Loopgram: How to hook with palm spun roving

I have been promising for months to post on how to hook with palm spun roving. I learned how to do this from a spinner at a yarn shop who sold me roving and gave me an old pair of carding paddles to help with the process.

I was intent on hooking roving to create a ram as the central figure of my rug Got Wool? I had no idea what I was doing when I started, but I discovered that I love hooking with roving and will probably do another piece one day since the ram turned out so well. The texture is beyond belief.

The first thing you do is take a bit of roving and spread it out in your left palm. Then put your right hand over top and briskly move your hands back and forth so that the roving begins to felt into a slender piece of yarn. Add a little more roving to the end and briskly felt another piece onto the end of the first. In this way you can extend the roving into a piece of yarn as long as you wish to hook with. It helps to begin wrapping it into a ball.

Want to mix colors so you can shade and blend rovings? Easy to do. Just take one of the carding paddles and run one of the colors of roving in between the teeth. On top of this layer another color of roving. Then put the other paddle on top and without locking the teeth pull the top paddle to the right. Continue until you have blended the rovings together. Do this until the roving is blended as much as you want it. Then use this blended roving to create your palm spun yarn as shown above.

Got Wool? is bound on foam board

Here I am last night putting the finishing touches on Got Wool? It took three evenings to bind, and last night I took three pieces of foam board, taped them together and mounted the rug on them by sewing through the rug and the foam board. I carefully sewed the rug onto the board around the perimeter of the rug by threading in and out following the troughs between the loops. This way, the threads aren't exposed and don't crinkle the loops. This is a great way to create a stiff and light-weight foundation for rugs that you might want to hang. The process only requires inexpensive foam board, needle and thread, and a few chairs to prop things up.

PS: no need to buy an expensive foam board cut to size by a framing department; I just used the cheap 20 by 30 inch foam boards that Michael's sells for a few dollars apiece, cut them to size with scissors and taped them together with clear packing tape.

Got Wool? finished

I finished hooking the last two inches of Got Wool? tonight. Phew! It turned out 55" by 29" when all is said and done. I have to bind it yet...spent two hours and I am not even half way around the perimeter yet (the first time!). So it will be a couple more nights of binding before I block it and share the finished photos here. I have to be careful when I block it because so much of it was hooked with alternative fabrics that do not fare well with irons. So I will only block the wool areas, and then not the fleece. I also want to post "how to" for hooking with fleece and creating hand felted yarn. Soon...

'Seeding' leaves

I'm back finishing my rug "Got Wool?" It is made of all alternative fabrics except a section of the outside border where I meld into wool alone. One of the problems I face is trying to achieve a look of continuity since the alternative fabrics like commercial polar fleece and velvets I choose have really created leaves full of color and depth that not even a spot dyed wool can handle. The commercial fabrics are all about vibrant color and lots of distinct patterns that hook up with a very colorful pixelated look like this:

The solution? I developed a 'seeding' technique. First I hooked my leaves as I would normally do, with a number of values and dapple dyed wools, so that the leaves look like this:

Then I went in and over-hooked little seeds of bright and dark colors, squeezing them in between the rows and loops at random (like seeding the troughs in a plowed field). You have to be careful to move the loops aside before plunging into the rows, because it is easy to puncture the wool already hooked. Also, since you are overhooking, you are creating a back that will be layered in the places you have over-hooked, a real 'no-no' according to the rug hooking experts. But again I find myself more than willing to sacrifice standard 'good girl' technique to achieve the look I want.

Here is the result of seeding, so that the leaves fit in to the piece now:

Rug retrospective 2009: Alternative Fabrics

This year I joined Phyllis Lindblade's Rug Hooking Merit Program and have started on the wonderful adventure of hooking rugs to fulfill requirements in different categories. I have been mainly working on two of the categories: alternative fabrics, and color/dyeing. The alternative fabrics rug, Got Wool?, has stalled after finishing all the alternative materials. It awaits the final wool border, but since the border consists of black background and autumn leaves, I can't get excited about finishing it until next autumn when I feel the joy of autumn around me. But wow did I learn a lot, including that wool is the superior rug hooking fiber. I understand why it won the battle of fabrics. Although other fabrics can lend interest and shine and texture to rugs, most are messy and difficult to work with. Patience and a broom are required.

I did enjoy working with roving and fleece. I loved the process of palm-spinning yarn to hook with, although it was labor intensive and took time. The lanolin on my hands was warming. I promise to post soon about the entire process should you ever care to try it yourself. The hooked results are fabulous, especially if you decide to blend roving colors to allow for some shading effects.

Top left block: hooked with polar fleece
Bottom left block: hooked with crushed velvet
Top right block: hooked with non-wool yarns
Bottom right block: hooked with stretch velvet
Top border: hooked with combination of all of the above
Middle block: hooked with roving and fleece

Loopgram: Hooking with Leicester fleece

I have been trying to finish up the fleece and roving central block of Got Wool? It took a while, mainly because preparing the roving to hook is time intensive. I have some photos I took to show how to do it, but I don't have the time today to upload the lesson. SO my evaluation of fleece and roving will take two parts. The first is an evaluation of Leicester wool fleece. It was a special bag of fleece I bought. The hair is very course and shiny and long, so it felt completely different from the average roving I also purchased but which I will discuss in another post. I am posting a picture to the left of what the fleece looks like. I had purchased it to prod the beard of the ram, but when I did this, the prodding looked funny because his face was flat and the beard was sticking out high above the face. I tried shortening it, but this didn't work either. So I cut off the prodded ends and just hooked big high loops to get different texture and show off the gorgeous fleece. I think it worked. Here is a picture of the ram finished and a close up of the fleece section - the ram's beard.

