Stella Wants My Wifi

Image credit: Wunderground

The weekly blog post is pretty late this week, partially due to my overall work load and partially because I just haven’t been able to quite settle on a topic.  As I sit here tonight working on this post, Winter Storm Stella is popping our power on and off, and my wireless router keeps resetting.    The wind is howling, we can’t keep the wood stoves lit because of the down drafts, and the snow continues to pile up.  I can’t really tell you how much snow there is, because in some places it’s drifted to about three feet and in other places the wind has swept the ground clean.  Corgi Tru couldn’t go out tonight before bedtime until my husband shoveled a way for her.   A window pane blew out of one of our attic windows and we had to take a shutter down that was in danger of being ripped off the house.  In a nutshell, it’s pretty harsh here at the moment.

Our part of the northeast was largely shut down today, but this is Maine; storms roll in, they are extremely unpredictable in terms of actual outcome, and we do whatever we have to do to navigate through them.  We do this more or less from October through April.  We put up with this for the love of Maine…or something.

Always being one to see life analogies in natural situations, I am finding Stella informative.

I worked pretty much nonstop through this past weekend.  My current to-do list includes a super-exciting-project-I-can’t-talk-about-yet, two more design/writing projects I can’t talk about, two classes I can’t announce yet, two to three designs that are still under wraps, a floor sized custom order, an upcoming trip to Rochester, NY to teach college students, an outstanding Beekman 1802 order, continuing to set up my new Handmade at Amazon shop, tweaking Shopify to help our Hookers Circle members have the option of paying in installments, and the every day operations of the existing online shops and the physical studio, which are a full time job by themselves.   Oh, and I’ve also just begun training for a four mile run in May.  😉   There is absolutely nothing unusual about this, not for me, not for any other small business owner out there. We all do it.  We all work this hard or harder.   We’re not heroes.  We just have dreams and love what we do and get a little OCD about it sometimes.

I think we all try to make it look to each customer like she is the only customer we have and that her order is the only thing we have to attend to that day.  My Tuesday hooking group knows better, because they are here in a big group together and sometimes need to wait a turn, or sometimes have to hear me say, “I’m so sorry; I didn’t get to that this week” (which I invariably feel terrible about), or see the projects I’m working on that have to ship the next day.   They see when I mess up, and they see when I pull something off just the way they’d hoped.

One of the issues with online shops is that the context of a business is much harder for a customer to see from the distance and filter of the internet, and the illusion we so carefully try to maintain of any one customer’s order being all we have to do that day is virtually complete (pun intended).  Miraculously, 99.9% of the time, things still go smoothly and to expectation.  (That other .1% tho…) This is where social media comes in, of course.  Business owners use Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and all the other social media sites to try to recreate, in the virtual world, the first hand knowledge that our Tuesday group experiences in the physical world. Unfortunately, I can’t fit a couple thousand of you into the Parris House.  Fortunately, however, you fit just fine in our online community, which I cherish.

So where am I going with this?

“The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”  (Thanks, Robert Burns.)

Stella rolled in here this morning and disrupted everyone’s plans.  She even disrupted the plans of those who had planned specifically for her when she didn’t perform as forecast.  Nature is that way.   Small business is that way too.  I have a planner.  Who am I kidding?  I have several planners for different purposes.   I am vigilant about using these tools to plan out every single day of my business life, and yet…sometimes something akin to Stella bursts through and disrupts everything, whether it’s an actual event that demands the rearrangement of my schedule, or just something that breaks my concentration or flow and throws off the rest of the day.

The lesson here is this:  I can work through Stella, even as she makes a play for my wifi, and I can work through almost anything the serendipity of running a small creative business throws my way too.

What Stellas have you faced down recently that have taught you just how resilient you are?  Because I know you all have Stellas, I’m offering a coupon code in the Etsy shop this week only (ends Friday night at midnight):  MYPERSONALSTELLA.   This will get you 10% off any order of $25 or more.

Happy persisting and happy hooking.  – Beth





The Parris House, What’s Growing – Late Summer 2016

It’s been a little while since I’ve written here.  There’s been a lot going on – lots of work to catch up on, some health issues to attend to, plus summer is just a very busy, busy time here at the Parris House.  This is because we grow things, and every year we add to our growing repertoire.

