Announcing the newest book available for pre-order (available October 1, 2018) from Little House Rugs, T-Shirt Treasures–Creating Heirloom Hooked Rugs from the Humble T-Shirt. $24.95 (Later in this post, you’ll find step-by-step instructions for hooking with T-shirts. That and lots more information and inspiration is in the book!)
The single greatest thing about rug hooking is it’s versatility. There are so many things you can hook with, from yarn, to wool fabric, to T-shirts and other recycled clothing, so no matter your hooking style or what type of project you would like to make, there’s something in rug hooking for every hooker. We’ve seen through history, hundreds of years of the craft of rug hooking, how it has changed and evolved, responding to what is available and what is needed.
In this new book, you’ll learn everything you need to know to hook beautiful, durable, economical and machine washable hooked rugs using T-shirts. Included are instructions on how to prepare your T-shirts, which backing to use for which type of project, how to transfer your designs, how to hem your rugs, plus you’ll discover seven templates which you can use to explore hooking with T-shirts, making easy projects as large or as small as you like.
In addition, you’ll read that hooking with non-wool knit fabrics goes back about 100 years with the Grenfell mats of Newfoundland and Labrador, then you’ll fast-forward to modern-day Guatemala, where women have learned to hook amazing rugs with recycled clothing.
Sealskin Drying, Grenfell Mat hooked with silk stockings, ca. 1930’s
Rugs and footstools in the Multicolores booth, Santa Fe Int’l Folk Art Festival, 2018
You will also be inspired see what rug hookers worldwide are doing with T-shirts, like Judi Tompkins (Queensland, Australia), this month’s featured rug hooker at Little House Rugs. Click here to read about her incredible multi-dimensional, multi-media hooked pieces (see a couple of them below).
Pretty Bird and Migration, both pieces hooked and embellished by Judi Tompkins
How to hook with T-shirt strips:
Just like with any new fiber art, there is a learning curve. I find it easiest to break the process down into steps. By doing this, you only have to think about one thing at a time, and move on to the next step as soon as you are satisfied with the current one. What you’ll find will happen is that what seems at first like many distinct steps, will soon flow smoothly into a fluid motion. As you repeat the steps, your hands will almost automatically and naturally take over.
When my mom taught me to sew, (I was about fifteen years old at the time) I remember she told me, “Don’t decide if you like sewing until you have sewn your tenth garment.” What she meant by that is that on the front end, there’s lots to learn. Then comes that “ah-ha!” moment, when the whole process starts to make sense. As soon as you find that “eureka” sensation hooking with T-shirts, you’ll start to absolutely wallow in the color and creativity that T-shirts give you.
I mainly hook with yarn, of course, and what I found was that with practice, I got to the point where hooking with T-shirts became just as smooth and easy as working with yarn. I did experience an learning curve, though. It took some practice, which is why I included seven projects in the book. They will allow you to create projects as small as a pillow, or as large as a floor rug, using an inexhaustible supply of t-shirt material.
More templates from the book you can use to improve your technique.
The technique for hooking with T-shirt strips is very similar to hooking with yarn. However, if you are used to hooking with wool fabric strips, you’ll definitely want to take a look at the steps shown below. If you take it slow in the beginning, you’ll start hooking faster and faster.
Step 1: Push in your hook where you would like to begin. (I am right-handed, so my right hand is holding the hook above, my left hand is controlling the strip from below) Grab onto a strip from below with your hook and pull it up to the surface. With your left hand (underneath), pull the strip down from below until you have a 1” tail sticking up. The picture (above) shows the hook next to the tail, ready to push in for the first loop.
Step 2: This shot is from below. It shows how my left hand pushes up against the backing while I’m poking the hook in. It gives me something to push against.
Step 3: (view from below) Here you see my left hand sliding down the strip. I’m not pulling down on the strip, I’m just letting my fingers guide me down at bit. This is to give myself some slack, so I don’t pull out the previous loop or tail when I’m pulling the strip up with my hook.
Step 4: (view from below) Spreading the strip out with my fingers, I am raising a section of the strip up to meet the hook. If, while you are hooking, you find you’re pulling out the previous loop or tail, give yourself more slack.
Step 5: (view from below) Here you see I have folded the strip over the hook. I pinch it with my left hand and give gentle downward pressure to keep it on the hook, until I have pulled the hook up to the top. If you find you’re losing control of the strip when you try to pull up, remind yourself to anchor the strip to the hook with your hand underneath. Imagine hanging up a winter scarf on a hook, and pulling down on both ends with your hand. How you control the strip underneath is extremely important if you’re going to get the hang of smoothly hooking.
Step 6: (view from below) As I pull up on the strip with the hook, my left hand is feeling with my index finger for the loop that is being pulled up (this is the slack I gave myself in Step 4). I’m feeling it disappear (underneath), so the strip gets pulled tight against the back.
Step 7: Here is the view of Step 6 from above, as I pull up on the strip with my hook. My left hand (underneath) is feeling the strip pull tight against the back. While I’m feeling the slack pull tight in back, I’m also noticing (from above) the tail or the previous loop shift just a bit. Then I know to stop pulling up with the hook.
Step 8: With some T-shirt strips, it is necessary to leave the hook in the loop while you pull down from below with your left hand. Otherwise, you may find the strip drags itself down, leaving a loop in the back. When you leave the hook in the loop, don’t pull up from above, a little resistance is all it takes. Only pull down with your left hand, and let the strip glide down over your hook.
Step 9: Here you can see the loop has been pulled down to the desired height (about 1/8″). You see how it spreads out, that’s important. As it takes up space, it is anchoring itself (if your loops aren’t spreading out on top, they’re not high enough). Once that loop is surrounded by other loops, they hold themselves in place.
Step 10: When you have filled in the area you want to hook, bring up one last loop, but before you pull it down, cut it from above with scissors, leaving a 1” tail, just like when you began. Then pull the rest of the strip out.
Step 11: As soon as all the tails are surrounded by loops, they can be cut off, even with the surrounding loops.
Step 12: Take a look at the back. You should be able to see some gaps where the backing shows through (but it doesn’t show through from the front). It’s important that the loops have room to spread out on top, that’s what keeps them in place. If you don’t find some gaps in the back, you’re probably overpacking your loops, which might prevent the rug from lying flat. You have to hook for a little while to get the hang of how far apart to go.
It’s a good idea to start your outside row just inside the line. That way, all of your tails will be surrounded and secured.Check the back periodically for any loop that got dragged to the back.Just gently pull the extra up to the top, then trim the loop.
While it may seem as if there are many steps, in fact, the whole thing becomes fluid with practice. Anytime you find you’re having a problem, just slow down and do one step at time, and don’t go on to the next step until you’re satisfied. It’s like learning to knit; you feel all thumbs at first, then when you get the hang of it, it becomes automatic, rather meditative. You’ll find tons of information and inspiration in the new book, check it out!
The Arts Business Institute did an artist profile on me, which was pretty cool of them. Check it out here!
And don’t forget, someone is going to win the Antique Flower Rug (a $585 value!) on November 25, 2018. If you would like to be entered in the drawing, all you have to do is purchase at least $50 from Little House Rugs (if you purchase $100, you’ll be entered twice, $150 you’ll be entered three times, etc.). What a great time to start your holiday shopping (hint, hint).
Have fun everyone!