Last winter, rug braider Verna Cox, 83, of Verona invited a few women of her acquaintance who hook rugs to break some rug hooking and rug braiding rules.
Cox asked Stacey Van Dyne and six others, three of whom were rug-hooking beginners, to create a small piece hooked with strips of cotton denim fabric. The finished pieces then would be sent to Cox who would fashion braids of denim to sew around the pieces, serving to “frame” each one.
Cox also shared her idea with Rug Hooking Magazine and, as a result, the national publication which appears four times each year will feature an article and photos of the pieces in its June-July-August issue.
“Verna suggested the article to us, and as we are always interested in what rug hookers are doing, we were pleased to hear about this project,” said Debra Smith, editor of Rug Hooking Magazine. “Most rug hookers don’t use denim so it will be a new concept for many. Upcycling and recycling is more important than ever and her article has the upcycling spin to it — use your old jeans instead of buying expensive new wool. The pieces in the project are varied and wonderful.”
But even as Cox proposed the idea, she was second guessing herself. “I’m a ‘real’ rug braider,” she said, “and rugs, including hooked rugs, have to be made of wool, that’s part of the heritage and tradition. It’s what you ‘should’ use.”
Rug hooker and teacher Stacey Van Dyne, of Orrington, owner of Hooked Forever, is one of the women who rose to Cox’s challenge of hooking with denim. “While wool is the traditional material for rugs, I was intrigued by the idea of using denim. As Verna said, everyone has blue jeans and the original makers of rugs would have used whatever they had on hand, so why not use denim which is readily available to everyone today?” she said in an email interview.
One of the first things Cox realized when working with denim is that the fabric doesn’t have the flexibility of wool. Instead of having a braid with a softly curved edge, the edges of the denim braid are flat and more rigid. This made it necessary for her to come up with a new way to shape the braid around each of the pieces. Instead of using the traditional lacing thread and a flat needle, she tore narrow strips of cotton fabric to use for lacing and did the sewing with the kind of needle knitters use for sewing sweaters together.
Van Dyne said its always an experience to hook with alternative materials, and fascinating to see what will happen. “I found it more difficult to work with denim than wool. It is not as pliable so it does not pull through the backing as easily. It is also harder to cut than wool and some types of denim tend to shred and be messy.”
Even so, Van Dyne created two denim hooked projects, a 13-inch round piece dubbed “Flutterbys” and “Maine Trio” consisting of three 5-inch squares, each one framed by braiding and sewn together to create a single piece.
Although Van Dyne does not see herself doing more projects in denim, she did enjoy the experience and keeps an open mind about using alternative materials. “I am very much a traditionalist when it comes to rug hooking so I am making a conscious effort to stretch myself and be open to other points of view.”
Also participating in the project were Sue Powers of Verona who hooked “Anchor of My Heart; Jacque Hart of Stockton Springs, “Antique Dresden;” Gloria Pierce and Gillian Witherspoon of W. Cushing Co., Kennebunkport, “Bubbles;” Carol Harvey Clark of Spruce Top Rug Studio, Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia, “Homeland Swirl;” Michelle Wingate, Bucksport, “Lala Lindsey;” and Lois Lunt, Stuart, Va., “Windmill.”
Cox said that Jane Chapman of the Eastern States Exposition will travel to Verona this summer to learn from Cox the craft of braiding rugs with denim. Chapman will demonstrate the craft in the State of Maine Building at the Exposition, which will take place Sept. 13-29 in Springfield, Mass.
Van Dyne said she became involved in the project because Cox is so enthusiastic about whatever idea she is working on that it is impossible not get involved. “I am always amazed at the ideas people come up with and am flattered to be asked to be part of the project. You never know what you will learn or what will come out of participation in someone’s dream.”
Cox has more than 50 years experience as a rug braider and has written two books on the subject, “Rug Hooking and Braiding Made Easy,” also available on DVD, and “Rug Braiding with Verna.” For information about the books or the hooking with denim project, call Cox at 469-6402. Stacey Van Dyne can be reached at email@example.com.
The second annual Bog Knit In Public will take place 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, June 8, at the Orono Bog Boardwalk. Knitters, crocheters and stitchers are invited to participate. Stay all day or just awhile. The boardwalk is wheelchair accessible and restrooms are available.
Those who wish to participate in the Bog Blanket Project are invited to use their time at the BogKIP to knit or crochet a 6-inch square using natural fibers, with colors and textures inspired by the bog. Volunteers will sew the squares together to create one or more afghans that will be raffled in October as a fundraiser in support of bog maintenance and operation. Last year’s bog blanket raffle raised nearly $300. Those who would like to participate in the Bog Blanket project but are unable to attend the BogKIP may send completed squares to: Orono Bog Boardwalk, P.O. Box 12, Orono 04473. The deadline for submitting squares is Thursday, Aug. 1. For information about the BogKIP or the Bog Blanket Project, email firstname.lastname@example.org.