WINTERPORT – A mosaic of brightly colored hooked rugs in floral, animal, bird and landscape designs covers the floor of the meeting room of the Ellingwood’s Corner United Methodist Church. The rugs were created by members of Wool ‘n Friends, who meet each month to practice the art and craft of rug hooking.
“People come from Hampden, Bangor, Castine, Brooklin, Searsmont, Monroe and Newburgh,” said Kay Carter of Hampden. “It’s such an organic art form – I see it as art, not craft.”
Carter was hooking a rug she calls “The Dance of the Tree Woman,” her own design, which incorporates the shape of a female in a tree trunk that grows into curving branches of leaves, each to be filled with narrow strips of wool in the colors of the changing seasons.
Group members range in age from 30-something to 70-something. Some, like Carter, have been hooking rugs for two or three years while others, like Toni Philbrick of Hampden, have been hooking for 40 years. It is that range of age and experience that makes being part of the group special.
“There’s a lot of inter-consultation – we learn from one another,” said Sandy Doughty of Bangor. “I call it my winter sanity.”
“I get to sit next to incredible rug hookers and learning becomes such a positive experience,” said Martha Whitehouse of Hampden, who was hooking a rug of her own design she calls “Hearts and Houses” in honor of her daughter and mother. “My designs come out of my heart.”
In fact, everyone in the group does their own designs, drawing on the linen background material or making paper patterns they cut out and trace around.
Some have a background in art, others do not, but all display a creative flair and passion for rug hooking. Some use 1/4-inch “wide-cut” wool strips and others use strips that are not much thicker than a piece of angel-hair spaghetti – known as fine-cut – which allows for greater degrees of color shading.
Many in the group learned rug hooking from Karen Porter of Winterport, who teaches beginning and advanced rug hooking through the SAD 22 Adult Education Program in Hampden. She accepts eight to 12 students in her classes.
“At least half of the class continues to hook,” Porter said. “This group helps them keep hooking.”
Porter got her start at Searsport Rug Hooking, where she used to work. She has been teaching rug hooking classes for three years.
Ken Carpenter of Brooklin is the only man in the group, a nod to the fact that men are not strangers to rug hooking.
It was a pastime practiced by Maine sea captains in the days of sail when they crossed oceans with wives and children in tow.
“I used to braid, but now I hook,” Carpenter said. “I hire someone to mow my lawn in the summer so I can stay inside and hook.” He has been hooking rugs for seven years.
“Once you start hooking, you learn color and hooking style,” said Linda McLaughlin of Searsmont.
“Hooking is good therapy, it’s very healing,” said Kathleen Eaton of Castine, who also is a member of the Bagaduce Hookers.
Toni Philbrick also teaches rug hooking classes – several of the group members learned hooking from her.
Like Porter, she advocates using recycled wool garments as source material.
“There are only four woolen mills left in the United States,” she said, “and new wool costs $21 a yard, so it’s not a cheap hobby.”
However, Porter said, rug hooking can be “as expensive or as cheap as you want,” depending on how resourceful one is at finding wool garments at thrift shops and yard sales.
“That’s the way rug hooking was done in the old days,” Ken Carpenter said.
“I walk on every rug I make,” Porter said. “I want them to be used.”
Mildred Cole Peladeau of Readfield, 81, a former journalist, put her research and writing skills to work to produce a history of Maine rug making in her new book, “Rug Hooking in Maine: 1838-1940.”
She will talk about her book and the art of rug hooking at 2 p.m. Saturday, May 16, at Bangor Public Library. Books will be available for purchase and signing. The public is invited to bring a rug for show and tell.
Those interested in learning more about rug hooking classes may call SAD 22 Adult Education at 862-6422. Visit www.rughookingart.com/rugcraftssupplies.htm to access links to companies in Maine and out of state where rug hooking supplies are sold.