Once thing to be very clear about here:  we do not have a farm.  Far from it.  We have a 1.3 acre lot in a National Historic District, a village setting.  We have 1.3 acres total and, it’s important to point out, I’m not sure our growing ventures take up even 1/4 of that acreage.  My point here is that growing things is not just for the heavily landed.  Growing things is for anyone who is so inclined, including apartment dwellers.  My son and his girlfriend live just outside of Philadelphia in apartments.  They just made the most delicious looking homegrown basil pesto.  So, no excuses…get growing.

It’s late summer now.  I think we can safely say here in northern New England that fall is right around the corner.  And yet, there’s still a lot of harvesting and preserving to be done.  I took a walkaround, camera in hand, here at the Parris House in order to share a little pictorial tour with you.

First, let’s talk about the bees.


This is my first year beekeeping, and yet…unbelievably…one hive has done so spectacularly that I have already been able to take six frames of honey off and still have enough to leave for them in the hive.  Whether there will be more this fall, I do not yet know, but since I was not expecting any this year, I consider myself fortunate.  I named my hives Fleur-de-lis and Hippy Dippy.  Fleur-de-lis has been the stronger, honey producing hive.  Hippy Dippy, perhaps true to its name, is a bit more relaxed, and even saw fit to go nomadic and swarm in late June, leaving me with a hive that had to begin again with raising a queen.  I never saw a psychedelic VW microbus leaving the hive, but the evidence points to a late June swarm. At any rate, I love them both.  It’s like having tens of thousands of pets in a very compact space.  The unexpected honey harvest, however, small as it is, left me with the just as unexpected need to get a home food processing license in order to be able to sell some of it.  Tovookan’s Honey is born.

Why Tovookan’s?  Well, you’re going to have to wait awhile for that story.  When the honey is jarred, labeled and ready to launch, we’ll talk about that.

I see my bee girls working all over the yard.  They’re relentless in their quest for nectar and pollen.


Busy as a bee on burdock.


See that creature way down inside this squash flower?  That’s one of our bees.

The Parris House bees are not the only ladies working hard to put food on the table.  We’ve still got these girls, and they’re still (albeit in a bit of a lull right now) providing us with the multicolored eggs we and our egg customers love.  $3/dozen.  Get ’em when you can.


Having said that, the hens are getting older now and we’re thinking some baby chicks to freshen up this flock will be in order in the spring of next year.

So…grapes.  In all honesty, the grapes are a crap shoot.  Will we get grapes before the birds and Japanese beetles have their way with them?   We have no idea.  I confess these fall to the bottom of our priority list, and maybe they shouldn’t.


The Parris House garden is a bit off from what I had originally planned.  It got late in the season and instead of growing seedlings like I normally do, I got plants.  And I got them late, which means I had to pick from what was left at our local greenhouse.  This left me with not-my-usual-assortment and yet…it’s going to be great.  We are already harvesting kale, lettuce, hot peppers, and summer squash.  The pickling cucumbers are just starting to come in, which means I’d better get the canning jars ready (and also with my newly acquired home food processing licensing, I can sell pickles, relishes, jams, etc. also).  Additionally, the tomatoes are dangerously near to ripening which will mean days of preparation for canning and freezing.  The pics of the garden are numerous so here they are in slideshow format.

In spite of the still ripening produce in the garden, here in Maine, previews of fall are everywhere.  The Parris House apple trees, although in an “off” year, are still loaded with fruit that will make amazing pies, apples sauce, and other delicious dishes in just a short time now.  Again, there will be hours in the kitchen spent preparing them for jarring and freezing.


There is wood to be split and stacked…


A composter to be tended and turned…


Home built composter made from pallets by my conservation biologist son, James.

Our neighbor’s field has been hayed…


And everywhere I look there are the signs of late summer in the types of flowers and plants in the yard and garden.  Yes, the garden.  In some cases I do not pull the “weeds” because I know the bees are feeding on them.


So that’s what our little village lot is growing this summer-in-to-fall.  We have big plans and a long way to go in making our parcel as productive as possible, but year by year we learn and improve on what we’re doing.  If you have pics of what’s growing on your slice of heaven, be it an apartment balcony, a tenth acre urban lot, or a 400 acre farm, we’d love to see them.

Happy growing.  – Beth

Win a 3′ x 5′ Hit and Miss Rug to Benefit Maine Medical Center’s Family Assistance Program!

Re-blogging note:  This rug will be on display tomorrow, July 16th, at the Hamlin Memorial Library’s Founders Day on historic Paris Hill in Maine.  Stop by for tickets for your chance to win!  I will have a tent set up on the village green among a variety of other vendors and artisans, there is a world class car show, the Paris Hill Historical Society will be open with their exhibit, “Games People Play,” AND we have four Pokestops and a Pokegym in the village (if you don’t know what that means, don’t worry about it).  Come see me.  Click on the link below for full details on our rug.

