Monday, March 31, 2008

Small is Beautiful



In the same way that people need to follow a “War and Peace” type read with something light and frothy, I have always punctuated my large hooking projects with something quick and small. I need that “instant gratification” as much as I need the “time-you-spend-is-worth-it” projects.

From the time I started hooking, I was also dreaming up the small things to put between the large ones. It satisfied me in more ways than I originally thought. Not only was it the quick hit I needed to design, hook and finish something in a short period of time, it usually turned out to be something that didn’t need to stay on the floor. And every time I took a hooked project out into the public, be it a purse or a pin, people reacted.

For example, a couple of years ago I hooked a belt, created entirely out of leftovers. It was inspired by a long piece of backing that was too narrow for anything else. (In case you haven’t noticed, I am a frugal hooker - I hate to waste anything.) This led to another belt, shaped this time, which was a gift for my favourite niece. And these two projects seemed to open a part of my brain that realized there were just as many hook-able small things are there are knit-able, paint-able or anything else-able. So, a hat followed which used leftover yarn and wool and had a knit top. Then came the Jeanius purses, which have taken on a life of their own.

Next came my baby signs which I have featured on the blog earlier. They are now my official baby gift and have replaced the hand-knit sweaters, which were lovely, but also outgrown in less than a minute. Unless the baby changes its name, these signs are forever. These are also perfect for pampered pooches.

Coasters were always on the radar screen. Or, as some people call them, mug rugs. They can be custom designed, or just hooked on a regular basis to create a stash for gift giving. They are truly beautiful, and one friend I gave a set to put them on her wall in a collage, which looked amazing. Who knew! The picture of the cottage icons in silhouette is a bit blurry - my apologies.

The other picture above is of my latest little creation - hooked belt buckles. These were inspired by my friend Karen’s buckles, also featured in an earlier entry. Her buckles are definitely unique and a fabulous gift, but they got me thinking that I could do some hooked ones as gifts for my pals as well. So I sourced a supplier and hooked a few to see how they looked. These are only 1 5/8 x 2 ¾, so you can whip up a bunch in no time. I’m pretty darn pleased with the results. I'll post them again, once they are on the buckles.

In the hooking community, there are many of us who are fond of these little projects. In fact, I will be doing a showcase at Trent School of Rug Hooking in June - following up on my one from last year on my Jeanius Bags. I’m presenting an array of things that are “not rugs”. The idea is to allow people to choose a couple of small items they can design and hook in a week and take with them when they leave. I also think it’s a great way to promote the idea of hooking as more than just mats.

I have several other ideas that I’m going to create prototypes for, which I will feature when they are real. I think the possibilities are endless. And lots of fun.

Which supports the theory that good things really do come in small packages.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Turning over a new leaf - or stock - or spear.




Well, here is the start of my veggie rug for my cottage kitchen.
The inspiration for this design came from a quilt book called "Pieced Vegetables" that had templates for veggies using straight seams and curved seams. It had almost every vegetable you could think of and I loved the colours the designer chose for her veggies. As soon as I saw the book, a rug started percolating - or should I say "stewing" - in my head and this is the result.

I decided to use yarn for this rug, partly because I think it will be easier to care for but also because I have tons of yarn to give me all the bright colours in the veggies. When hooking with yarn, you can use all kinds of weights by just doubling the lighter weight ones. I decided to do a long shape for presence on the floor, so I have an unusual proportion of 18" x 40". The other factor that helped determine the size is that I had two pieces of rug warp left on my roll and one of them happened to be 24 x 46.

The arrangement of the featured veggies in the centre I refer to as my "chopstick veggies". Remember that two-fingered masterpiece we all played on the piano as a child? If you think of the two carrots in the middle as the start of the chopsticks and move outwards to the corn, you can actually sing the song - should you ever decide you want to. (Who knows where that crazy thought came from.) But for some reason, it was the design inspiration and I think I'll leave it like that - with the mirror image centre veggies. Around the outside will be potatoes, eggplants, peppers, radishes, onions and tomatoes. Smaller, rounder shapes to offset the tall ones in the centre.

