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Lesson #1 Overview To Rug Hooking

Please note: The content of this tutorial is copyright protected and is the property of Hungry Hook Primitives and is designed for personal use and may not be reproduced without express permission from the author. 

Ok my prim pals, this is the first in a series of rug hooking tutorials I am doing. In this first lesson we are going to cover the materilas needed to begin rug hooking. You will need wool, a way to cut it into strips, a foundation material to hook into , a hook and some type of frame or hoop, scissors, a needle and thread and a pattern. I will be going over the things I think are most critically important to have and the things you can purchase over time as you see how much you want to invest into your new hobby. If you're anything like me, you'll be "hooked" in no time. I got into rug hooking out of necessity. Well, maybe necessity is too strong of a word. I loved the look of primitive rugs but couldn't afford them, so I needed to figure out how to make them myself. I have found ways to keep the cost of rug making fit in my VERY tight budget...I hope my frugal ideas help you.

OK, lets start our very first lesson. The obvious place to start is the star of the show...the wool !!!
Now of course, you could buy all your wool from me since I will have it all cut into strips like this ready for hooking (wink, wink)....But,

 over the long haul you will want to build your own stash of wool to have lots of choices. Building a stash is easiest by just walking into a shop and buying everything right off the bolt that you love (and there will be lots to love)...but in this economy I doubt whether most of you can afford this method since new wool off the bolt can run $20 and up per yard. In addition to that, places like Joann Fabrics and Michaels dont carry much, if ANY, wool at all.

Now, some of you may be lucky enough to have a quilt or wool shop near you...LUCKY YOU. Most of us dont have that luxury. Now, if you're reading this tutorial you obviously have access to the internet and it will afford you MANY choices of wool suppliers that have reasonable prices right here in blog land and on ebay.

But folks, the EASIEST and LEAST EXPENSIVE way to build your stash is to hit the thrift stores, tag sales or ask family members to look in their closets for wool clothing. You are able to purchase quality wool at low prices if you are willing to do a little digging and take a few precautions.

First and formost...make sure it's wool. Not everything that looks like wool is 100% wool. Luckily for those of us who love to use recycled wool, all clothing that is 100% wool is clearly marked that way by a universal tag located on the clothing pieces themselves that looks like this...

 Now even though this symbol will let you know it is 100% wool, it may be worsted wool or gaberdine, which really aren't suitable for hooking. You will probably make some mistakes along the way, but it's part of the learning process. Once you hook for awhile, you wont even need to look at the label because your hands will tell you whether or not you can use it in a rug.

Sometimes though, an item wont have a tag if it's homemade or someone may give you a piece of material they think is wool. I dont usually risk more than a buck or two unless I am SURE its wool. But hey, if its FREE, well then here's a little test you can do to check. Snip off a on inch square piece of the wool and  place it in a bowl and cover it with bleach...go to bed and if in the morning the wool has disappeared someone stole your wool....NO, I am just kidding. If it disappeared you are in luck because it's 100% wool and you can use it in your rugs. Now, if there's a tiny bit left in the bowl it's not pure wool, but its probably still good enough to use. But if there's more than a tiny bit left, use if for another craft project. Trust me, it just wont cooperate with you.

Now, when I purchase wool clothing I try to go for skirts because they yeild lots of bigger pieces of usable wool, although I look through the pants and even the ladies suit blazers although remember when looking at suit jackets you will probably only be able to use the back panel and the sleeves because there's usually interfacing on the front, so again, unless its CHEAP (like $1) I usually pass on blazers and stick with skirts. Another trick...check the plus size section. Generally at thrift stores the prices are the same for all skirts (like 3.99 at my Goodwill) so it pays to get the largest  size available.

OK, so you've purchased your wool...Now you have to get it ready to use for hooking. Whether you buy wool to recycle or buy it off the bolt, it will need to be "fulled". (Most people who sell you wool for hooking will tell you if its been washed, which is most likely has been if they have dyed and cut it).

So, just a note of caution when using recycled wool. You will want to keep it in your garage or trunk of your car until you have a chance to wash it just in case of any little critters like moths ...You certainly wouldn't want to bring home a big haul of wool and have it ruin your stash because you failed to realize you had a critter. Ok, now I dont like bugs etc and I have yet to ever see one in all my wool journeys, but it can happen and you dont want to risk it. I generally am so excited to see how it turns out that I rush right home and get busy.  First thing I do is a little deconstruction...Using a skirt I first cut off the entire waist band and hem and then rip open the seems (be sure to check pockets because I have found a few tissues and gum wrappers...even found a $20 bill once..YIPPEE)...then into the washer it goes. Now you will want to wash light and dark wools seperately since the darker colors sometimes bleed a bit.

I use a small amount of mild detergent that does not contain any bleach or bleach alternative. Lots of people insist on a specific brand, but I am too cheap  and have found my Purex to work just fine. The magic of fulling happens during the washing/drying process. I like to wash in HOT water and rinse with cold. I set my washer for the longest cycle since its the agitation that helps the process along, but I usually check on it periodically since I just want it to "full" and not "felt". We just want to tighten up the weave so it wont unravel when we cut it. Once the wash cycle is done its off to the dryer where the real transfomation begins. Next step... toss in the dryer with a big fluffy towel and a dryer sheet and wait about 20 minutes or so. I check on my wool because I dont want to overdry it and get it all wrinkled. I usually take it out when its just barely damp and smooth it out and either hang it or lay it flat to finish drying.

