Custom Project – Part 1

Well, with the gracious permission of my custom rug customer, Kate, I am going to document this process from beginning to end.  I will get out there right up front that I’m not sure I will ever do a custom commission again…not because it’s too much work, or too little pay, or anything like that – this project is fine in those regards.  It’s about the enormous sense of responsibility I have to really get this right.   That didn’t sound good either, did it?  I do not mean to say that I don’t always want to get a piece right…but when a customer comes to you with an idea for a design that you know is about experiences and memories near and dear to them, well…it’s intimidating.  But who knows – I may finish this one and think, “Wow, maybe I should do that again.”
A little background info on the design:  This pattern was drawn by Daniel Rosenburg, Jen’s husband, because I was unable to get it to a state where I thought it did the subject justice.  I draw chunky, very primitive designs – that’s my thing.  If you go to our Etsy shop you’ll be able to see the difference in style between what I draw and what Dan draws.  Still, I took a stab at this one, working from photos Kate gave me, and then she and I sat down together to fine tune where elements might be out of proportion or place.  This was a great excuse to meet with a great woman at the great Cafe Nomad on Main Street in Norway, Maine – that’s a lot of greats, but they’re all justified!  After that I took the pattern home and started tweaking.  And tweaking.  Aaaaaaand tweaking.  And vowing to take a drawing course some time soon at the local community college (which I still plan to do).  And more tweaking.  And then….I contacted Jen and Dan with a cry for help.  Dan agreed to rescue me so I sent my version, all the photos, a video Kate had taken of the subject, and a long and involved email out to him, along with a check for his services lest I feel any more like a dweeb than I already did.  Dan assessed the multi-element design as a request to fit a “five pound ham in a three pound can” task, but proceeded to pull off the following drawing, which I think is pure genius:
Copyright 2012 Parris House Wool Works/Daniel Rosenburg
This pattern depicts Kate’s view from her husband’s family’s gorgeous lake front home in our fair region, northern New England.  Our family also has a waterfront cottage, and I grew up summering on a lake in Maine, so the importance of this spot for them and the love they have for it is something I can easily relate to.  Thus…the sense that I need to really make this beautiful.  After receiving it back from Dan, I presented it to Kate, who declared it wonderful (yay!) and I set about transferring it to linen.  But…hold the presses!
Again, I’m a chunky, primitive kind of girl.  (Oh dear…that came out all wrong…)  My patterns are relatively simple, so tracing them under bright light by just putting the linen over the design has always worked for me.  Not with this project.  I tried multiple places in the house, with bright sunlight, lamps, big flashlights – I just could not see the pattern well enough in enough detail to properly get it on to the linen.  (Up side?  Hubby has promised to build me a light table, which will also come in handy doing photography for the Etsy shop.)  I called up Connie Fletcher of Seven Gables Rug Hooking – my mentor and eternally patient guru – who told me to come on in to the shop she co-owns, Artful Hands Fiber Studio, also in Norway (aren’t we lucky???).  Connie showed me the process of tracing the pattern on to dot covered sheer interfacing, and then tracing through on to the linen.  I know many of you reading this have done this before, but as Jen and I explained in our very first post – we are still learning.
Copyright 2012 Parris House Wool Works/Daniel Rosenburg
Copyright 2012 Parris House Wool Works/Daniel Rosenburg
Copyright 2012 Parris House Wool Works/Daniel Rosenburg
I will sheepishly admit also that I had to ask Connie to show me the best way to make sure a pattern is drawn on the grain, as I have had some occasional mishaps in the past making that happen (although please be assured that any pattern purchased from our shop is successfully drawn ON the grain).
Next came the fun part – choosing the wools.  I could have dyed my own wool for this project but it’s just not necessary.  Seven Gables Rug Hooking has so many beautiful wools to choose from and Connie is such a master at dyeing that I felt that doing it myself would just add time to the process that by now I do not have – this rug is going to be a Christmas gift.  Here are some of the wools I chose yesterday, and stripped in to 6 and 7 cuts today.  My camera does not do them justice – the color saturation and richness of these wools is much greater than it appears in this photo.
Wools purchased from Seven Gables Rug Hooking/Connie Fletcher