Those of you who follow our blog faithfully know that two of our Tuesday hooking group members in Maine, Irene Adams and Cindy Mitchell, are kidney transplant recipients.  For more on their powerfu…

Source: Win a 3′ x 5′ Hit and Miss Rug to Benefit Maine Medical Center’s Family Assistance Program!

Spring Squam 2016: Children of the Arts


This is going to be long.  I can’t do the Squam blog in brief.  It is what it is.

Last year, in 2015, I came home from the Squam Art Workshops with my mind and heart blown wide open.  For a peek at my attempt to capture that first teaching experience at Squam in words and pictures, click HERE.

I went back to Squam this year to teach Modern Heirloom for beginner rug hookers again, and to add to my offerings a more intermediate class called Hook What You Love.  Once again, I struggle for words.  Where to begin?  What was the most wonderful, meaningful, woo (that word is for you, Elizabeth…) thing that happened?  I don’t even know.  But the woo was happening almost as soon as I arrived.

At the beginning of each retreat there is an opening gathering.  Our opening gathering occurred on Wednesday evening, June 1st.  I had spent the day arriving to Squam, setting up my amazing classroom space, Zodiac, at the Rockywold-Deephaven Camps, and just generally getting my head together for teaching.  My attention was seriously divided, however, because some 500 miles away, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, my second son, James, was graduating from Dalhousie University.  And I couldn’t be there.  I was committed to teaching this session long before I knew that this would be his graduation date and as the mother of three other sons at American colleges/universities, I had assumed graduation would be in May.  Nope.  At this particular Canadian university it was June 1st.  My husband and my son’s girlfriend had provided pictures, though, which I had been looking at on my phone all afternoon.

At Squam’s opening gathering, founder and fearless leader Elizabeth Duvivier asks each teacher to speak a little bit about her class and then that teacher must answer “the question.”  No one knows beforehand what the question is going to be.  Long time friend, Squam roommate, and teacher of Found Poetry, Sarah Sousa and I were (a little nervously) mulling over what “the question” would be.  Last year we had to talk about shoes.  No lie.  Shoes.  Sarah and I are so not fashionistas that we were nearly stumped.  This year, however, the question was something like this:  “Tell us about something someone else made for you.”

One of the most meaningful gifts I have ever received was from my son James, the one who had graduated that day.  Back in 2007, when he was just starting high school, he’d taken an art class that involved clay sculpting.  Around that time I was 42 years old and in the midst of throwing off a lot of things in my life that were not working, and I had come to relate strongly to falcons.  I don’t want to go as far as to use the term “spirit animal,” but I had falcons in my mind as a constant companion as I navigated that turbulent time.  They were free, they were badass, they soared, they were not weighted down, they knew what they wanted, and with supreme but hard earned skill, the achieved that.  I had not mentioned any of this to my sons, and yet, one day, James came home with a sculpted falcon for me as a gift.  Somehow, he’d made me a falcon, without previously knowing what it would mean to me.  It sits on my desk at home still.


So…I told this story at Squam.  And I thanked Elizabeth for her question, for bringing my son to me in that way, on that day, when we could not be together.

There is magic at Squam.

The “Squam Bomb” goes a long way to set the mood.  If you want to experience proper yarn, paper, and fabric bombing, it happens there.

Squam is where you can pin your dreams to the biggest dream catcher you’ve ever seen…

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…and I can attest to the fact that they do come true.

But it was on the path between my classroom in Zodiac and the Rock Dining Hall on the very last day, that I had a revelation about a huge factor in how the magic happens at Squam.  I had an hour or more between the time I had cleared my classroom and the time I needed to set up for the Spring Art Fair.  I decided I would go out and walk around the camp, taking pictures.  On the path, I encountered a student from Hook What You Love, Sally.  This was her first year at Squam, and we started to chat about our experiences there and why it is so magical.

At one point, when we were talking about rug hooking, I said to her, “Teaching here is so amazing and the students are so creative, so open, so relaxed, so not worried about competing with one another or proving anything.  It’s like teaching children.”   And I laughed.  As soon as those words were out of my mouth I realized that they could possibly be taken the wrong way, in a negative, pejorative way, but that is not how I meant them at all.  I meant them in the best of ways.  Fortunately, Sally completely got my meaning.

