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Rug artistry: Earlyform of recycling

Rebecca Newhall hooks an original rug pattern at the Assumption Abbey, Richardton, on Wednesday afternoon.

RICHARDTON -- Rebecca Newhall of Hettinger sat next to the picture windows of the Assumption Abbey while hooking a rug. The sunlight and prairie landscape provided the perfect setting for a quiet afternoon at the Prairie Rose Rug Hooking School.

"It's restful and relaxing, but it's creative," she said. "I like the tactile sense of the wool. I've dabbled in a lot of things, but this is my favorite now."

Newhall was among the 23 campers who participated in the school directed by Suzi Jones of Tualatin, Ore.

"Its mission is to bring people together who are interested in the very old art of rug hooking," Jones said. "We want to keep the classes fairly small -- people get to know each other and exchange happens throughout the entire room."

She brings new rug-hooking teachers to the Abbey each year for a diversity of expertise. This year's teachers were Vivian Eyford of Washington and Kelly Peirce of Oregon.

Revival of old craft

Eyford described rug hooking as an old craft that probably was a way to use up old clothing to make something new and useful.

"Now, it's a revival of an old craft, but it's creative," she said. "It's time consuming so if you don't enjoy the process there's no point to it. We are such a network of friends. I had no idea this community existed until I became a part of it."

The camp included new students as well as repeaters, Jones said.

"They enjoy the locale of the Abbey -- the view is absolutely amazing and we enjoy the people here," said Jones, who is a third-generation rug hooker.

"My grandmother taught me and, my mother is working with me -- my passion is sharing the joy from this age-old craft which is becoming more of an art as well," she said. "I consider it a passion -- my daughter is a rug hooker and my granddaughters are learning."

Recycling project

Jones described rug hooking as one of the first recycling projects in the country.

Rug hooking is traced to Colonial days of America, but rug hooking also was done by women in Europe.

"It was the finer women who had the time, rather than the working class," Jones said.

Once completed, the rugs could have been bed covers, then floor coverings and eventually scatter rugs for the mud room.

Rugs start with backings of burlap sacks, linen or other fabric. Various hooks are used, from palm hooks to pencil hooks.

The strips of wool are cut by hand or by machine. The hooks pull the strips through the fabric, creating a loop on front. Eventually, a design is created.

Painting with fabric

Jones describes the process as art painting with fabric.

"The artistry comes with the colors and design," she said. "The narrow strip of wool will create fine detail while wider strips have a more primitive look. It depends on what you want."

The traditionalist uses wool because it's the strongest if placed on the floor.

"If a person is working with a wall hanging, he may choose any kind of fabric, whether it is swimsuit material, silk or even feathers," Jones said. "We can be as whimsical or traditional as we wish."

Carolyn Godfread and Mary Lou Person of Bismarck drew their own patterns so they consider rug hooking as an art.

Godfread was making a chair seat for a chair that she painted purple, while Person was making a rug to cover a living room floor.

Godfread, who works for a consulting company in the Oil Patch, recently submitted a rug titled "Somewhere Over the Bakken" for a national competition. It won an award by Celebrations magazine and will be published this fall, she said.

"The wool is all recycled -- I go to thrift shows," she said. "Men's herringbone sports coats make great grassy hills."

Mary Ellen Weyermann, Missoula, Mont., was working on a floral pattern for a pillow or small rug.

"I love the friendly atmosphere and all the campers and wonderful teachers here," she said.

Craig and Barbara Pearson, Powell, Wyo., used to make wooden toys until the computer games destroyed their cottage industry. Craig Pearson saw a woman hooking rugs at a fair and believed he could do that.

They don't sell their rugs because of the time invested.

"They are very expensive to sell -- you'd have to get $250 square foot," Craig Pearson said.

Barbara Pearson likes the creativity of rug hooking.

"I used to quilt and I was an OK quilter" she said. "After Craig started hooking, I could see how many more possibilities rug hooking has. You can be serious or, you can be fanciful."

While most of the campers came from out of state, Jones would like to see more local interest. For more information about the art or upcoming schools, call Jones at 503-312-4332.