Hooking With Heart

Odd Jobs, People
on January 7, 2007
Ed Lallo Susan Quicksall's "Rabbit Hill" rug, depicting her home in Oglesby, Texas, took her some 500 hours to make.

Susan Quicksall is doing her part to keep the primitive craft of rug hooking alive.

Carrying on a handiwork tradition that almost died out with her grandmothers, Quicksall had to learn the skill from books because she couldn’t find anyone around to show her how to turn bags of rags into beautiful, handmade floor coverings. Quicksall now teaches rug hooking to eager students in her home in Oglesby, Texas (pop. 457).

“I wanted to get more people involved to grow my own hooking group,” says Quicksall, 60, who runs a home-based needlepoint and pattern design business called Holly Hill Designs. “People like it because you can use the things you have, and because of the creativity. You can do it relatively fast, and have something you can use.”

Her students have made everything from rugs to purses to elegant name badges using the traditional craft, which involves using a metal hook to pull pieces of fabric—traditionally wool—through the weave of a linen backing, creating a pattern on the front.

Although the designs can be quite ornate, hooked rugs originally were made strictly to use as soft coverings for cold, bare floors. The craft all but disappeared when wall-to-wall carpet gained favor and as more women began working outside the home.

“It started when people didn’t have anything,” says Quicksall, noting that some of the earliest practitioners were sailors who used bent nails to pull strips of fabric through burlap to pass time at sea. The more Quicksall learned about the old craft, the more she marveled at the resourcefulness of early rug hookers.

“They had to use what they had for home décor,” she says. “They really didn’t have anything to beautify their home.” For rug-hooking materials, “they used flour sacks, potato sacks and old clothing. They also used natural things they had in the garden to dye with, things they didn’t have to go out and purchase.”

Rug hooking is different today, with refined, easy-to-follow designs and sophisticated tools. Quicksall supplies her students with a kit, which includes packets of wool strips, a hook and a pattern—drawn on Belgian linen, which resembles burlap—depicting a cottage and garden.

Her informal classes, held until 2005 at McLennan Community College in Waco, Texas, attracted schoolteachers, business owners and retirees. Now she teaches in her home, at workshops or during monthly meetings of Oglesby’s newly formed Bluebonnet Rug Hookers guild. The 20-member group meets monthly to gab, hook and plan projects.

Interest in rug hooking is surging nationwide, says Carrie Martin, 49, an enthusiast in Covington, La., who represents regional chapters of the Association of Traditional Hooking Artists in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Texas. Her Wool Rich, Cash Poor guild will host the national ATHA Biennial Sept. 12-15 in New Orleans.

“The last time we hosted it was 1995,” she says. “At that time in our region, we had 150 members. Now we have close to 400.”

Martin, 49, attributes the rebirth to a trend toward more informal décor and renewed interest in crafting. Plus, hooking projects—especially smaller ones—are portable. “It’s easy for women to take with them,” she says.

Storytelling through rugs makes Quicksall’s designs unusual. Many patterns feature flowers or an animal.

“Hers are usually pictorials,” says Lisa McMullen, assistant editor for Rug Hooking magazine in LeMoyne, Pa. One design, Rabbit Hill, shows Quicksall’s rural home of the same name as well as rabbits, deer and a dog and cat peering from the flowerbed. The 38-by-48-inch rug took her about 500 hours to complete and won second place in a reader-voted contest sponsored by Rug Hooking. “It shows the terrain, the hills and things that are important to us—nature,” says Quicksall, whose husband, Doug, is a master gardener.

Quicksall says she’s found her niche with rug hooking. “It’s where I feel the most creative, because it’s from my heart,” she says. “It tells my story.”

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