So that’s it – that’s where I am.  Only one thing left to do, right?  I’m starting with the rocks.  Wish me luck!
What have you got on your hooking frame these days?  Please share!  I’ll keep you posted on this project – happy hooking!  ~ Beth

Expanding Our Scope…

It’s been a long time since either Jen or I have contributed to this blog, but make no mistake – we’re still hooking!  It’s just that life is so often hectic and often I personally feel like this:
Tesla doing one of the things that Tesla does best.
And yet…when I get my page view count from Blogger I notice that people are still tuning in to this blog…probably expecting some wonderful wooly content, only to find nothing new here, like an abandoned barn, somewhat empty and smelling of must.
So…what to do?  Well, obviously…we have to start posting again.  I asked myself the question: “Can we find something to post at least once a week that’s hooking related?  Probably we could.  But then I thought some more and realized that much of what I find I have in common with other hookers goes way beyond rug hooking.  Hookers are often attracted to the art because it is a heritage art, something our foremothers (and some forefathers too!) took up not only as a practical matter for covering cold floors, but as a creative outlet and a way to record aspects of their lives and beliefs in colored wool.  Because most hookers I meet, and most artisans for that matter, value heritage I often find that they are also keeping other heritage arts and skills alive.
For example, I know rug hookers who farm or garden, raise livestock, knit, sew, quilt, needle felt, spin, weave, can and pickle foods, make soap & other household items, make jerkys and preserved sausage, restore old homes, participate in historical societies and reenacting, and collect and/or sell antiques and vintage items.  This is just to name a few activities hookers engage in that are related to preserving heritage activities and living a homesteading lifestyle to some degree.  Of course, there are others who do none of these things, and that’s ok too.  
From here on out I promise we’ll post more often – mostly about hooking but sometimes about some other heritage art or skill that we think may be of interest.  Feel free to share ideas and suggestions.  
Before I go, here’s a peek at what we’re working on right now – these pics are a little older – we’re both further along on these projects now, or nearing completion:
Jen’s 1796 House rug – design by Daniel Rosenburg (her hubby!) – pattern available in our shop
My Tesla’s First Snow rug – pattern available in our shop
And, we just sold these on Etsy to a very nice woman in Kansas whose daughter actually collects hooked coasters!
Primitive Coaster Set – pattern available in our shop – similar finished set could be made to order
In addition, I have just purchased the linen and am starting to purchase the wool for a custom commission for a great customer!  Her pattern was also designed by Jen’s husband, Dan Rosenburg.  If I get permission from the customer to show off her very special design and project as it progresses, maybe I’ll share!
Hope everyone is having a beautiful fall…our foliage is near peak here in Maine.  I’ll try to post some photos of that too!   Best wishes to all.    ~Beth

Yet Another Addictive Aspect of Rug Hooking

My first wools, a selection of solid primitive colors, finished and stacked..

As Jen and I have made perfectly clear, we are newer to this art form than many of our readers, and as such we have only just dipped in to (pun intended!) hand dyeing our own hooking wools.  But now that we have, we’re hooked!  Ok, ok…no more puns this post, I promise.

I thought for those of you who have not yet tried this, I would use this post to explain the basic process, but more importantly, to allay any and all fear or anxiety you may have about trying it.  I was very nervous – I thought there had to be some magic involved or some skill I could not possibly possess, but just as my hooking teacher had promised, it really IS easy!

I began by going to a local wool supplier we are fortunate to have in my area of Maine, the Oxford Mill End Store, and choosing three different yards of a neutral solid wool.  I thought that if I began with a light neutral solid, it would give me an idea of how the wool takes the dye and I could move on to colored and textured wool from there.  Actually, I bought six yards and sent three down to Jen, so we could simultaneously experiment.  I owed her money for setting up our web hosting and domain name, so it worked out great.  Our business accounting is so precise…

The next thing we did was order dyes from W. Cushing Company in Kennebunkport, Maine.  This company has been making fabric dyes since 1879 and I would encourage you to surf around their site – it’s most enjoyable and informative.  I also purchased a dye recipe book to get started with, although I am now chafing at the bit to try some recipes of my own.  Additionally I ordered a set of tiny measuring spoons from Amazon with which to measure the powdered dyes.