That is the magic of Squam.   We become children of the arts.

What happens to us as we age and get away from the time we are five or ten years old and we are so open and alive and curious and risk taking?  What has life done to us that we are fearful of experimentation, or feel the need to compete with the person next to us, even at play?  Who told us we weren’t creative or that we couldn’t draw/paint/write/knit/hook/whatever-it-was?  And why did we listen?

It seems to me that at Squam, among our creative peers and mentors, under the incredible leadership of Elizabeth and everyone assisting her (Forrest, Mindy, Kat, and others), on the shores of that crazy spectacular beautiful lake alive with fish and loons and moths and butterflies, in those cabins that have sheltered souls for over a century and smell of wood and smoke and s’mores and maybe more than a little wine, we forget the squashing that can happen in adolescence and adulthood.  Or perhaps more accurately, we remember who we were…who we ARE.

And I am so, so grateful.

I am grateful to every single student I’ve had the privilege to teach in this crucible of magic.  I learn from them anew how to be joyful in creation, how to play, how to try new things, how to be a child of my art.

When children enter a playground, they often run straight for what calls to them.  Maybe it’s the slide or the merry-go-round.  Maybe it’s the sandbox or maybe they want to hang upside down on the monkey bars until their heads feel funny.  They generally don’t say to everyone standing around, “Gee, what do you think I should do?”  NO!  They know what they want to do, and while they might take your hand and ask you to experience their bliss with them, they’re going to follow their own jam.

At Squam, we follow our bliss, because unlike in “real” life, there’s nothing to stop us. And maybe that’s a lesson to take from this wild and creative space, to learn to discern what it is we want to do and whether or not there’s really anything standing in our way. Sometimes there is, but sometimes…well…if you really look at it, there isn’t.

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“It’s really a different kind of life.”  I sincerely hope that you will consider spending a magical weekend at a Squam Art Workshops retreat.  Maybe I’ll even see you there one year.

Happy dreaming, happy creating, happy magic making, and happy hooking – Beth

P.S.  It doesn’t hurt to have a giant inflatable rainbow unicorn on site….


Better Late Than Never? Pictures from the 2015 Sunset Haven Hooking & Hiking Retreat


Long time followers of this blog and our social media know that last September I hosted a hooking retreat at Sunset Haven, our rustic cottage on Little Sebago Lake in Gray, Maine.  Recently, I’ve been asked if we are going to do it again.  The answer is:  I don’t know right now, but as soon as I get back from the Squam Art Workshops in early June I’m going to seriously evaluate the possibility. I know that I had a great time and would very much like to do it again – I just have to evaluate the schedule and make a decision pretty soon.

Attendees were Ellen Marshall of Two Cats and Dog Hooking, Terry Ensslen, Wendy Baird, and Lee-Anne Dahms.  We also had an amazing artist trading card class taught by Kim Dubay of Primitive Pastimes Rug Hooking.   Super talented artist, Mary Michola Fibich joined us for that class.

We also hiked the trails at the Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village under expert guidance provided by Carolyn Fensore, a volunteer at the village.   Many of the photos in the slideshow are from that breathtaking hike.

And, of course, we had a lobster feed lakeside and tasty beverages around the campfire.

We kayaked, canoed, and swam.  Some of us even learned to paddle board.  🙂

Oh, and we HOOKED!

Sunset Haven can only accommodate a limited number of participants, and that’s why toward the end of the retreat we brainstormed ideas for a bigger retreat at a larger venue. We might be able to accomplish that in 2017.  Looking over these pictures again, I’m thinking that 2016 might be a great time to do the Sunset Haven retreat again.  We also have the possible option of renting the camp next door to expand our accommodations.

By the third week of June I’ll post an update.  In the meantime, enjoy these pictures of what was a really lovely late summer weekend.   Happy reminiscing and happy hooking!

Come to the Northern New England Home Garden Flower Show with me this week!


I’m very honored this year to be one of the featured artisans at the Northern New England Home Garden Flower Show held at the famous Fryeburg Fairgrounds in beautiful western Maine!  This show has been voted one of the Top 10 Things to Do in Maine by Yankee Magazine several times over and I can’t wait to go, demonstrate and teach rug hooking, and meet a lot of great people.


There will be seminars, chefs. gardeners, artisans, and buildings full of exhibitors.  This is not to be missed if you would like some springtime inspiration for your home, garden, culinary, or hobby life!

