How Craft becomes Art


             By Sara Judith , Alberta, Canada  (rug hooker, TIGHR member) Published in ‘Hooking Matters’, Volume 20, Issue 2

           “Outside the box” has become a very common expression these days. But for a hooker, what is the box you are to work outside? What makes up your box?

Before creativity must come craft. We must thoroughly know the craft and skills of rug hooking before we can step outside to experiment. Our imagination can be free to soar and expand , but only based on a solid understanding of the possibilities that you have explored and developed.

Let’s admit it. Rug hooking is a very easy craft to learn. The basic skill of pulling loops is simple to master. So what other skills does a well rounded hooker need to know? Fine shading would be prime for the traditionalist. Fingering, feathering and shading should be in everyone’s repertoire. These skills can be used in wider cuts and are not just reserved for the 3 and 4 cut crowd. Colour enthusiasts would stress the importance of dyeing. If you have the ability to dye any colour of  wool, you have an unlimited palette. Dyeing skills would include dyeing swatches, spot dyeing, dip dyeing, painted skies etc. and marbleizing and marrying. Other skills particular to our craft are proddy, stained-glass techniques and sculpting. Creative stitches such as beading or chain stitch also expand the possibilities.


 Traditionally hooking inside the box involves hooking with wool strips. But there are so many more things that can be hooked that are worthy of exploration. Try hooking with yarns (not just wool, but also mohair, silk, angora, cotton etc.),  polar fleece, raw wool fleece or roving, shiny fabrics, T-shirts, nylons, raffia, plastic bags, shoelaces, leather, terry cloth, denim (can be hard on the wrists!), mylar, wire etc. etc. Anything that can be cut into a strip is fair game. Just remember that hooking these unusual materials should be reserved for hooking that isn’t going to get hard wear on the floor or as a chair pad. (The exception is if  you use materials that are all the same, for then they will wear at the same rate. eg. a bathmat out of terry cloth would be feasible.) Some of these materials are easier to hook than others. But sometimes the difficult ones yield unique and beautiful effects. The extra efforts to include them in your hooking can be very worthwhile. (HINT : for some of the more slippery fibers, particularly synthetics and silk, it is helpful to hook them together with another fiber that has more resistance such as wool, to help hold it in place. Another approach is to hook the slippery fibers or yarn in after the other hooking in the area has been completed. That way the threads of the backing are already forced together and they help grip the slippery fiber in place better.)

The other most important material you work with is your backing, the very foundation of your piece. Have you tried all the usual suspects : linen, monkscloth, burlap, rug warp and polyester (or Verel as some refer to it). So what else is there to try? What about anything that has holes in it that will hold a loop? Acrylic or cotton thermal blankets, mosquito netting, loosely woven wool such as an old blanket, latch hooking backing, wire mesh, jute coffee sacks?  Try them and some will be fantastic and others may be too much work except for maybe a special 3D effect or particular look you want.


Another tenet of the rug hooking canon involves the format of the piece. Rug hooking is so very often rectangular or square, with an occasional round or oval piece. Challenge yourself to hook in an unusual format such as a triangle or a parallelogram. Think of a subject that would be complimented by these shapes. Or think of a subject that is best portrayed in one format and hook it in another. One example would be to hook a sunset in a tall vertical format, rather than the long landscape format we are used to seeing. What about hooking a flower in the shape of a flower?


Trees are green, the sky is blue and snow is white. We associate particular things with certain colors in an almost dogmatic way. If you really look at the snow you will realize it is actually pink, blue yellow and even green depending on the light and the age of the snow. So shake things up and use a different palette. This was the signature style of the Fauvists who used bold bright colors with unexpected, dramatic results. If you look at the rugs you have already hooked you will probably see that you often use a particular palette of colors. These are the ones you have mastered and feel comfortable with. Shake it up a bit and challenge yourself to use a color that you dislike or feel uncomfortable with. Don’t just use it as background. Challenge yourself to master this color too. This could be a group challenge. Each member of your group bring a ¼ yard piece of an unusual or challenging color in a paper bag. Exchange them without peeking and challenge yourself to work with your new color. It might become something you truly love!


Take stock of the skills and techniques you already have. What specific skills would enhance your craft? What do you need to learn? What can you do to develop the skills you don’t have? Read a book or article about creative stitches, ask a friend to show you how to cut wool for stained glass hooking, experiment with sculpting or take a workshop in proddy techniques. There are many ways to expand your repertoire and have a few more tricks you might want to use on another project.

Don’t overlook other fiber techniques that might enhance your hooking. A small bit of needle felted wispy white roving in your sky for a cloud, a braided border on your primitive rug, or a locker hooked motif in a geometric are all wonderful additions to your hooked pieces. Be open to expanding your skill set with techniques other than just hooking.


Finally look closely at the world around you for inspiration. All sorts of objects in nature, landscapes, man-made structures and colours can be a starting point for your next exploration. Look at books and magazines from other fiber artists not just hookers, such as quilters or felters. As well, search out books from countries other than your own, as the approach to hooking in North America, Great Britain, Japan and Australia vary widely.

So figure out what your box is, expand it with a new material, format, colour or technique and have fun hooking in the world outside!

8 replies on “How Craft becomes Art”

This is a excellent article.. I’m a novice rug hooker in Florida…your recommendations fall into the category of painting, quilting art, knitting, art forms everywhere

Thank you for sharing!

This is the best advice I have heard … will pass it on to others… but it is so true … some of us discover these things by experience, trial and error… but will better our work by taking up a new challenge… thanks..

You have brightened my Hooking horizons. I’ve been Hooking for almost two years and feel stunted. I want to grow in this art. Thanks for your beautiful insight!

I enjoyed reading this article. I work mostly with wool material, second hand wool and pantyhose. I have been hooking for twelve years. I dye all my wool and pantyhose. I have hooked two hundred or more rugs. I have used felting in my rugs as well as wool fleece. Hooking is my passion. I hook 8 or 9 hours a day. I have hooked on all kinds of backing even window drapes. I taught myself to proddy hook and then I taught ten of my friends. My teacher was Linda Low who passed away June 2014. I have missed her expertise every day. With the help of God, I hope I have many more years to hook. I think my wool will out live me. Again I enjoyed your article. Thanks for listening.

Sara, great article. I will be teaching next year at rug school in Nova Scotia. I will be doing special stitches, proddy and other bits. Would it be possible for me to share this with the class. ( Was grand to see you at TIGHER hope I see you in England)

Good article. I have tried to incorporate shiny, glittery fabric into my rug and made the mistake of hooking them in certain areas in the rug and then having them pulled out and shredded by the gripper strips when I move the rug around the frame. I think hooking with a quilters hoop is probably the only way to eliminate this situation. I like your idea of hooking them in after the rug in complete. Lesson well learned.

I’m an experienced rug hooker. This is a very well-written article with thoughtful advice for any level!

I am not just a rug hooker I consider myself a fibre artist. This is a wonderful article.
Since I am allergic to wool I like to rug hook using all kinds of fabrics and other materials, leather, feathers, raffia , grasses, etc. I use shapes other than the regular geometric ones such as the shape of something and often pad the hooking to create a more sculptured or a 3D piece. Using other needlecraft techniques with rug hooking opens up a whole new look and texture that can be created. By expanding my work into new areas I have been able to get my work into galleries and got my own shows.

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