I hooked three of the centre veggies, and was in a hurry to see how my background choice would work. It didn't! That old rule of not using a medium tone for backgrounds always holds true. The wonderful tweedy grey that looked like the countertop was so blah behind the asparagus, I changed my mind and opted for black there instead. It makes a wonderful, dramatic contrast to the colours in all those featured veggies.

I will try the grey again as a "field" for the outside veggies, being careful to make sure that these veggies colours are not midtones, so they will separate from the background. And I think I will have to hit the red keyline a bit harder and echo it will black to take the black to the outside of the design. I will do another red line at the outside edge, followed by a couple of rows of black and whip it in black.

It's fun hooking with yarn. It's fun hooking an original design and it takes me back to my less disciplined natural state - which is very different from the Oriental. I'm looking forward to watching this rug evolve. Unlike my Oriental, this one will be filled with little surprises - and lots of learning I'm sure. As to the subject of veggies overall, do you think this rug was influenced by the nutrition seminar I've been attending once a week for a few weeks? Hmmmmmm.......all these good carbs...

Monday, March 17, 2008

It's done.




True to my deadline-oriented fashion, the label was being stitched on at 5:00, in anticipation of Laura’s 5:30 arrival. But it was done in time! And she was thrilled.

Despite having seen it in progress, it was still something in the presentation! She ran her hands over the front, stroked the fringe, turned it over to examine the back and read the label out loud - that tactile connection with a piece of fibre art. Isn’t that what it is all about?!

I am very happy that she is appreciative of the work. I think that you must be very careful when you give away a piece that wasn’t specifically commissioned. If the recipient is not as devoted to the rug as you are, it can be quite devastating. This was not the case here. There was true pride in the fact that I would part with something that was so long and loving in the making.

But, so was Laura. It seemed only fitting to give my first-born Oriental to my first-born child. And a quarter century is a pretty big occasion, even if there aren’t cards for that. (I can’t believe that Hallmark has missed an opportunity!)

The birthday celebrations started with her friends’ get-together on Friday nite. Her Dad and I were invited to join them, which is another milestone. When your children choose to include you in their 'friends' list, it is a significant event. We’ve always been close to her crowd. And we are proud to say they’ve all grown into fine people.

So, now on to the next project. I have settled on a vegetable design for my cottage kitchen. It will be a wide cut, so should go quickly.

But there is definitely another Oriental percolating in the back of my brain. And my hands now have a memory for hooking an Oriental, so they will be glad to get back to that rhythm when my brain is ready.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Blueberries in March.


A lovely thing happened to me yesterday. One of the students from my “Wide and Wonderful” class at the OHCG School last fall sent me a picture of her finished piece.

This student is Karen Kaiser, who just happens to be an amazing graphic designer as well as a hooker extraordinaire. I first met her at an OCGH Annual in Lindsay a few years ago. She won the prize for the themed (Cottage Life) exhibition and her winning entry clearly demonstrated her talents, as does this one. I had a brief chat with her, sitting on a window ledge outside the rug exhibit. She was as lovely as she is talented. So, I was thrilled and humbled to have her in my class.

I asked if I could feature her rug on my blog and she gave me permission.
This piece is entitled “Blueberry Leaves”. It is a wonderfully textural piece that combines proddy and traditional hooking. The design in this piece is outstanding. The colours, the balance, the texture - everything is pleasing and executed brilliantly. And when you look at her hooking, the directional hooking - curved to follow the leaves at the top - and straight down the sides - creates a combination of motion and stillness that enhance the design. This could just as easily be a painting, or a sculpture or a carving. It would be awesome in any medium. But it’s outstanding as a fiber art piece.

When Karen started working on this in class, she began with the proddy leaves - something that most of the students had not tried, so it was great to see it unfold as she worked away. Hers was one of several unique projects that presented a great learning opportunity for everyone to share - a real advantage to an open class. When everyone is working on something different, you get to share things that aren’t necessarily on the lesson plan.

It’s wonderful to see this piece finished. And I would really love to see all the pieces that were started in our group. Receiving this picture will prod me into following up with all of the class. I’ll get them to check out Karen’s Blueberry leaves and see who else is finished.

Hopefully, I’ll have lots more to share in the next little while. And you will be able to see just how talented the group truly was. And hear me brag, brag, brag.

Monday, March 10, 2008

The finish line.



After more than 40 years spent making things, I’ve come to the realization that just because you’re done, doesn’t mean you’re finished.

Sweaters are a great example. You knit two sleeves, a front and back, maybe a hood and you feel so proud to be done. But you’re not. You need at least a couple more sessions to “finish”.

Rugs are exactly the same. We finish the design and pull those last loops of background and feel that same sense of accomplishment and pride. But then there’s usually another week getting “finished”. I have spent the last two weeks getting there on this rug. And I still have one week to go, which I will need.

Since this is my first Oriental, there has been much learning here, which I love. Not only was this the first rug that I dyed all my wool for, it is the first one where I dyed my whipping yarn to match. It worked out well, although I wasn’t sure about quantity and went back and forth between thinking I didn’t have enough to having too much. The latter turned out to be the case.

I decided that I wanted this rug to have a traditional Oriental fringe, and since it is not on rug warp, I needed to follow the crochet edge method. A few challenges here - figure out what weight cotton, what quantity, and how hard it would be to do the crochet edging ahead of the fringe. Although I am an experienced knitter, I still am in the beginner category for crochet.

I purchased several balls of cotton, since I was unsure of quantity. Turns out I needed one ball for each end. I tea-dyed them one at a time and miraculously they match. Tea is more forgiving than other dyes.

I was back and forth between my hooking hook and a crochet hook to figure out the best way to get through all the layers of backing at the edge. And depending on which reference I followed, some said to break the cotton at the end of each row and keep the rug face-side-up for each row. Others didn’t specify. I stuck with the face-up method. And the fringe looks great. Full and lush. Like the colours of the rug.

This will be the first rug in a few years that requires tape on the back, to cover all the edges and ends. I tend to be a “roll forward” gal, so have avoided the extra stitchery for a few rugs. Tape is now washed and waiting to be pressed, so that’s the next step.

And I am designing a special label, which I will print on transfer paper and attach. I didn’t put my initials in the pattern, since I feel it would have been too disruptive. So a good label with lots of information will appear on the back. When my great-great-great grandchildren look at it, they will see exactly how old it is, who designed it and who hooked it. I do believe that the classic design and colours of this rug will make it an heirloom that will transcend time.

This has definitely been my most time-consuming rug to date. Hundreds of hours have been spent coaxing the design out of the wool.

And many more going through all the steps to the finish line.

Monday, March 3, 2008

What's Next?


As I race to the finish line on Laura’s Oriental, my head is already filled with ideas for the next project. I do have the lovely purse pattern I got from Jennifer Manuell last year, which would be perfect for a quick fix after the hours spent on the Oriental.

But, after spending another weekend at the cottage putting things in place, I realize that for the first time ever, there is an actual need for some rugs. So I think my first “next” will be one of the two at the front of the line. Since there is such an expanse of amazing floors, the rugs that I have there already are more “floor art” than anything practical. And now, I need to go bigger with my designs.

I need a rug for in front of the sink in my gorgeous new kitchen. I’m already sketching designs with vegetables, which are looking promising. I have realized that the red accents in my new kitchen are really lovely, so I see some tomatoes, red peppers and hot peppers in my garden patch for the kitchen floor.

I also need a 4 x 6 rug for the family room upstairs. I think I will build on a primitive design I did that uses log cabin squares and penny rug squares. I will add a few more elements and do another hit or miss border, which I love. Great way to use up all those leftovers too.

I find that the designing and planning part of creating a rug is as exciting as hooking the rug. I love the "concept stage". The sketching and doodling is very stimulating. I also love going back over earlier ideas in my notebooks. It’s amazing what jumps out from before. Sometimes I find I've already laid the foundation for the perfect rug design - I just didn't know it at the time.

By the time I’m ready to put the pattern onto backing, I’m already hooking that rug in my head, so the rest is just the mechanics. Every phase of the rug journey is rewarding on some level.

But first I have whipping, crocheting and fringing on the Oriental – ah yes, the finishing aspect of the rug, which not everyone finds so rewarding.

So I guess I’m not quite ready for what’s next.