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JOCELYNN BROWN

Handmade: Dearborn dad creates rugs slowly, beautifully

Jocelynn Brown
The Detroit News

Daniel Kirk has been rug hooking for the past 21 years, and although the Dearborn father of three has less time to pursue his hobby since the birth of his first child, he still enjoys working on projects in the company of others who share his passion for creating such artwork.

“I’m a slow hooker because I don’t put that much time into it outside the group that I meet with,” says Kirk, who just completed his third rug as part of a much-enjoyed wintertime activity.

Kirk worked at Greenfield Village for 19 years under various job titles, including program manager. It was during one of the museum’s Christmas events that he discovered rug hooking.

He says, “I was looking for a hobby for the wintertime, and it looked like it was interesting to me.” So, he asked the woman doing the demonstration inside the Henry Ford birth place where she learned to rug hook. She referred him to a woman in Allen Park, who taught weekly classes in her home, and just happened to have an opening.

“I had my own gear, and our art teacher would go over the fundamentals,” recalls Kirk. “Back then, she had a lot of beginner students. We all had to start with a chair seat. That was our learning rug, and then we could choose any piece we wanted after that. The classes met once a week throughout fall and winter. “My first official rug, beyond the chair cover, was a 3-by-9 foot hallway runner.” He and his wife, Mary Kay Kubicek, enjoy having it on the floor of their bedroom.

Kirk made his second rug, designed with vines, leaves and insects, for his oldest daughter, Abigail, 18, using materials left over from the runner. His third rug, a replica of the famous “Bob-Lo” Boat and gift for his 16-year-old son, William, was inspired by his interest in Detroit’s past.

“I’ve always been a big Detroit history buff,” says Kirk, who thought the boat would be something both he and his son could appreciate. I was thinking of doing a freighter or something for his rug, but I’ve always been interested in the Bob-Lo Boat, and thought that would work great. I made the design for that one. The other two I made, I bought patterns pre-printed on burlap. Come fall, he plans to start making a rug for his 12-year-old daughter, Olivia, with koi fish in a pond as the theme.

Kirk hand-dyes the wool fabric he uses, and he now spends two hours, once a week, from October through April, rug hooking at the home of one of his former classmates, along with others. The group formed about four years ago, after their instructor stopped teaching. Participants include his sister, Paula Ladadie of Grosse Pointe Farms, who decided to try her hand at rug hooking when she found out her brother was taking a class.

Kirk advises anyone interested in learning to take classes. “I’m a decent hooker, but I never would have done well without taking classes,” he admits. “I had a really good teacher. She was good at teaching color planning. She taught us to look at the shading. You (learn to) look at things with a critical eye. It’s like learning to paint.”

But in addition to the fee for classes, Kirk, warns rug hooking can be a little expensive. “The start up is probably the biggest expense,” he says. “I probably laid out $400 for my first rug.”

Kirk’s Bob-Lo boat rug was part of a recent exhibit at the Padzieski Gallery inside the Dearborn Performing Arts Center. And, remember his first “official” rug -- the runner? Well, it won “Best of Show” in 2004 as part of a National exhibit at the Dearborn Hyatt Regency.

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

Contact Daniel Kirk at kirkdanj@gmail.com.