Perhaps the needed item that most eluded us was the white enamel dyeing pot.  W. Cushing does carry them, but they are understandably expensive.  Jen’s husband was able to find an old one at a vintage shop, and I had one that was, at the time, serving as a drain pot for one of my mother-in-law’s plants.  In both of our cases, our husbands sprayed the interior of the chipped old pots with a white enamel paint and – yay! – both worked just fine.  The reason the white interiors are so helpful is that white allows you to see how much of the dye is being absorbed, the color of your wool as it develops, and when the water has cleared at the end of the process.  Still, I know people do use stainless pots and I do believe that would work fine as well.

So…now I had my wool, my dyes, and my equipment.  What I didn’t have was any excuses not to try the process.  Step one is soaking the wool in a bath of warm water with just a little bit of dish soap.  I used Palmolive, but my instruction book called for Ivory.  It made no difference.  Here is my wool happily luxuriating in the tub.  All it needs is a glass of wine and a good book.

I cut the wool in to quarters and soaked it overnight, per the directions in my book.  Jen found instructions requiring only a two hour soak.

When the wool was finished soaking, I rinsed it thoroughly in room temperature water and took it downstairs to the kitchen.  I put the white enamel pot full of water and one added tablespoon of NON-iodized salt on to the stove to heat while I prepared the dye mixes.  Here is my color chart/recipe book and my assortment of Cushing dyes:

You’ll notice that the instruction book is highlighted.  It’s a simple process but I have a simple mind, so I found the highlighting helpful.  The dyes are easily measured according to recipe combinations and dissolved in boiling water, in the case of these recipes, one cup of boiling water (in a glass measuring cup).  My instruction book suggested using rubber gloves when handling the dyes; I think this is a good idea but would prefer surgical type gloves to dish washing gloves because the little packages do require a good sense of touch to handle.  My book also suggests heavier rubber gloves to handle the hot wool when you remove it from the dye pot, but I did not find this necessary.  I’ll explain why when we get there.

Once you have your dye mixed with the boiling water, add the amount in your color recipe to your dye pot.  You do not, by the way, have to measure the clear water in the dye pot.  This confused me at first but I went on faith and sure enough, however much water I had in the dye pot was fine.  You do, though, have to have enough to cover the wool.  I opted to dye a half a yard at a time, or two quarters.  This was the recommended amount of wool per recipe in my book.  You may find instructions that vary.  In some cases the recipe called for adding the entire cup of liquid dye to the pot.  In other cases it was only 1/2 or 1/4 cup.  In those instances, I saved the excess dye in jars for another time and just labeled the lids with the recipe numbers:

(Those cool bottles with the small lids, by the way, are from the Pennsylvania Amish country.  We bought home made root beer in them on a vacation a few years ago from an Amish family.  It was pleasantly fermented.)

OK…so where am I?  I’ve got the dye in the white pot with the simmering water and the tablespoon of non-iodized salt.  Time to add the wool!  This is where I took a deep breath and hoped for the best.

I needn’t have worried.  My instruction book called for simmering the wool in the dye bath from 20 to 35 minutes, but you can experiment and judge your own times.  Additionally, if you stagger the times that different pieces are in the dye, you will get various shades of the same color.  Jen did this with her wools and here is one of her lovely results:

I wasn’t as brave.  I kept it simple and dyed all of the batches the same amount of time.  When you are ready for the dyeing to stop, you add some white vinegar to the pot. (For those of you who did your own photo developing back in the day, this is akin to “stop bath.”  Remember that?  It was essentially acetic acid after all.)  The amount you add is really not set in stone.  I’ve seen it as 1/2 cup.  I’ve seen it as “three glugs from the bottle.”  You’ll know when it’s enough because the water will literally clear and the dye will be fixed in the wool; dyed in the wool, so to speak.  Simmer the wool for about 20 minutes after adding the vinegar and then it will be time to remove it from the pot.

