About the history of rug hooking in Maine
with Grace Collette and Jane Sittnick of the Seacoast Ruggers
Says Grace, “I started hooking in 1971. I was raising three boys and when the two older boys went off to school, the third child was home alone. I took him to the YMCA for activities and decided to take a class, ‘anything fiber-related.’ I had never seen anyone hook before, but the Y offered a beginner’s class. That class changed my world.”
Grace is now—some 62 years later—a member of five rug hooking groups in Maine, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire. Her work has been shown at the Rug Hooking Conference at Sauder Village, Ohio; at galleries and museums in several states; and is included in the Celebration Rug Hooker Hall of Fame, an international celebration for those achieving the most awards in rug hooking within the past ten years. Grace has taught workshops all over New England.
Grace is still very much interested in hooking, and owes her lifelong interest in hooking to an early teacher named Ruth Hall, who taught her not only how to hook but how to appreciate the beauty in the world around her. She has learned how to look at nature, seasons, people and everyday life, and how to spot dye, dip dye, or do whatever it takes to recreate the splendor that she sees. To Grace, hooking “makes the world a much more interesting place.”
She used to buy an inexpensive bucket of mill ends directly from the woolen mill. She would do her own dyeing and designing. And she prefers to hook her own designs. Most of Grace’s rug designs depict happy family memories.
“When hooking began over 150 years ago,” says Collette, “everyone designed their own stories. There were very few commercial patterns before the 20th Century. Walls and floors of homes were drafty and people wanted to stay warm. Rugs were utilitarian and beautiful. People would flatten burlap grain sacks after feeding the cows, grab a piece of charcoal from the fireplace to draw a design, rip up old woolen clothes and dye them with plants from the garden, and bend a nail into a hook to make a rug.”—Grace Collette
It was the industrial revolution that made rug hooking take off. Before then, weavings were created at home by hand and were often more loosely-structured. Using machinery enabled more tightly, finer woven cloth that proved more durable and longer lasting. Rug makers used this wool to create more detailed and elaborate designs.
Grace is amazed at the work her grandmother, Ethel Todd, did 100 years ago. Her dyeing and hooking still hold up today—no colors have faded. Her grandmother came from a wealthy family and all of her rugs were put on the wall, never on the floor.
“Today’s rugs,” according to Grace, are “more artsy, more creative. And, rug makers use a wide array of unusual materials.” Her own hooked piece “Elvis”—a rooster created in 2021—is comprised of sequins, beads, strips of wool, novelty fibers, novelty stitches and yarn. The rooster reminded Grace of the entertainer because “both are sparkly and singing.”
You can see a photograph of this rug in Part II of the Seacoast Ruggers’ story.
Rugs today are treated with more respect in that they are exhibited in galleries and museums. And today’s makers have access to wider pools of knowledge through the internet, exhibitions, cruises, social gatherings, rug hooking retreats, and organized tours to destinations anywhere in the world.
Rug hooker Jane Sittnick, also of Seacoast Ruggers, is a bit of a history buff when it comes to hooking and reads extensively on the subject.
“Nowadays, rug makers have more freedom to develop their own style. There has been a huge shift within the last 15 years for makers to develop their own patterns and their own style of teaching. This has been an exciting revolution.”— Jane Sittnick
Pearl McGown has been accredited for the revival of American Rug hooking in North America, beginning in the 1930’s. McGown taught rug making, dyeing, shading, and ways of teaching that were followed by others. One became “accredited” in the “Pearl McGown style” of rug making and her style was THE style followed for many years. McGown Certification still exists today and for good reason. However, most rug hooking teachers encourage more self-expression and exploration by their students. Talk to any rug hooker about a mat they’ve completed and they will tell you a story about it, as each mat is very personal to the maker!
Jane recommends reading about the following well-known rug hooking teachers and influencers then and now:
- Joan Moshimer, founder of Cushing Dyes in Kennebunkport, Maine, also developed a style of hooking and teaching that were emulated by others. She and McGown were influential not just in Maine but internationally. Moshimer wrote, taught, dyed and was a master hooked rug designer and maker.
- Deana David of New Haven, CT creates a popular podcast on YouTube about rug hooking called “Ribbon Candy Hooking.” You can find many of her podcasts discussing the growth in hooking today. Deana’s knowledge about art and painters such as Monet or Degas runs deep and she brings that to the world of rug making.
- Deanne Fitzpatrick from Canada also influences a lot of today’s rug makers.
People like Lucy Richard and her daughter Stacy of The Wooly Mason Jar have developed a system of dyeing that has revolutionized the art for rug makers.
Here are Images of two of Grace Collette’s rugs.