It’s an old profession, dating back to the 18th century, if not earlier, though they consider it less as a profession than something they just love to do. They are “hookers,” and they enjoy sharing their skills with others.
Using strips of cloth from old clothes, sacks or spun wool, rug hookers use a hook to push through the base fabric (usually burlap), grab a strip of fabric and pull it back through. They then cut the loop of fabric. Depending on their use of color and design, the piece could be simple or intricate, folksy sketches of landscapes, country living or abstract blocks of color in their own designs or commercial patterns. Some even look like fine art paintings.
Similar to a quilting bee, hooking rugs gave women a chance to nurture their creative side while nurturing each other as they recycled strips of cloth to create warmth for their homes. “Now there is no limit to what we can create,” Maren Wands said. “Hooked rugs aren’t just for the floor anymore.” They are wall hangings, box lids, Christmas stockings and whatever else that can be imagined.
Wands is a member of the Inland Empire Rug Club, which has 18 members from around the area. The group was started in 1992 by artist Lorraine Owens, who began advertising in search of other hookers.
“I started the Inland Empire Rug Club for the joy of sharing skills and companionship,” Owens said.“I am interested in perpetuating the American heritage of being thrifty, creative and encouraging younger generations to find joy in making beautiful, useful items for their homes.”
Darlene Sabo was living in Portland when she saw one of Owens’ ads. Sabo joined the group when she moved to the area two years ago. Artist Judy Miller also joined the group in order to extend her creative circle and share her artistic joy. “I try to bring sunshine and smiles to all who enter my world. I hope the art brings joy to all who view it,” she said. “I was created to create. It is my life.”
Miller also makes three-dimensional cards, paints, quilts, crochets and knits. Owens does leaded-glass work and other types of fiber art. Sabo enjoys sewing, and Wands paints.
“Honestly, Maren Wands is truly an artist in many mediums, the artist of our rug club,” Owens said. Owens doesn’t sell her rugs; rather, she focuses on inspiring others, giving or trading them away or decorating her own home. “Maren is a constant, quick creator and does love to show and sell much of her work.”
Wands has fiddled with painting for years, often taking painting workshops. She works in acrylic paint and watercolors. She also makes bright fabric banners. Her rugs reflect her artistic eye in her use of shadowing and color, and have been featured in hooked rug magazines including her original wall hanging design of a winter scene called “Winter Shadows.”
The club meets twice a month at the Southside Senior Activity Center and one Saturday a month at a member’s home, where they share their creations and swap tips about things like dyeing wool or new-techniques. The group also takes retreats called “Hooker Camp.”
“The process of working on and finishing a useful art project is absorbing, restful, therapeutic and fulfilling,” Owens said.