. My mother distinctly remembers as a child coming back up to Nantucket every spring only to discover that another of her well-loved coats or skirts was now incorporated into a new rug. That might go a long way to explaining why my mother never caught the hooking bug. More than 60 years ago, after raising her family, my grandmother Bertha went back to rug hooking in earnest, refining her skills in dyeing, design, color and execution. Her later rugs were made from the narrowest strips of new wool that were hand-dyed for nuanced shading, creating a more elegant, sophisticated look. Unlike the current fad for rugs sold on island with "Nantucket themes" like sailboats, seashells or whales, Bertha and Ada's rugs were primarily floral in design. Whether hooked in the primitive or fine style, these traditional florals offered a bright, warm welcome to visitors in an often gray, chilly and unwelcome climate. Long before Nantucket was a vacation mecca, the hard-working island people, virtually isolated from the mainland for so much of the year, built their community and made it beautiful by refining the decorative arts they practiced. The Nantucket Historical Association, repository of so much island art and craftsmanship, has acquired a couple of Ada's rugs for their collection. Today, many of my grandmother's and great-grandmother's rugs, the truly authentic Nantucket rugs of this bygone era, are still found in homes across the country.We offer a small number of these gently used rugs from the personal family collection. Please email me to receive information on which rugs might be currently available. I follow in Bertha's footsteps by using finely cut, new wool fabric from the Dorr Mill Store in Guild, NH and selected New England hand-dyers. And just like Bertha I only use the time-honored foundation fabric of burlap, but that's where we part company. Bertha hooked only rugs; I hook everything BUT rugs! She excelled at Victorian florals with understated coloring and dramatic borders; my inspiration comes from primitive, traditional and, with a nod to my Nantucket roots back to the founding families, the occasional nautical design. Every hooked piece we offer here at Off Soundings Design is one of a kind; like fingerprints, some may look similar but each is unique. You will recognize familiar design themes (I do love my beehives, cats and sheep!) but because each piece is drawn by hand, with no template, and color palettes vary depending on what I have in my studio's wool cupboard, each one is different.
So, I hope you enjoy our website. Please email me with any questions you may have about our creations or even how to get into hooking yourself.
PS: And, yes, I still have my potholder loom, crochet hook and a bag of loops. You never know when you'll get invited to a sleepover!