Once it's dry you are ready for your wool to be either dyed or used as is and cut into strips. And for that you will need something with which to cut the wool into uniform strips.

 Now you could go out and buy a very fancy pants cloth slitter like the Townsend which is about $400 or you could be less fussy and buy a Fraser Bliss for about $175, but my suggestion for newbies is to just use a ruler and a rotary cutter...IF you fall in love with hooking, THEN, yes, you surely will want to purchase a cutter. I myself, being frugal, scoured eBay for a used Frazer Bliss and bid on everyone for a max bid of $50.00 'cause thats all that was in my budget. Guess what ? Took about a month of bidding, but I finally won one and I have used it for the last several years and have only had to replace the cutting blades once. I have a #8 blade which cuts the strips in 1/4"  widths which is common for prim hooking. So, if you are just trying out hooking...use a rotary tool and cut at 1/4" or purchase your wool pre-cut.

Now, what else will you need ? A foundation material to hook into and there are lots of options here...
Lots of rug hookers insist on linen (the center piece) because it is soft to work with and will stand the test of time, but it's VERY pricey, up to $50 a yard which makes for a VERY expensive project in my book.. Many rug hookers use Monk's cloth (on the right) since it is a little less expensive, around $20 a yard. It is easy to work with and has 2" grids woven into it which makes it nice for laying out your design. Be sure though you dont go out to Joanne Fabrics and buy monks cloth though...the stuff they carry is actually for Swedish weaving...Be sure when you buy monk's cloth you clarify from thr seller that it is intended for rug hooking, otherwise you will get VERY discouraged because it's just too loose to hold your wool strips.

 Now even though monk's cloth is my preferred foundation,  lets not count out burlap. It's definately the least expensive (although burlaps have diffferent grade too, so go for the higher priced if using burlap). I have gotten it online for about $8 per yard. Now before you dismiss the idea of burlap lets remember that back in the day (Colonial times up through the 1940's) women made hooked rugs out of old burlap sacks. They were recycling LONG before it was "in" or "politically correct"...It was just LIFE ! That's one reason you see so many vintage rugs of the same approx size...they used up those burlap feed sacks. Now, if you are really strapped for cash (I have been there and done this) you can use burlap sacks today for FREE or VERY CHEAP by simply ASKING at your local coffee shop ...Coffee beans still come primarily in burlap sacks and can still be made into beautiful rugs. Will it last 200 years ? I dont know...It depends on how you treat it and how your family treats it after you are dead and gone. It wont matter to you by then, so dont get hung up on the  "heirloom quality" of every project. Sure, some projects might call for using the finest of then finest and hey, if you can afford it, by all means, buy the linen, buy your wool off the bolt, order a Townsend cutter and be sure to get a great, top of the line frame too...Or, cut some costs where possible WITHOUT sacrificing the beauty and integrity of your finished project.

 Here is a great piece I did on a piece of burlap many years ago.

Will it last forever ? I dont really care. I started making rugs because I loved them but couldn't afford them. So please, dont let the high and mighty opinion of others keep you from being able to enjoy a wonderful craft that will bring a great sense of accomplishment AND beautify your home AND make wonderful gifts. This little rug will never be put on the floor, so it wont see any traffic. With care, even this little rug will be able to be passed down for many generations.

But, I am getting off track, but I am sure you can tell how passionate I am about being able to enjoy this craft and if the start-up cost is $100's, I know many of you wont be able to enjoy it too.

OK, back to the lesson. Once you have your wool, have it washed and cut, have gotten a foundation you just need a few more supplies. Next up : a simple rug hook (about $6 on line) and pair of scissors...a regular pair will do until you can afford an offset pair like this...

These scissors make it easier to snip off you wool strips. There are lots of expensive hooks out there...this is the original one I bought and have used for every rug I have made. If you are lucky enough to have the opportunity to try out different hooks, by all means, do so and pick what you like. you need some way to stretch out your foundation fabric so you can pull your wool strips through it. Lots or rug hookers, even famous ones like Polly Minnick, use heavy duty quilt hoops like this
And I did use this hoop when I first started, but to be honest, I just never felt it held things taut enough and so when I was able, I got a lap frame. I asked for a gift certificate to a wool shop over 100 miles from my house for Christmas one year and Ooooooooh was I excited.

I got this lap frame for $80 and I LOVE it. It tilts every direction and has gripper teeth that hold the fabric in place. But maybe you dont have $80 or even the $15 for a quality hoop. Dont can still hook a fine rug by getting an old wooden picture frame and a box of push pins and simply stretch your fabric over and pin in place...Thats how lots of folks did it in the old days, it's just more labor intensive.

Now that you have all this are you ready to hook ??? Well, one more thing. Unless you purchase a foundation with a pattern already on it (which I will happily be selling, wink, wink) you will need to get a pattern on that blank monks cloth, linen or burlap. You can purchase paper patterns on line from many different sellers on ebay, use designs from magazines like Create & Decorate or draw your own...I use a product some of you crafters may be familiar with called Red Dot tracer paper (which is more like a weird see thru fabric). You can trace any pattern you like and then simply place the Red Dot pattern on top of your foundation (be sure to line up the dots for straightness) and use a fine point permanent marker and draw right over top of the Red Dot and it will bleed through to the foundation. I always tape my pattern down to the foundation so it doesnt slip. In our next lesson I will show examples of how to work with patterns, but for now, here's a picture so you can get the idea.

Well that's it for lesson 1. Please feel free to email me with any questions.