For the most up to date information on the show, follow the Facebook page  and click HERE to view and/or download the show supplement.

You will also have the opportunity to buy our raffle tickets for the Maine Medical Center Kidney Transplant Center Family Assistance Program rug, so stop by.


I will be starting to load in my booth beginning on Wednesday afternoon through Thursday.  Friday the show opens.  See you there!

On the Creativity of Mothers, in Particular, My Mother

My mother, Elizabeth Barnard Colangelo, on the left, and her sister, Dorothy Barnard Schaeffer on the right.  My aunt is gloriously still alive at 91 years.

This morning on my Facebook feed I saw a post about Mother’s Day by author and speaker Cheryl Strayed.  Here’s part of what she said:  “I know it’s a holiday that will change in meaning to you over time, even if it has not yet occurred to you that it will. Whatever it is, I want to say I know it’s there and it’s real and it’s true because it’s YOURS.”  She was referencing the fact that for many, Mother’s Day comes with conflicted emotions.  There are people who no longer have living mothers, people whose relationships with their mothers were difficult.  There are mothers who have had the utterly unthinkable happen who have lost a child or children.   Mother’s Day is not always exactly a series of picture perfect Hallmark moments, and yet, in some families, it is.

To be completely honest, I am one of the lucky ones.  Mother’s Day, for me, is largely about joy and celebration.  The greatest honor I have or ever will know is being Mom to my now adult sons Robert, James, Peter, and Paul.  My relationship with my own mother was not perfect all of the time, but there is no question that we loved each other and I miss her.  I can hardly fathom that she’s been gone five years already.  My aunt (seen above) remains an incredible inspiration and mother figure to me (which reminds me, I very much need to call her and check in), and I have a very caring mother-in-law as well.  I had grandmothers who, while very different from one another, showed me how much I was valued by them every time we were together.

So, I just wanted to start off with the acknowledgement that this holiday is not the same for everyone, and that it’s ok for our Mother’s Day not to look like an episode of The Waltons.  In my case, my sons are all far away this first empty nest year, my mother is in the afterlife, and my mother-in-law is in NJ recuperating from an injury.  I also have a big show coming up at the end of this week so I’m thinking this year Mother’s Day is going to be another work day for me.  And that’s ok too.


Mothers and creativity.

My own mother, in my view, was an almost completely unrecognized artist.  I’d seen some of my mother’s art as I was growing up.  When she was young she’d do what can only be described as fabulous pencil or pen sketches of 1940s young women with cute hairstyles and sassy expressions.  In my grandmother’s lake cottage in Maine there was an oil painting that my mother had done of the family’s little black terrier, Susie, capturing what I imagined was Susie’s pixie personality.   When I was a child my mother would either write or just ad lib stories for me.  She wrote the occasional poetry.   She had beautiful penmanship, which she passed along to me.  When I’m not in a big hurry scrawling this or that for work my handwriting is pretty great, and perhaps now archaic.  At any rate, I get compliments on it.

Before rheumatoid arthritis took the craft away from her, my mother liked to do needlepoint.  Long before that she was knitting intricate cabled sweaters for my father, with leather patches on the elbows, and making warm wool socks for him as well.  When my siblings were younger she made clothes for them.  She made my First Communion dress too, ornamenting it with a little floral ribbon at the bodice.

My mother called my attention to great artists, both by exposing me to their work directly and by less conventional means.  For example, growing up we had big orange tabby cats named Michelangelo, Monet, Renoir, and Rembrandt.  I’m not kidding.  The practice of naming cats after greatness moved down a generation when my boys named a couple of ours Lord Nelson (she was female…) and Nikola Tesla.

When I was a child and teenager I had paints, crayons, art tablets, pencils, and, most memorably, pastels and fixative, all that my mother had provided for me.  I’ve still got a yearning to go back to pastels, but that’s going to have to wait a little bit.

My mother introduced me to the Big Bands, to Fats Waller, flutists Jean Pierre Rampal and James Galway, took me to see Ain’t Misbehavin’ in Philadelphia, and toted me on “the Lindenwold” in NJ to the then Philadelphia College of the Performing Arts when I was a teenager for conservatory lessons in clarinet.  She also paid the way of a neighbor’s son who also showed promise in music.

In some ways, my mother was the promoter and patron of the arts within the family.

I didn’t properly appreciate any of this as a young person.  I truly didn’t.  And I think I know  at least one reason why, aside from just being too young, too distracted by other things, and too unbalanced as a person myself.

