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 Return of the Animal Portraits

It’s been awhile (I think maybe 2 years???), but I’m finally bringing back my quirky needle felted animal portraits for a limited edition series! These sometimes-realistic and sometimes-ridiculous wall hangings range from bookish bunnies, to cool cats in hats, and my most recent favorite, a professorial beaver in a bowtie. The 3D wool portraits are large enough that I’m able to develop the head shape and facial details pretty well, and adding just the right accessory – a pair of glasses, a pearl necklace, a pipe, or knit cap (my mother-in-law knit some of these for me!) is one of the most pleasing parts of the whole process for me. Sourcing those small scale accessories can be a bit of a treasure hunt, but they sure give the piece personality.

 I’ve been making these felted animal portraits for many years, but only in short bursts, never in a continuous or predictable fashion. I take commissions year round and am always up for a special request, but I’m rarely producing more than 15-20 portraits a year outside of custom orders. That’s extremely limited when I compare to how many hundreds of wool paintings I make in a year, several thousand pendants & earrings, plus dozens and dozens of Christmas ornaments.

Each summer, in preparation for Indie Craft Parade, a major craft fair here in Greenville, SC, I typically make one small collection of the felted portraits, put them all out at the show, and they’re sold out by noon the first day, so there are no remaining pieces to add to my website. I don’t know why I even have a section for these on my site. It’s permanently empty!

Recently, I started to realize customers outside of the Greenville area (or even those in the Greenville area who didn’t attend the show or got there too late) don’t have the opportunity to purchase or even see the animal portraits in person. This year, prior to Indie Craft Parade, I’m trying something a little different in hopes of giving those interested a chance of adding to their collection. I’m going to offer these quirky creatures for sale in a brief pre-sale / flash sale on Instagram so there will be a short chance to snag one before they ever make it to the craft show (or if you’re local, you can purchase in advance and pick up at the show). Plus, I made nearly twice as many as previous years, so hopefully there’s enough to go around this time!

Hope you enjoyed this advanced look at the pieces available. Please follow along on Instagram for details about when they’ll be up for grabs in early September.

 As always, if you don’t see the exact animal you want, or you have something specific in mind, please reach out. I truly love custom orders!

Artist-in-Residence: Edisto Beach State Park

I recently had the incredible opportunity to be the artist-in-residence for a week at a South Carolina State Park and was thrilled to be assigned to Edisto Beach State Park. This is my second state park residency, but a new location, and although I expected beautiful things I was truly blown away by what I found when I arrived at the coast.

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My time on Edisto was a combination of exploring the town, the surrounding natural areas, learning the history, and finding inspiration for my current body of art which happens to be needle felted wool landscape paintings featuring scenes from the state of SC. In addition to my work in wool, which was my primary medium during my stay, I also painted, sketched, and designed some new jewelry pieces for my handmade collection at Once Again Sam.

I was given a cabin at Edisto Beach State Park to use during my stay, and this became my base camp and studio away from home. I worked outside as much as possible, enjoying the screened-in porch with a breath-taking view of Scott Creek. Each day, I hiked several miles in the park, biked around the island, tried a new restaurant in search of the best seafood in town, watched the sun set, and created art inspired by what I saw all around me. I took time to notice the wildlife, the plants & trees, and appreciate how different the water looks depending on the hour.

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Throughout the day, I’d come back to the cabin and work on a felted piece, then I’d go back out the next day and photograph the finished piece in the same location that inspired it to begin with. I quickly learned the time of day for returning to the same spot mattered because the tides made the beach and marsh look completely different!

I completed 12 wool landscapes during my 6 days in the park. Some pieces featured the beach, others the marsh, and several were inspired by Botany Bay Beach and it’s fascinating ever-changing driftwood sculpture garden. I returned to this beach several times – it’s so unlike any other beach I’ve seen before. I loved how visitors left the shells they found propped up on the downed trees or hung like Christmas ornaments from the upturned roots.

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This being my first visit to Edisto, I asked around for recommendations beforehand, and so many people told me they’d been coming to the island for 20+ years. Now I can understand why! It’s remote enough to have a quiet charm where you can’t help but relax, but there’s enough to do that you can break up the day with various activities like boat tours, bike rentals, hikes, and shopping if you so choose.

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Some of my favorite things from my time at Edisto:

Favorite meal: Fish tacos, street corn, and margarita from E & O Tacos

Favorite sunset spot: Beach access #31

Favorite hiking trail: Spanish Mouth Trail + Scott Creek Trail

Favorite place to bike: Jungle Shores Drive

Favorite excursion: Botany Bay Beach

Favorite place to watch pelicans: The marina

Favorite place to shop: With These Hands Gallery

Favorite Moment: Taking in all the details of low tide in the marsh. If you linger on the boardwalk on the Scott Creek Trail during low tide, you’ll smell the salty air, you’ll see the tiny snails clinging to the colorful grass and the shadows of the silent pelicans flying overhead, you’ll marvel at the appearance of hundreds of oysters that weren’t visible just a few hours ago, but what I enjoyed the most was the sounds. There’s a lot of life hidden in the tall grass and buried in those muddy banks, but you might not notice unless you stopped to listen for a moment. If you hear past the sound of the grass blowing you’ll also hear tiny clicking sounds from crabs scurrying around, and delicate little burps and popping sounds coming from under the mud.

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My time on Edisto was the perfect balance of exploring, relaxing, and creating. I couldn’t have asked for better place to seek inspiration for my art. Although I’m back in Greenville, SC now and within view of the Blueridge Mountains, my future work will continue to showcase the coast, and I look forward to exhibiting my collection of 100 landscapes from all over the state, including the Edisto series, this summer at Greenville Center for Creative Arts.

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All new video sharing a glimpse of the scenery, my process, and why I would go back in a heartbeat. Be sure to checkout my video from last year’s residency as well!

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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Clearly Abstract: Belle Armoire Feature

I’ve been dabbling and developing abstract painted jewelry for about 2 years now, and my latest version of this simple concept is combining paint, gold leaf, clear acrylic and walnut wood. As with previous versions of the abstract painted line, I’m still making a larger abstract painting (this time on clear acrylic) and cutting it up into unique pieces for the setting, but now I’m adding in gold leaf and making my own settings with laser engraved wood. I’m so thrilled with the direction this collection is taking!

Read all about my process and how this whole series got started in this month’s issue of Belle Armoire Magazine. All items pictured are available at www.onceagainsam.com in the splatter painted jewelry section.

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