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.


 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! 


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. 


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. 


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. 


 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! 


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.


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.


Intro to Alcohol Inks

Never stop learning new things. That’s a lifelong goal of mine, and I’ve made a habit of taking art classes whenever possible. Recently, I carved out a Saturday afternoon for the Intro to Alcohol Inks class at Greenville Center for Creative Arts with Dottie Bruce. It was a 6 hour workshop but the time just flew by!


After demonstrations and tips for working with the medium, we had the chance to work with the diluted dyes on smooth paper and ceramic tile. Alcohol ink is a fairly new trend, but I think it’s going to be very popular! Concentrated dyes are mixed with rubbing alcohol to water them down, and must be used on a smooth surface like yupo paper, acrylic, or other glass and plastic surfaces. You don’t have full control over what the ink will do, where it will go, how it will mix, but that’s sort of the beauty of it (from a beginner's perspective, at least).

I had a blast painting landscapes of course, had a hard time with the botanicals, and was soothed by watching the drips run and mix together with the other colors in abstract ways. The ink dries so fast, it creates these really cool outlines of color that you can’t really get with other mediums. It’s a forgiving medium as well - if you don’t like something, you just wipe it off with alcohol. Pretty easy to start over if something is looking disastrous! I will definitely be experimenting with this medium in the future...just as soon as my alcohol ink starter kit arrives in the mail!


The ink has arrived and I've already created my first collection of alcohol ink jewelry. Check them out in my Etsy shop:

Don't miss this Maker's Eye View time-lapse video showing the process:

Year in Review: 2015

I know I say this every year, (and I hope I’ll be lucky enough to get to say it again next year): this has been an incredible twelve months. Once again, records have been broken, goals have been achieved (though promptly replaced by new goals for next year), and an awful lot of fun has been had. I've learned SO much this year, and there are some big big things coming up in the near future. As always, I feel incredibly blessed to be able to make a living this way, with my own two hands as a creative entrepreneur, and I'm so thankful for every minute of this journey as a Maker.

Once Again Sam turns 7 years old on January 8th, and as I have done in past years, I always like to stop and reflect, think through what I’ve learned, where I’ve been, and the countless things I have to be grateful for.  

Just a reminder of why I share my stats - this is not intended for bragging purposes.

  • This is to show that a little side hobby can become a serious business over time, through trial and error, self education, and a whole lot of hard work.

  • This is to encourage others to start something of their own, or keep at it, whatever stage they're in. If you have idea for a business, go for it! I had no plan when I started out, so if you have that much, you're way ahead of me. 

  • This is because a record breaking year is only possible thanks to God’s provision, and support from everyone out there who has been a part of my business in some way.

Thank you all for your support this year!

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It was a darn good year, in more ways that numbers can ever prove. Here’s ten of my favorite highlights from 2015, in no particular order. This is what memory lane looks like as a small business owner.

  1. Workshop renovations: Thanks to my husband and all his hard work renovating our basement this year, I now I have a workspace where I’m happy and incredibly productive. Also, it’s a total luxury to be able to run equipment, filter the air, AND have the lights on all at once without blowing a circuit!

  2. The Makers Summit: as always, this conference for creatives lit a fire under me to take on some big big goals this year, and I’m proud to say I have checked off almost everything on this year’s list (or very close to it). However, I already have a to-do list for 2016, and the next conference is still 2 months away!

  3. Artisphere: Getting accepted to the festival and winning the People’s Choice Award was a huge honor, and even though I didn’t make the cut for 2016, that gigantic purple prize ribbon will always hang proudly in my studio.

  4. New laser cutter: I upgraded to a huge 90 watt machine this year, and it was worth every penny. I only wish I had done it sooner and never wasted my time on a cheaper hobby model when I needed the professional model from the start. I’ll never forget how relieved I was when we finally got this thing in place (it weighs over 500 pounds and nearly didn’t fit through the doorway)!

  5. Learning new things (woodturning,  metal working, shibori dying): In February I took a woodturning class with my husband, and after an afternoon of instruction, we’ve been hooked ever since. I also attended the John C. Campbell Folk School for a week this summer to learn metal smithing, which was an incredible learning experience. Recently, I tried my hand at shibori dying, just for fun, and really enjoyed the process. I now realize for the first time how important learning new things is for my creative health, so that’ll definitely be a priority for next year.

  6. American Made Finalist: I have applied to this national contest for years, and was excited to make it to the final round for the first time. I got some nice media exposure because of it, even though I didn’t win.  

  7. My first catalog: It took over 6 months of tedious, frustrating, never-ending work, but we did it! Oh my gosh, never again. But yay, it’s finally done!

  8. Indie Craft Parade: I look forward to this craft show all year long for so many reasons, and it never ever disappoints. Is it weird I’m already thinking about my application photos for June?

  9. The Bunny Project: The idea for this series began about this time last year, and once every quarter, I took a break from orders and production work to make something just for fun. In my world, making bunnies is fun. Making bunnies doing or wearing ridiculous things, is about as much fun as a person can have. 95% of the pieces from this quirky needle felted collection sold, so that was an unexpected bonus. I guess I’m not the only one who LOVES bunnies!