My mother didn’t really chase her own artistic inclinations in any serious or consistent way.  There are a lot of reasons for this, that are way too personal and also beyond the scope of this post, but my mother left this earth with so much of that creativity still inside of her.  And I think she feared that I would do the same.  At the time my mother died, I was still working full time in real estate and she was still after to me to “pick up your instruments again.”

I still haven’t picked up my instruments.  Maybe because I know what a cacophony of terrible sounds would result until I got my act together again.  “Rusty” wouldn’t even begin to describe my current musical ability, although I sometimes look at the dust collecting piano in my hallway and consider the possibilities.

No.  After my mother died, I picked up a hook instead, and most of you know what has happened since, which is not even scratching the surface of where I want to go in the craft. Most of the ideas I have for rugs or art pieces are still just that – ideas. She didn’t live to see me take this creative turn, but I think she’d be pleased by it.  I think she’d also apply her extremely blunt manner of opining to my desire to shift the art aspect to front and center, move the business and retailing end to the back to play a supporting role where it belongs, and get on with making the things that only I can make.  Were I to ask her what people might think if I had to audacity to flip those two around the way I might flip my bee boxes when one was too full and the other too empty, she would say, “To hell with what people think!”  And, although my mother did not always live by that admonition herself, in truth, she did not even always apply that to our lives either, she did say it to me more than once in my life.

So what does this all mean on the general topic of the creativity of mothers?

Well, think about it.  Think about the mothers you have known, maybe yours, maybe someone else’s.  How did these women show us the way?  How were they able to?

For some women, especially those of a certain age, the free pursuit of creativity has not been an easy option, if an option at all – not from a social acceptability perspective, not from a financial standpoint in some cases, not from a time availability standpoint.  It’s not always easy to get the creative flow happening when you’re playing every role there is to play in a family setting and then some.  But for many mothers, creativity leaks out of the cracks and crevices of their lives anyway…

in that amazing mural in the baby’s room…

in that little illustrated story made for a sick child…

in that wildly creative birthday cake and all those party favors…

in the baby blanket made for the neighbor’s first child…

in the poems we find tucked away in the dresser after they’re gone.

Most people who follow this blog are creatives of some kind.  This Mother’s Day I hope you will think about the women in your lives, be they your mothers by DNA, by adoption, or just by mutual choice, who showed you a way to creativity.  Maybe they are or were literal art and craft mentors.  I have those and am so grateful for them.  But maybe they were also women who “just” showed us the way in the little things, the almost expected things, that we barely stop to notice or think of as art or artisanship.

I would love to hear your stories in the comment thread.

Happy Mother’s Day and happy hooking.  – Beth

One of my very early designs.  I’d been to Popham Beach, Maine not that long after my mother’s passing and noticed the beach roses in a way I’d never really seen them before.

Going to the Dogs – A Rug Story

Many who follow our social media know that for the past five months I’ve been working on a 3′ x 5′ commissioned rug, however, you have only in the past week seen even a peek at some small portion of it.  I am happy to say that the rug is now in its new home, its owner seems very pleased with it, and I have permission to tell its story – with pictures!

Last fall I set up my tent at the Sharon Springs Harvest Festival in Sharon Springs, NY, home of Beekman 1802, and I met more wonderful people than I can count.  One of these was Dr. Stephen Sipperly, who, upon seeing the hooked rugs on display asked if I might be able to do a custom rug of his beloved dogs.  I love hooking animals so I was immediately intrigued by his request, and even moreso when he mentioned that they were Pharaoh Hounds. I had never heard of this breed of dog, so the challenge was on.

A few weeks later, Stephen sent me some photos of his dogs.


When I opened the email, my immediate reaction was “Awwwwwwwww.”  Although I had never seen a Pharaoh Hound, I had a very sweet Doberman when I was in my 20s.  She had the same giant ears, sleek body, and sympathetic expression.  And, I just love dogs anyway, even if our current best friend is a considerably less graceful (but impossibly adorable) Welsh Corgi.

Here’s the important thing about this story, though; the main point, in fact.  Stephen came to me with an almost fully formed vision of what he wanted his rug to look like.  The overall vision changed very little in the course of creating this piece.  He knew he wanted the dog in the center of a folk art style design, and, because Pharaoh Hounds are traditionally used in rabbit hunting, he wanted rabbits encircling the center dog.  It was also Stephen’s idea to have the element we came to refer to as “defiant bunny” snuggled up against the Hound’s midsection looking ever so pleased with itself.  Honestly, I can take almost no credit for this design.  This rug was designed by Stephen, through my hands, my sketch, my pattern, my hand dyes, my hooking, but I was more the conduit.  This is his rug.