Here’s where I improvised – successfully.  I took tongs and pulled my wool pieces out of the pot and on to a stainless cookie sheet to cool to room temperature:

The water that drips from the wool at this point is perfectly clear.  Do not rinse the wool in cool water at this point!  If you were to do that the wool could very well “felt” and become too thick and dense for hooking.  I allowed it to cool to room temp on the cookie sheet and then rinsed it with room temperature water.  After that, I just threw it in the dryer on medium heat with a towel and when it dried, it looked like this:

Notice the blue & grayish wools in the top row.  They were actually done in the very same dye bath, but as I said, I had three different wools I was working with and they took the dye completely differently in that recipe.  I was actually quite happy to have such a varied result – that was a good learning experience.

So this weekend I’m going to try a textured wool.  I went over and got this piece:

This is a single yard.  I am going to overdye 1/4 of it black for use as a backing on some 8″x8″ trivets I am hooking.  The other quarters I am going to use for color overdye experiments.  This wool is a-soaking as we speak.

Here are Jen’s other shaded wool results:

All of our finished hand dyed wools are available for purchase on our web site.  We will be adding more as time goes by, plus it occurred to me to haunt the used clothing shops for old wool items no longer suitable for wear.  One studio I visited in Nova Scotia last summer was offering old Pendleton shirts and skirts for cutting in to hooking wool.

Please share your wool dyeing methods and experiences with us!  We’d love to see your results and find out how your methods may differ from ours.  Jen’s method was different from mine.  There seem to be – within certain solid guidelines – several ways to approach hand dyeing. So, if you haven’t done it before, give it a try!

A Family of Artisans

Irene Adams, winner of Cumberland Fair’s “Best in Show”
award for this rug she hooked.  Pattern by  Seven Gables
Rug Hooking of Paris Hill, Maine.

When I first started rug hooking, not all that long ago, I was immediately struck by the camaraderie that existed in the hooking, and larger fiber arts, community.  As my teacher sat with me on the comfy sofa in our local fiber arts shop, other fiber artists – mostly knitters and hookers – flowed in and out of the store.  Some were there to ask advice, some were there for supplies, and some just wanted to sit down, have a cup of coffee and work on their latest projects at this home away from home.  We are blessed to have this resource in our small Maine community, and I have found it to be a tremendous benefit as I continue to learn my craft.

One of the women I met this way is Irene Adams, pictured above.  Irene is a wonderful artisan who, as you can see, won well deserved recognition for “Best in Show” at the 2011 Cumberland Fair in Maine.  When Irene was looking for a way to sell some of her pieces, we were more than pleased to be able to feature her work on our web site at Parris House Wool Works.  Her first piece for sale in our shop is a sweet 12″ x 16″ Seven Gables heart design.  Please take a moment to look it over:

I can’t help but think this would be a delightful Valentine’s Day gift.   Interestingly, this Seven Gables pattern was the same one I learned to hook on.  My version has a deep charcoal & black background.  I have also seen this pattern hooked by its designer, Connie Fletcher, and it looks different still.  One of the things I love about this craft is that each piece is such a strong reflection of the woman (or man!) who hooked it.  A hooked rug is not just an inanimate object – to a large degree one can sense the spirit of the rug’s maker in looking at the color choices, the loops, the hooking style, binding choices, and other elements.  Rugs are individual, like we are, and yet instantly recognizable from across a room as belonging to this unique genre of North American hand craft.

In the course of launching our web page, our Etsy shop, and our Facebook and Twitter pages, we have been contacted by rug hookers from across the USA and Canada.  I can honestly say that there is an instant sense of family, of recognition, when one “hooker” encounters another, whether in person or on-line.  This is tremendously rewarding.  We are very proud to introduce Irene, another member of this great family of artisans, to you.  – Beth

A Crow Knows No Rules

Hi!  It’s Jennifer, the other half of Parris Wool Works.  I met Beth Miller through my husband, Dan Rosenburg. You’ll be seeing his name often because he’s the artist behind many of my ideas – both in rug hooking and various other creative pursuits.  I haven’t been hooking for long and sometimes feel pretty isolated here in Tennessee, so if there are any local hookers out there, I’d love to meet you. 
My latest pattern, “A Murder Among the Magnolias,” is a Southern Gothic inspiration in the spirit of writers such as Flannery O’Connor.  Even though many of her stories end in tragedy, for a brief moment we’re allowed to peer inside the soul of her characters who all remind us of the ever-constant need for faith in a sometimes unjust world.  
This 20×28 pattern can be purchased on our website Parris House Wool Works.

