Rug hookers follow tradition of pioneer women CENTRAL COUNTY -- Arnold * Broadneck * Severna Park * Crownsville * Millersville


When Sally Henderson finishes the last alligator and lion, her Noah's Ark rug will do more than bring joy to her grandchildren.

The hooked rug, designed by her husband, Richard, places Mrs. Henderson in the tradition of the pioneer women who created this American folk art.

Mrs. Henderson sat with her rug on a lap frame Monday at the Severna Park library, where the Ann Arrundell Chapter of the National Guild of Pearl K. McGown Rug Hookcrafters held an exhibit and demonstration.

"I've done a lot of needlepoint and sewing, but this is so satisfying," said Mrs. Henderson, a senior citizen from Gibson Island. "You're developing your hooking craft and your design and color sense."

Mrs. Henderson was one of more than a dozen members of the chapter who brought hand-hooked items to the display. There were Christmas ornaments, footstools, fire screens and high-chair pads, along with warm, brightly colored wall and floor coverings.

Chapter members, who range in age from 40 to 85, bent over lap-frames, much as their ancestors did in pre-Civil War days.

Some rug hookers were re-creating the primitive folk art appearance of earlier rugs; others preferred fine or tapestry hooking. The fine hooking uses thinner wool to create sophisticated floral patterns, resembling Persian or Oriental carpets, chapter President Margaret Woody explained.

Rug-hooking traces its origins to New England bed rugs, bedcovers made of home-dyed woolen hooked on burlap, she said. Hooked rugs first appeared in Maine, New Hampshire and in the eastern provinces of Canada. Those areas remain the main sources of rug-hooking tools and materials.

Nancy Warner made a rug out of old burlap and scraps of cloth last year, just to see how the rural homemakers did it. Cast-off clothing was often cut or torn into strips and then pulled through burlap sacks with a bent nail to form the nap of the rug, she explained.

But Mrs. Warner also has worked with the contemporary rug-hooker's favorite fabrics -- 100 percent wool, dyed, cut into strips and pulled through background material with a hook.

Mrs. Woody, working an original design onto a cotton backing called warp cloth, first learned the basics from a teacher.

"It took me one whole day to get an eagle's eye and beak right when I was first learning," she said.

Now she and other rug-hookers in the chapter attend rug-hooking "camps" around the country several times a year, where they study under experienced teachers, often creating their own designs.

The rugs are time-consuming. One 6x9 Persian-looking rug on display took Mary Lou Bleakley seven years to complete. The time investment makes hooked rugs hard to find and expensive to buy.

Mrs. Henderson has worked for months on her intricate Noah's Ark design, which reaches 5 feet by 5 feet and is called "Last Day on the Ark." It depicts everything from rats leaving the ship to Noah with a shovel.

"You can guess what the shovel's for," she joked.

At Monday's demonstration, Betty Simpson showed a visitor how she was creating lush purple flowers on a rug intended for her young granddaughter. She pulled loops of the dyed wool through the foundation with a hook, then cut the ends off.

"I enjoy the work, but it does take time," she said, wielding her hook with deft patience. "I hope I finish this before [my granddaughter] grows up!"

Members will also demonstrate their craft at the 19th annual Needlework Show at the London Town Publik House and Gardens on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and on Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. Information: 956-3694.

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad