A mixed bag of fibre for hooking.

A mixed bag of fibre for hooking.

After a post on backing, you know I just have to do one on fibre. 🙂

In the rug hooking world we are so lucky to be able to use so many different types of fibre.  In the olden days of rug hooking people would cut up their old clothes and hook them.  They were mostly woolens and silk stockings.

Fine wools and plaids for rug hooking.

Fine wools and plaids dyed and over-dyed to create depth and texture in rug hooking.

Nowadays we have a raft of fibres to choose from.  Purists still seek the coveted even weave woolens, often at great expense.  They may combine it with texture plaids and checked woolens as well.  And there is often hand dyeing involved.  It looks and feels beautiful!  But it is not the only way to hook.

pennsylvania dutch

“Pennsylvania Dutch” – double knit polyester and old t-shirts.

My first full sized rug was made from what I was told was burlap backing, but now think must have been primitive linen.  I used to wash it in the washing machine every six months.  I know.  I am embarrassed to admit it.  Do NOT put your rugs in the washing machine!  It lived on our basement concrete floor for 22 years before it finally sprouted a hole.  That’s a lot of washing.  It was hooked with polyester double knits and old t-shirts.

Sunflower rug.

Sunflower rug – mixed fibre.

I’ve hooked a variety of materials over the years, including this sunflower rug which is on monkscloth.  Unfortunately, the blue denim border did not survive washing.  It does, however, show the use of hand dyed linen, silk, cotton t-shirt, fleece, denim, polyester, and terry toweling.  Anything is fair game.  BUT it is a good idea to match the fibre you are hooking with your backing.  My denim would have been better on a firmer backing, and with less vigorous washing!

Well now you’ve seen two of my “experiments”.  Let’s see if I have a third “experiment” to show you.

Hollyhocks -  26

Hollyhocks – 26″ x 34″ – my last big piece on burlap before joining the Saskatchewan Crafts Council.

Hollyhocks is a meeting of traditional wool rug hooking and a trip to the Dollar Store after seeing Deanne Fitzpatrick’s rugs in her studio in Amherst, NS.  I picked up some fibre at Deanne’s shop as well, and was well on my way.  I was conservative and stuck to wool fibre from her shop, but had a myriad of fibre from the Dollar Store.  I kind of liked it, but was disappointed with the polyester and nylon fibres in the fields.

I decided I wanted to stick to natural fibres and hook hand dyed or indie dyed fibre as much as possible.  I picked up a few commercial yarns at my local yarn shop to fill in the gaps in colour and for added texture.

Canola fields art yarn drying for my

Canola fields art yarn drying for my “Prairie Sky” wall hangings.

About that time I also discovered spinning and art yarns.  I purchased some lovely art yarn spun by Island Sweet in Newfoundland, Canada to hook into my wall hangings.  Unfortunately they were one of a kind skeins and when they ran out I was faced with having to create my own.  So I took my spinning wheel in hand, analyzed the yarn in my wall hangings, and set to work creating homespun art yarn.  I now prefer homespun yarn in my wall hangings, but I do like the commercial too, for the change in texture it gives.

Mixed Emotions - 12

Mixed Emotions – 12″ x 6″ – red velvet, silk, and wool!  Ooo la la!

One day I stopped by a garage sale and found an old set of red velvet curtains!  I was in love with that fabric!  I still have tons of it.  It’s a cotton rayon, I think.  It has to be ripped a certain way or it frays like crazy.  And it needs to be ripped in thin strips or it’s too difficult to pull through the backing, even on primitive linen.  But it looks luscious!

Now I stick to primarily wool and silk fibres, with a few synthetics thrown in for sparkle (Angelina) or some odd materials (bamboo fibre, Ingeo) for texture and shine.  Occasionally I find a yarn with a bit of lurex in it, a metallic thread.  That can be interesting.  I try to keep the rich feeling of my wall hangings through use of colour and texture of my materials.

There are definitely other ways to hook and other materials to hook with successfully.  As mentioned in yesterday’s post, I’ve even tried 28 gauge wire!  And I still think it has possibilities for sculpture.

The general rule with fibre is to match it to your backing.  Fine yarns with fine backing.  Wide cuts with primitive or coarser and stronger backings.

Rug hookers measure fibre by width.  We have special machines called wool strippers or cutters.  They come with special heads that cut our even weave wool fabric to specific widths.  A #3 is 3/32 of an inch wide, #4 = 1/8″, #5 = 5/32″, #6 = 3/16″, #7 = 7/32″, #8 = 1/4″, #9 = 3/8″, #10 = 1/2″.  I use a #6 width for the most part.  Sometimes up to a #8.  A wide cut is anything #6 and over.

Be aware that you need more fibre per square foot if you hook primitive or wide cut, than you do if you hook narrow.   This is because you also hook higher when hooking wide cut.  This means your backing must be stronger or firmer.  A primitive or wide cut rug is going to be heavier than a fine cut rug, and will need more support if it will be hung on the wall.

One of the challenges I have is I use hand dyed Dupioni silk in my wall hangings.  Once it is bunched up and pulled through the backing it is hard as rock.  I cannot get a needle through it to strap the back of the rug properly.  Dupioni silk is part of what gives my wall hangings the texture and rich feel they have.  For that reason I only hook rugs/wall hangings smaller than a certain size. – usually no bigger than 24″ x 36″.  Without strapping a large rug would sag in the center and along the bottom center edge.  I do not want my work sagging on someone’s wall.

What is strapping?  It is a 1 1/4″ cotton twill tape that is attached in a grid fashion on the back of the wall hanging to help it hold its shape.

Tomorrow we will look at and discuss cutters…

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