  10. Starting the #MakersEyeView series: I got the GoPro camera for Christmas last year, and have really enjoyed producing these short videos for my YouTube channel that share my process (from my perspective, mostly as time-lapse). I didn’t have any video background prior to this, and still have an awful lot of technical stuff to learn, but I have discovered I really enjoy sharing what goes on behind the scenes in the studio, and I have been overjoyed by the positive response so far.   

Learning Shibori Dying

Getting my hands dirty is something I look forward to. Dying my hands blue….well, that was new for me until recently. I took a Shibori dying class this weekend, and as always, learning something new and unrelated to anything else I’m involved with, tends to inspire me in unexpected ways. Not only did I learn about the historical significance of indigo, but also practical information about working with natural dyes. I can admit this now, after the fact, that I didn’t realize indigo was a plant. I guess I always assumed it was a mineral or chemical compound, but it’s actually a crop, one that’s making a major comeback on American farms. Who knew! Well, you might have known, but I certainly didn’t.

The class was organized by The Maker’s Collective, taught by Catherine Cross of the Summer Blues Indigo Dying Workshop, and hosted at Knack here in Greenville, SC. Our group spent the first hour watching demonstrations of different techniques, learning an overview of Shibori dying, followed by two hours of our own hands-on experiments. We used clothespins, rubber bands, clamped plywood, and lots of other random stuff to resist the dye in certain areas, creating all sorts of interesting and unpredictable patterns on test fabric, and eventually “real” stuff like clothing. I brought some white leather scraps from my studio, just to see if it would work, and was thrilled with the results. It was such a blast!

A few of my finished pieces

A few of my finished pieces

Some of my pieces turned out beautifully, but most did not. I couldn’t get the dye to do exactly what I wanted, but it’s nice to give up control sometimes. Here’s why my so called failures are actually good for the health of my creativity:

I need freedom to fail sometimes. I need freedom of process, to experiment with new mediums that may or may not complement the work I do for my handmade business Once Again Sam. My average day is filled with production, making finished items to fulfill orders, all of which have to look a certain way. My business is booming, which is exciting, but I don’t often have time to just dabble and screw around in the studio like I used to. I have to be diligent with my time and make make make, otherwise by business might fail.

The thing is, my business won’t fail just because I took a few hours one Saturday afternoon to go learn something cool like Shibori dying rather than working on orders. It’s healthy to get out once in awhile and try something new, just for fun, just to keep my creative juices flowing. Experimenting with different mediums is how my business started, and I have to step back and remember that, and choose to pursue more of it, because it will help me grow. Afterall, I’m a maker (who currently has blue hands), not a factory.

A Week at The Folk School

Learning a new craft is irresistible to me. I suppose that’s how I wound up with such a long list of interests, and an even longer list of things I want to learn in the future (which ranges from loom weaving to learning to ride a unicycle). Earlier this month, I did something way out of my comfort zone, and took time off to learn something I knew nothing about. It wasn’t really a vacation, more like an intense work week that left my hands stained and sore, but I’m so glad I didn’t talk myself out of it. I had a pile of reasons to cancel my art camp plans, but the part about “it might be really cool” was what got my butt to Brasstown, NC.

I chose to take a jewelry metalworking course at the John C. Campbell Folk School, a place full of history, simplicity, music from another era, misty mornings, and practically no cell reception. This is the kind of place where you can learn blacksmithing one week, and traditional basket making the next. During the week of my attendance, there were about a dozen other classes occurring simultaneously. My time was spent in an area called “Studio Row” in a building dedicated to jewelry & metals. I’m still blown away by everything I learned in such a short time, but now I feel pressure (the good kind) to continue to take classes whenever I can, because I have an awful lot of things to learn, and an uncertain number of years left to learn them.

I’m already comfortable designing and making jewelry, it’s part of how I earn a living, but working with metal was 100% new to me, so it was a humbling experience to start from scratch, not knowing what would work and what wouldn’t. The instructor, Cindy Moore of was extremely knowledgeable and patient, and I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to the medium.

In just a few day’s time, my class of 8 got to try out embossing metals on the rolling mill, torch enameling, forging, soldering, the hydraulic press, cold connections (like rivets), plus cleaning & finishing techniques. We were permitted to focus on our own projects after general instruction, so I was able to skip things like wire working and making beads out of old coins in exchange for more time with the torch annealing and shaping copper, or experimenting with texturing enamel (my personal favorites, out of everything we learned). The curriculum was fairly open, which was perfect since everyone had different interests. I was thrilled to have the option for additional studio time in the evenings after dinner, which always went by way too quickly. That’s how you know you’re having fun - when having to eat or sleep becomes a major bummer because you don’t want to stop working!!

All in all, I made 32 pieces of jewelry. Some aren’t very good. Some I’m extremely attached to, and would love to add to my jewelry line in the future. I’m already making plans to invest in some of the equipment so I can continue material explorations in my own studio with my new found love of metals. I will always work in leather, wood, and wool, but I think metal is the missing element in my work, and I’m thankful to have had the chance to dabble in it just long enough to know I need to dabble more soon.

Some of my finished pieces from the class