So here’s the process, mostly in pictures.  Here are the first through third draft sketches.  As you will see in the final piece, we changed defiant bunny a little bit (again, Stephen’s idea).


The original thinking was to have jewel tone color blocks around the border.  They were three inch blocks, but on much later consultation, we didn’t go with those.  Once Stephen approved the sketch, I made the linen pattern.  I am realizing right now that I did not photograph the pattern before I started hooking it!  I think I was just very anxious to get started.

I thought it would be easiest to start in on the bunnies.  Each bunny took at least an hour to hook, depending on how much I wanted to tweak and play with it.  Here are some bunny-under-construction pics.


It was important to me that no two bunnies be the same, so I chose a variety of browns, blacks, grays, and whites for them.  On consultation with Stephen, we decided to make defiant bunny white, so as to stand out against the red of the Pharaoh Hound.

Speaking of that red, let’s face it, you can’t buy Pharaoh Hound red off the bolt.  This is where the dye pots had to come in.  I sent Stephen this photo and asked him to choose.


Try to ignore the fact that I clearly drew the blocks incorrectly the first time on the far right border.  Remember, friends, measure a bazillion times, draw once.

Stephen made his color choices and then we had to talk about the background.  We knew we wanted it to look like a grassy background, so I sent Stephen a variety of wool choices, both hand dyed and off the bolt.  He wisely chose a mottled hand dye, which gave the finished piece variety and motion.


So, um…this was going to be a LOT of pot dyeing…


Some of you will recall the scalding drama associated with this dye session, but it was all worth it in the end.

Time to hook the background!  I checked in with Stephen when the background was going in to make sure I was achieving the effect he was looking for.  The glints in the dog’s eyes are the only non-wool part of the piece.  They are white embroidery floss.


This background was way more time consuming than I ever imagined it was going to be.  I still can’t quite get over how many hours went in to just that part of the project.  There’s more background on this design than in many “traditional” hooked rugs.  Generally, when designing hooked rugs we look to minimize open background, which was one of the reasons I thought the mottled wool was such a good choice.  It added interest that would simply not be there over large expanses of green.

Background in, now what to do with the border?  The original thought for this rug was a jewel tone block border, but both Stephen and I thought that would be too much and detract from the main rug, as did the Tuesday group hookers who were very helpful in offering opinions during this process.  So I sent Stephen what would have been for most customers a pretty overwhelming variety of possibilities in these photos.  And…he chose one not even pictured here, but perfect.


Stephen chose to use the forest green solid border, but with deep brown corners.  This was just the right solution.  So I started hooking away on it.  Hooking straightaways goes a lot faster than hooking motion, so this part of the project didn’t take too long.

One more decision point for Stephen.  How to bind?  Because of the way this rug was potentially going to be used, because of Stephen’s furry friends, and because I thought the border was perfect as is and should have an invisible-from-the-front binding. we went with tape binding.  Stephen chose the light brown.  Did I bind this rug myself?  Not this time.  Consummate hooking artisan and binder-in-a-pinch Edna Olmstead is to be thanked for doing a wonderful and amazingly fast job of putting the binding on this one for me.


But before handing it off to Edna, there was the serging and steaming…


Edna’s binding is neat as a pin…


The finished rug.


Stephen received this rug very late last night, after I had gone to bed.  He’s a doctor, after all, and has long hours.  I had seen the UPS tracking for it show delivered yesterday afternoon and whenever I’ve sent a rug out I nervously await the customer’s reaction.  Having not gotten any communication from Stephen prior to my own bedtime, I actually dreamed about this rug all night, which is probably not that uncommon for artisans (someone please tell me it isn’t!).  I awoke this morning to a lovely email from Stephen telling me how pleased he was with the piece, which is all I needed to hear.  That IS the goal, after all.

Making custom pieces, art pieces of my own imagination, and teaching are the things I love best about what I do.  This particular project was a real joy because I felt that I had the opportunity to be the rug making hands for Stephen’s vivid vision and imagination.  There is something very satisfying about a collaboration with a customer that results in a piece that reflects who that person is and what he loves.  So while at this rug’s inception the art pencil was in my hand (as was the eraser…lots of erasing…), this rug is truly designed by Stephen Sipperly, hooked by Elizabeth Miller/Parris House Wool Works.  I think we made a great team.

