Beth Miller and Jennifer Cahill of Parris House Wool Works are not surprised when someone asks about their craft, “What IS that? Are you weaving? Is that really big needlepoint?” They don’t mind, though, because the heritage craft of North American rug hooking is their passion. Answering questions like these is part of their mission to spread awareness of the craft and get new generations of “hookers” making their own beautiful pieces.
Rug hooking became popular in New England and the Canadian Maritimes in the 19th century. Many believe it was invented in that region, but it certainly became a common home craft in those areas because it offered a relatively easy and inexpensive way to cover bare floors in a cold climate. Some rugs were hooked using reclaimed burlap from household sacks with wool strips cut from worn out clothing. On the other hand, there were also refined rugs being hooked with materials sourced originally and specifically for the making of a rug. Either way, this craft flourished and the resulting variety of styles, materials used, and techniques that developed remains astonishing.
Teaching the craft to new hookers, Beth and Jen encourage a spontaneously creative approach. “If you can imagine it, you can hook it.” They discourage a cookie cutter approach to the craft, eschew an overabundance of hard and fast rules, and promote a decidedly 21st century attitude toward keeping the craft alive while also revering its history and heritage.
The basic technique of rug hooking is very easy to learn, but the completion of a hooked piece is time consuming, with a great deal of color planning, often including hand dyeing of wool or other materials, careful shading, and sometimes trial and error involved on an initial design. The backing Beth and Jen use is high quality linen for heirloom durability, lasting a century or longer with good care, and the loops are pulled primarily with 100% wool strips. Because of the varying availability of any specific wool at a given time, and the handmade process, each item they make is necessarily one of a kind, to a smaller or larger degree. All finish stitching of bindings and pillow backs is done by hand. Each item is made to order, as mass production is neither possible nor desired at Parris House Wool Works. Beth and Jen take great care in making what they hope will become made-in-America family treasures that can be passed down for generations.
Beth and Jen hope that Parris House Wool Works’ exclusive line of herbal, warming, and decorative hooked pillows for Beekman 1802 will be a fun introduction to this sometimes unfamiliar American handcraft, and that they might even inspire you to get hooking yourself.