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JOCELYNN BROWN

Handmade: Crafting Milford woman hooked on rug making

Jocelynn Brown
The Detroit News

Mary Bajcz, who came to the Detroit News Stitch-Together in May, has an amazing talent for turning scraps of wool fabric, leftover yarn and discarded wool garments into beautifully handcrafted rag rugs — the kind that should be hung and adored as works of art. However, the unassuming artisan feels her “primitive” rugs are less than “perfect,” which may explain why she displays them on the floor throughout her Milford home.

“If my work was perfect, then the back would be as perfect as the front,” says Bajcz, explaining why her thick colorful rugs aren’t reversible. She considers her rugs to be purely functional because of the leftover and unwanted materials she uses. “A lot of my friends make rugs that are pieces of art that would never be walked on,” she says. “They use a lot of hand-dyed fabric. I make mine to be functional rugs. They’re made mostly from scraps.”

Bajcz, 65, has been rug hooking for about seven years, developing her skills at rug hooking camps and attending shows geared toward the age-old craft. “The rug hooking shows have vendors and there will be tons of yardages of wonderful wool there,” she says. “If you go to a store and buy Pendleton wool, I think it can be like $20 a yard. At the shows, the hand-dyed wool can be $40 a yard, so you’re making a really expensive thing. That’s why I’m into scraps.

“I go to the Salvation Army (and) I buy wool slacks, suit jackets and even coats,” she continues. “I hate to cut up good functional things, but if they’re out of style and nobody’s going to buy them, or if they have moth holes, then I feel more comfortable (for instance) about cutting up a suit jacket.”

But not all of her rugs are made of wool. “I’ve hooked them in cotton. You can use any kind of rag, but I try to use all wool. It holds its shape and repels dirt,” she explains. “Cotton rugs don’t have those same qualities, but if I were going to teach rug hooking to a child, I would start them on polar fleece because of that little bit of stretch. But it’s not going to stay looking nice if you put it in front of a sink.”

She adds, “You can hook anything — wire, grocery bags, etc., as long as you can get it into a little strip. There are even people who just use wool yarn to make rugs. You can mix (fabric) scraps with the yarn, so it’s a really good craft for people with a big yarn stash.”

The geometric pattern for Bajacz’s first rug was heavily influenced by a piece of hand-woven cloth from Mali. “I really like my first rug. I was inspired by mudcloth. I like the zigzags in it. I’m very inspired by mudcloth, simple geometric quilt patterns, leaves and flowers,” she says. “The rug I brought to the Stitch-Together was inspired by some fabric from the 1950s.”

Bajcz’s rugs usually measure about 3-by-5 feet, and it takes roughly 50 hours to complete one. “I work on them while I’m watching TV with my husband (Bill),” she says. Her rugs are a steal at around $275 each, and she sells them at craft shows, under the name Scrap Happy, along with other items she makes, including tote bags created using the same rug hooking technique.

Bajcz, who’s also a quilter and member of Black Sheep Weavers (a fiber guild in Hartland), teaches quilting at meetings for several quilt guilds, however, she has yet to teach rug hooking. “I feel I don’t know enough to teach,” she remarks. In spite of her rug hooking skills, Bajacz, admits, “I’m a quilter mainly, but the thing I spend the most time on is making handbags from decorator fabrics, and I like to knit and crochet. I’m also taking a bookmaking class at the Bookies Group in Flint.”

Detroit News Columnist Jocelynn Brown is a longtime Metro Detroit crafter. You can reach her at (313) 222-2150 or jbrown@detroitnews.com.

Contact: Scrap Happy at scrap-happy.biz or email mary@megatechnologies.com.