Rug Hooking at the Folk School

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Last week I had the pleasure of returning to the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, NC for an intro to rug hooking course. This fascinating fiber art form is something I’ve wanted to learn for years, but I was having a hard time finding anyone locally who could teach me (or who had ever heard of rug hooking, for that matter). The history of traditional rug hooking is interesting, and the craft itself is quite remarkable, but I had a very specific reason for wanting to learn this new medium. I knew somehow, some way, I wanted to incorporate this dimensional texture into my existing needle felting work. Even though I could easily envision how I’d combine the two mediums, I had absolutely no idea where to start, so when I saw there was a rug hooking course coming up at the Folk School, I knew the stars had finally aligned and it was time to find out if this idea was possible.

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 The Folk School is located in the misty Appalachian mountains, about as far west as you can go and still be in the state of North Carolina. It’s remote, it’s beautiful, and it has a special community that’s been teaching a variety of traditional handicrafts for nearly 100 years. You can learn blacksmithing, chair caning, felt making, book binding, metal smithing, pottery, glass bead making, photography, wood turning, and weaving, just to name a few. The class sizes are small, typically less than 10 students, and you learn by total immersion. By the end of my week, I had put in 40 hours in the fiber art studio! 

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The first hour of class, we learned about the tools, materials, and techniques required for rug hooking, and then we were off to hook our first practice piece – a small coaster, using a simple log cabin pattern. Learning to hook a rug seems simple, but it’s not simple at all. After cutting thin strips of wool, you use a hooked hand tool and pull them through the open weave of a piece of fabric. It sounds so basic, but there’s a lot to it. You have to pull the loops through the fabric just so, and space them out enough, but not too much. You can work with a predetermined pattern, but after my first practice piece, I chose to make up my own or work free form. 

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By day two, I was hooking away on my first large piece and finally had the chance to try out my idea of combining rug hooking and needle felting, and I’m thrilled to say – IT WORKED! I hooked a landscape, creating a foreground and mountains with little loops of wool, then I needle felted the sky with roving. I absolutely love how the two wool textures look together. I’m comfortable with landscapes, I make them almost daily (in felt), so this seemed liked a good place to start. 

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The third day, I tried a more abstract piece, a longer tapestry wall hanging in a pale color palette, still experimenting with mixing roving with the wool “noodles” I was hooking through the linen background fabric. I also learned various ways to finish the pieces, like binding the edges with yarn.  My loops aren’t perfect, my edges aren’t straight, I ran out of wool so the finished piece is about an inch shorter than I had been planning, by I learned so much by the time this one was finished and I’m in love with the irregular pattern and soft earthy colors. 

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 Towards the end of the week, I challenged myself to try hooking precise geometric shapes with curves and points, change colors more often, work with smaller scale fabric strips, and switch directions with my loops. I created two more pieces, both using scrap wool and remnants. I also went bold with my color choices and have no regrets about that! 

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After my first 40 hours of rug hooking, all in one week, I’m only just starting to understand how it works. I’m a beginner and will be for quite some time, my work is far from perfect, but I’m so happy to be off on this new adventure in a different medium that compliments what I’m already doing. My fiber art is bound to change in the future, and that’s exciting in so many ways.

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Check out this short 5 minute video showing highlights of the week, time-lapse footage of my first few hooking projects, and work from the other students in various classes.

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I would like to extend a special thanks to Metropolitan Arts Council (MAC) who made this educational undertaking possible by awarding me a grant to help fund my week at the Folk School plus the investment of the new tools and equipment required to continue to pursue a new dimension in my fiber art. Thank you thank you thank you!

This program is funded in part by the Metropolitan Arts Council which receives support from the City of Greenville, BMW Manufacturing Company, Michelin North America, Inc., SEW Eurodrive and the South Carolina Arts Commission.

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The 100 Day Project

On February 1st, I started down a very long road, and this week I will cross the half way point of my #100dayproject. Every day I’m needle felting a landscape with dyed wool fiber that features a scene from the state of South Carolina. I’m exploring my new home state (since 2010) in person and online, taking inspiration from all over the different parts of this beautiful place.

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Needle felting is something I’m totally hooked on, but I didn’t always work in this medium every single day. This daily goal of creating one piece is pushing me (in a good way) to work even if I’m not totally inspired. It’s been a total surprise how things have worked out so far. Some of the days when I was truly dragging myself to make something turned out to by my best work, in my opinion. Working daily in one medium is stretching me to expand on my skills. I’m really enjoying it so far! For the first time, my landscapes are starting to include man-made structures and animals. I’m starting to include a lot of moons as well. Who knows what will show up in the next half of the series!

