Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Other Hobby: Rug Hooking: Pearl McGown Pattern

I've been busily undoing some of the improvised crochet on my Crazy Lacy Cropped Cardi, mostly because I didn't like the look of a shell stitch on top of my ribbed collar along the front, even the art of undoing is difficult. Unraveling two threads at once (I was knitting double) calls for many curses.  I plan to retain the crochet ruffle on the bottom of the cardi, add a button placket on one side and then some shell stitching on the opposite side. Finish the whole shebang with shell stitches on the sleeves. But I should really go get some nice buttons about now, before I go any further so I at least know how big to make those button holes. A trip to Vogue Fabrics might be in order tomorrow, a good day to go considering the store stays open until 9 p.m.

This blog post is about rug-hooking. Don't read any further unless you have an interest in this topic. I got in rug hooking because my mom was into it more than a decade ago. She was doing these awesome paisley patterns on a printed burlap. I just loved all that shading and I decided I wanted to get into rug-hooking too. So away we went to her instructor, whose love for wool was so great she stacked yards upon yards on it into an unused shower (I hope the pipes were disconnected, I mean who would want to lose all that great fabric with one twist of the knob?). Plaids, plain Jane solids, but no blends, it was all stacked up neatly in the stall, an amazing sight any time I needed to use the washroom. Anyhow, my instructor was big into Pearl McGown, a rug-hook extraordinaire during World War II. McGown was most renown for her intricate floral patterns, ranging from itty-bitty floorway entryway rugs to massive living room-sized mother of all rugs that take years to complete.

Since I was a diehard romantic with a huge interest in Jazz music and vintage clothes, I instantly took to Pearl, long dead at that point. I really didn't have much of a way to get to know her intimately beyond a dog-eared book. There was no real Internet at that point, so I had to learn everything about this woman and her approach to rug-hooking from my instructor, who when she wasn't adding to her stash, was out sailing with her husband for months at a time. I got so into rug-hooking that I bought the frame, hooks, a wool-strip cutting device, dyes and burlap patterns. I think I bought about five, and completed four when I lost interest in my fifth and most ambitious, pictured in part above. Oddly enough, it was swing dancing, also popular during World War II, that led me to abandon my hook, rugs and dye pots. I mean when it's a choice between hooking rugs in front a TV alone and dancing with handsome guys, wouldn't you pick swing dancing? All my stuff promptly went into hiding into closet, and somehow I must have given my mother the half-finished rug.

So now more than a decade later, my mother wants to finish the rug. And she is, with a half-hearted assist from me here and there. Mostly there. I'm outta rug-hooking mode even dancing too,  now into knitting. But I help mom dutifully when she pleads and I'm visiting as I was last night, which is when I took a picture of the rug this morning on my iPhone.

In the decade between the time I started my rug and gained some other hobbies (I forget that I've since acquired a sewing machine and a serger), the Internet came to life. Now there are umpteen places to learn about Pearl: the McGown Guild,  Cushing (the supplier for the dyes used for the wool. Eight different shades of the same color was one way McGown created depth for her hooked flowers. Dying fabric is almost more fun than hooking, but I digress), a McGown devotee's site and a heck lot more if I had my druthers to bother, but I don't right now. Anyhow, looking at these Pearl McGown patterns reminds me of my favorites. I was always drawn to the paisleys and flower prints, particularly roses and peonies, which called for a lot of shading and dye pots. I liked the finer cut of wools, not the thicker variety often associated with the early American rugs. For those who dig Pearl McGown, which rugs do you dig? 

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