Here is the wool that I’ve picked out for this project.  I’m still undecided about border colors but I think I’m going with greens or teals to pull from the magnolia leaves. The crows will be a markedly dark counterpoint against this cheerful spectrum!

I’m taking a huge leap and going to practice primitive shading…by myself and loosely following a how-to book. (Ok, so I skimmed through the book in about 3 minutes.)

I’m also using multiple width wool strips, and since I don’t have very many cutter head sizes to choose from, I’ve made do by using my quilting rotary cutter (gasp!).  If you have a large Omingrid ruler, the job is actually quite easy.

I began work on the crow pictured below on the right hand side of the pattern.

The light reflects so well off a crow’s feathers, dancing in glimmers of light on his shiny, jet black body.  I wanted to recreate this illusion so I added various shades of black.  I used a red and blue plaid wool over-dyed with black in different sizes along the inner body of the crow.  To give the beak that nice pointed shape, I started with tiny loops that gradually got bigger as I progressed down the side of the bird.

Crows know no rules, and neither do we!

This took some patience but I’m pleased with the finished result. I found that the different sizes of wool didn’t distract from the overall effect. I haven’t cut the loop ends off the bottom feathers yet and tomorrow, I’m starting the tree branches.  This is really a learning process and I’m excited be sharing it with other rug hookers. I’m hopeful that we can exchange ideas and I welcome all advice!

More later – Jen

Welcome to our blog! A bit of this…a bit of that…a whole lot of wool working.

As I write this post I feel as though I am opening the door to my home and inviting in fellow fiber artists for a great afternoon of chat, mutual support, idea sharing and camaraderie.  That’s what we hope to achieve with this blog site, but first a little bit about Parris House Wool Works.
Not all that long ago, I learned the art of primitive rug hooking from experienced artist Connie Fletcher of Seven Gables Rug Hooking in Paris, Maine.  Shortly thereafter, my dear friend Jen Rosenburg was visiting from Hermitage, TN and Connie taught her as well.  While we did not quite realize it at the time, our shared passion for this nineteenth century North American hand craft would become Parris House Wool Works.  And here we are!
Our goal with this blog is to be your on-line resource for all things hooking, to provide fun and interesting posts about what we’re working on, places we visit (for example, last summer I visited the Rug Hooking Museum of North America and the Deanne Fitzpatrick Studio in Nova Scotia), and general essays on life in the simpler lane.  Jen and I enjoy many aspects of a country lifestyle and hope to incorporate some of that in to our blog as well, perhaps including a little gardening, outdoor experiences, canning, baking, travel, what have you.  At the same time we also have family and professional lives.  Between us we parent six sons (Jen has two, I have four), take care of two husbands, have numerous pets and work other jobs.  Jen is a microbiologist and I am a real estate broker.  We feel that our environments and interests serve as muses for our rug designs, and make them more meaningful not only to us but to our customers who may share some of our interests.  Just as a hooked rug is made up of a variety of colors, textures and patterns, so it is with aspects of our lives and yours, and we would like to provide an interesting and interactive forum for the wide variety of rug hookers who may visit our site.
In the nearby town of Norway, Maine, I have access to a fantastic support network of hookers through Artful Hands Fiber Arts Studio, where I can sit down in a home like environment with other artisans and share experiences.  However, outside of New England and the Canadian Maritimes, hooking studios are less common.  We hope to provide a warm and cozy virtual space in place of a physical space for those of you who may not have access to a local studio.  Jen’s Southern heritage is a fantastic resource for Parris House Wool Works as this art spreads all over the United States.  We intentionally want to help foster a community of hookers all over North America and maybe even beyond (we got a European follower on our Twitter feed today!).  We aim to be accessible, and we know we are still learning ourselves. If you send us a note or comment on something we don’t know, we’ll endeavor to find out and learn right along with you. 
I think that’s enough of an introduction for now.  I’ll turn the blog over to “Parris House Wool Works South,” Jen Rosenburg, who will pick it up with a post of her own.  Interestingly, snow is falling in her neck of the woods too, today – a perfect day for hooking!   Best wishes to you – Beth