Once this collection of 100 pieces is complete, which will be sometime in May, they’ll be exhibited as part of a group show at Greenville Center for Creative Arts. This will be my first large-scale long-term exhibition and I couldn’t be more excited to share the whole series with you. For now, here’s the first 25, and be sure to follow along on Instagram and Facebook to see a daily sneak peek at what I’ve made. I’ve had to make a few pieces in hotel rooms so far due to travel plans - but nothing can stop me from meeting my goal. Well, that’s not true. A broken wrist would certainly stop me…but fingers crossed!

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This program is funded in part by the Metropolitan Arts Council which receives support from the City of Greenville, BMW Manufacturing Company, Michelin North America, Inc., SEW Eurodrive and the South Carolina Arts Commission.

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Open Studios 2018

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Metropolitan Arts Council in Greenville does a very cool thing every year called Open Studios, and it’s exactly what it sounds like. Artists all over the city open their studios and invite the community inside to see where they work. Every year, I end up scheduling a craft show that conflicts with Open Studios, so I never get to do it. This year, however, I was excited to have well-timed free weekend so I could experience the self-paced tour with my husband!

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It’s so inspiring to see artists at work in their space. I love the piles of crusty paint tubes, the unfinished panels stacked in corners, the works in progress on the easel, and of course the final product matted and ready to hang. Buying work straight from the artist is also very rewarding because you’re making a connection with the actual person who created the piece you love, which isn’t always possible at a gallery. This weekend we added six new pieces to our collection. Can’t wait to hang them!

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I would love to participate in Open Studios one day as an artist. It would be so much fun to welcome people into my workspace and share my process in person. However, our home is just not set up for that - the different workspaces are spread out all over our house - but we’re hoping to move sometime soon and set up our ideal workshop, so perhaps in the future this dream will be realized. Till then, here’s a short video tour of my studio.

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The Mountains in Autumn

It’s the first week of October, and sadly everything is still green here in Greenville, SC. However, I’m daydreaming about the mountains in fall, and it’s showing through in both my jewelry and fiber art. Burnt reds, golds, deep orange tones, shades of sienna, olive greens … they’re coming soon to my backyard, but until then, they’re alive and well in my studio.

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A small collection of needle felted wool landscapes showcasing my favorite season are now available on my website. These small to medium pieces are framed and ready to hang. If you’re after something specific or have a special scene in mind, please get your commissions in at least 3 weeks in advance!

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My all new painted landscape pendant series titled “The Mountains in Autumn” are also available online as of today. Checkout this new Maker’s Eye View process video showing how I create these one-of-a-kind pieces from start to finish.

And lastly, a new colorway for my popular splatter painted series called “Autumn Leaves,” which features all those vibrant seasonal colors I crave, is also live on the website. I painted this series in tandem with the autumn landscape shown above, so the colors are identical between the two collections. I personally love the way the splatter painted earrings look when paired with the landscape pendant. They’re the same colors but it’s not overly matchy.

TIP: An easy way to filter down all of these new autumn launches on my site is to type “Autumn” in the search bar. It makes things really simple!

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Alpacas & Art

Yes, you've seen other Alpaca-related blog posts here if you've been a reader for awhile. Here's another one! I'm a little obsessed with these sweet-faced creatures, but it's not just because they're so stinking adorable. They're also part of my art. Literally. 

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Recently, I visited my dad and his wife at their new home in Brandon, VT (it's actually a very old home - built in 1880 - but it's new to them). They recently retired there, and I can see why. It's such a beautiful place! Just down the country road from their horse farm was an unexpected surprise. Maple Creek Farms is home to a few dozen alpacas, which is already enough to get me excited, but then I learned they actually process all of the fiber onsite and have a mini-factory for making roving, batting, and even yarn. All the things I'm interested in! 

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I've been a knitter and felt fiber artist for almost 10 years now, so I know my materials and I work with a variety of tools every single day, but I have never actually seen how fleece is processed before I get my hands on it. I always buy roving and yarn that's completely ready for use - I don't do any cleaning or dying myself, so seeing how the fiber gets from the alpaca's back to a ball of colorful roving in my living room was quite the treat. 

Needless to say, I took about 100 pictures of the baby alpacas, some of which were just a few weeks old, and I stuffed my suitcase full of colorful roving for my return trip. I love seeing how things are made, and truly understanding the process by seeing it for myself, so this whole pit stop was right up my alley. Now I have an even deeper appreciation for the material I use every day. 

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