If you have an idea, a vision, an event to commemorate, a beloved pet, or anything else that you would like to see come alive in a hooked decor piece (rug, pillow, wall hanging, table runner, chair pads, you name it), by all means get in touch with me.  You now have an idea of how the process works and how much communication takes place.  It’s fun and rewarding and the final result is an heirloom made to last a century or more.

A thousand thanks to Stephen for granting permission to share this project on our page and for being so great to work with.

Happy imagining and happy hooking! – Beth

A Gift with a Story, and Some Lessons

Designed and hooked by Libby Armstrong.  Framing by 100 Aker Wood, Norway, Maine.

This was given to me by Maine hooker and Tuesday group member Libby Armstrong yesterday. It’s a cherished gift with a funny but informative story.

One of the services I provide free of charge to anyone who walks in to this studio is serging the edges off of finished pieces, or just serging unserged patterns anyone might have from another source. Libby asked me to serge two of these lovely hobo sign pieces she had completed, both on the same piece of linen. I have done this probably more than 100 times. Way more than 100 likely. I had never messed it up…until that morning.

With my mind not focused appropriately, I serged this one from the wrong side and cut so close to the loops we had to do emergency glue therapy to stop it from coming apart. Additionally, binding it in any traditional way was now off the table. I.felt.horrible and immediately called Libby’s attention to what I had done and apologized all over the place. Had I done this to my own piece, I’d have been annoyed but laughed it off. To do this to the work of a friend and customer was unforgivable, at least to myself. But Libby did not react that way at all. She laughed, and was gracious, and wonderful, and immediately forgiving. And a few weeks later, here I am with this gift.

Every time I look at this I will remember several things:

  • Never serge with your mind elsewhere (the old measure twice, cut once thing).
  • Forgiveness of others is essential and often difficult. Accepting forgiveness for yourself can feel even more difficult, but is just as essential.
  • Good and loving family and friends are the real gold of our lives.
  • Our craft community never stops giving. It just never stops.
  • When the world seems like one big cluster of negativity, look no further than your own circle for faith in humanity.

So, thank you, Libby. I will cherish this wonderful little kitty for the rest of my life and cherish your friendship and generosity when you had all the right in the world to act very differently.  Your gift is not only this piece of art; your gift is the way you chose to respond to my mistake and the example it sets for all of us.

Happy faith in humanity and happy hooking.  – Beth

P.S.  For more information on hobo signs from the Great Depression era, click HERE.


Where We Stand…Always.


I thought for a long time about whether to post this on my personal blog site or our business page, and I’m opting for our business page because I think it is impossible to separate a small studio from its owners.  We are our brand.  We are our customer service. We are our commitment to doing good in the world where we can.

At Parris House Wool Works, we stand on the side of light, doing good, compassion, non-violence, fairness, equality, freedom, dignity, and love.   It doesn’t matter who you are, your race (which biologically/scientifically speaking, doesn’t even exist), culture, age, marital status, economic status, religion, sexual orientation, gender identification, political views or party, nation of origin, immigrant or native born, or any other descriptor often used to divide us.  This is because this is who we are, and it’s also because we are so very tired of divisiveness in America.

Rug hooking brings us all together.  We see it first hand every week in our Tuesday group, yearly at our annual Paris Hill Hook In, and especially on-line where over 1300 of  you, from every state and several countries, check in to our Facebook page and join the party.  We see this in the variety of Etsy, Shopify, and in-studio customers who trust us with their hooking and custom work needs.   No two of you are the same, and you shouldn’t be.

Right now in America, the politics of division are alive and well.  Hostility is in the news every single day.  For some this seems even to be a perceived badge of honor.  As a history geek, I know that many Americans, including so many of my own ancestors, sacrificed everything for peace, freedom, and a united America, not petty divisiveness in the pursuit of power.  It is all a bit demoralizing until I remember this:

Standing on the side of love is a revolutionary act, and we can all participate in that.  We can apply the profound lessons of love and unity learned when we are together as artisans to the rest of our lives.  We can be kind to one another, even when we disagree, and support one another in our freedom to make different choices and just to be who we are.  Most importantly, we can gift to one another a safe haven where the golden rule is applied generously in the service of human dignity.  I have seen all of this practiced without fail in our artisan community, and it reflects, as Lincoln put it, the better angels of our nature.

This is where we stand.   This is where we will always stand, and we know that many of you stand with us.

Happy hooking! – Beth