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Handmade: Rug hooking guild seeking fiber art fans

Jocelynn Brown
The Detroit News

Have you ever considered learning traditional rug hooking? If so, the Great Lakes Rug Hooking Guild invites you to join their group, which meets every second and fourth Wednesday at the Washington Township Parks & Recreation Center (57880 Van Dyke) in Washington.

“We’re a very friendly group of women, and we’ll have a sample piece they can practice on,” said guild Vice President Carol Marck of Sterling Heights. Members currently range in age from about 50-82. “We would like to have fresh blood coming in. We don’t want people to forget that this is part of our heritage.

“We do the traditional technique where we have a cutter for our fabric. We cut long strips in different sizes, and we use a hook similar to a crochet hook, and we use natural linen, not the burlap you buy at craft stores. We put it on a frame with gripper strips, and you put your linen on top of that. The patterns we put on the linen can range from little bitty to room size rugs. We have a lot of women who dye their own wool. It’s all a matter of pulling the loops (wool) up from the back.”

Patterns are available printed on linen, but Marck said she likes to take her children’s artwork and turn it into a pattern after having it enlarged to her desired size. Some women will enlarge a Christmas card, turn it into a pattern, and then hook it. (And) “One woman in the group makes huge rugs called pictorials.”

If that isn’t enough to pique your interest — imagine what you can make, in addition to rugs. For instance, there’s one member who will take a photograph of a person’s pet and hook it into a pillow. “Her work is amazing! Sometimes she’ll use yarn,” said Marck.

However, Marck, warns, “It’s not a cheap craft, but the end results are wonderful and you’re creating an heirloom for your kids.”

The guild formed in the early ’60s with a group of six and a minister’s wife as the instructor. They met in each other’s homes until the ’80s when membership had grown to 35, which was around the time they decided to make it a guild. Today there are about 25 members, including President JoAnn Quade of Lapeer, Secretary Freddy Kemmler of Rochester and Treasurer Barb Viscomi of Macomb.

Yearly membership dues are $20, and the group is part of the Association of Traditional Hooking Artists (ATHA). “To join, you go on the ATHA website and pay dues there. It just means we follow their rules, and we can put rugs in a show gallery they’re doing.”

In addition to guest instructors, guild activities include doing demonstrations at Wolcott Mill Metropark Farm Center in Ray. “In May, we go to Rochester Hills and do demonstrations for their Heritage Days,” said Marck. “We’re trying to get younger people to join. My daughters, who are 12 and 13, are called ‘junior hookers.’ They draw their patterns by hand. It’s a dying art, and we’d like to involve more people. Once we show them how to do it, it’s very easy.”

Marck added, “Whenever a member passes on or decides not to hook anymore, that person’s supplies are usually given to the guild, so new members will have the opportunity to buy the cutters, frames and wool they need. Sometimes the money goes to the guild, and sometimes to the family, or to an animal shelter in their name.” (What a wonderful way to keep the art of rug hooking alive!)

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 the Great Lakes Rug Hooking Guild at (586) 215-6970, or on Facebook.