Cutting ease: on a scale from 1 to 5 with one being "Cuts like butter; easy as wool" and five being "So terrible don't bother," Leicester fleece gets a "4". There is no cutting necessary or any other preparation, BUT you do have to separate out the amount of fleece you want and I found it impossible to do so with consistency. In other words, some of the pieces I separated were thicker than others. Thankfully I wanted this sort of variation in the ram's beard. But if I had wanted consistency, it would have been next to impossible to achieve. It was also a hairy process. I mean hairs everywhere I didn't want them, including in my mouth, on my chair, and covering my p.j.s. And every time I had to pull out another piece to hook, I had more hairs shedding. I could have felted by p.j. bottoms by the end of the evening!

Hooking ease: on a scale from 1 to 5 with one being "Hooks like a dream; easy as wool" and five being "Why am I trying this?", Leicester fleece get a "3". It really really slippery, so it pulls great through the linen, and right out again if you aren't careful when you pull the next loop. So I found that I had to pull high loops and then be content with them pulling out a bit when I hooked the next loop. This caused for uneven hooking, but again this is what I wanted in the beard so I was happy with the result. The other trouble was that the fleece wasn't bundled in any way. With roving, there is a process to palm felt it into "yarn" which I will demonstrate in another post. But the fleece was too slippery to felt this way. So I couldn't make palm yarn. This meant that the hook would not necessarily pull all of the hairs up to the top of the linen, no matter how careful I was. Sometimes the hairs would catch in the hook and I would end up with a lopsided loop and have to fish it back out, roll it smooth between my fingers, and then bring the loop up again.

Overall look: on a scale from 1 to 5 where one is "gorgeous like hand-dyed wool" to "bad look even for a bad hair day", Leicester fleece gets "1". It is gorgeous. The sheen and texture is unbelievable. I imagine that I could dye it any color I wanted, but the pure ivory made a stunning beard so there was no need for my dye pot. I am sorry that the prodding didn't work. But the prodded beard overwhelmed the face, and in fact, the entire rug. All I saw was ivory hair sticking up! Once I cut off the prods, I fell in love with the ram. So I think all came out right in the end.

Average evaluation: 2.6 out of 5 or "Maybe more gorgeous than strips but what a lot of hair!"

More alternative hooking

Thankfully I finished the areas in Got Wool? that use non-wool fabrics. It's been a creative venture, but I can see why wool 'won' as the preferred fiber. More on that later! For now I am moving to the center block where I have drawn a ram from Tricia Travis' herd out at Country Gatherings in San Antonio.

When I was out at her place last February, I took a picture of her ram. He has enormous horns and tons of beards and long hair. So my picture of him is going to make a fantastic subject for the use of roving and fleece. Tricia's ram is black, so I will need to reverse colors since I want a dark background to go with the rest of my rug. So the ram I hook will be white to make him pop out against the dark background I have planned.

Two weeks ago, in preparation for this day, Lurie and I drove out to a fiber store and I purchased a bag of dyed roving and sheep hair. The woman kindly showed me how to card wool so I could blend my colors and create 'yarn' in my hand (without a spinning wheel). I am grateful that I took a fiber arts class in college twenty years ago because at least I was familiar with the concept of raw wool, carding and spinning so I wasn't completely overwhelmed with her lesson. Once I figure out what I'm doing with all this raw wool, I'll get back to you with my 'evaluation' of raw wool as an 'alternative' fabric for hooking.

A sneak peek at a new Red Jack

Got Wool? is a fun and adventurous rug, using alternative fabrics. In the center, there are five separate panels, four of which I have hooked. Each one features a different fabric: polar fleece; crushed velvet; non-wool yarns; and stretch velvet. The center panel will be fleece and roving...but I'm not there yet.

The top border and part of the side borders are mixed non-wool fabrics. In other words, I have taken all the materials from the central panels that are not wool, and I'm using them together in the top border. When I started this border, I was skeptical, because alone, each of the alternative fabrics did not stand up to wool strips in my opinion (neither the process of hooking the fabrics, nor the overall look of the fabrics alone in their squares). But as I am working the fabrics together, the effect is turning out tremendous. The textures and movement of light across the different surfaces is out-of-this-world. This is something that cannot be achieved with wool strips.

So here is a preview of the left-hand corner of the border where I have worked a Red Jack face with acrylic yarns, suede yarns, cotton yarns, crushed velvets, stretch velvets, and polar fleece. What do you think?

Loopgram: Hooking with cotton yarn

In my yarn panel for my alternative fabrics rug, Got Wool?, I used a yellow cotton yarn I picked up from a local yarn shop called "Knitting in the Loop." I needed a particular yellow, and the only non-wool yarn I could find to use was cotton. It is very different from acrylic yarn so I am giving it a separate evaluation.

Cutting ease: on a scale from 1 to 5 with "1" being "Cuts like butter; easy as wool" and five being "So terrible don't bother," cotton yarn gets a "0" since all you have to do is snip off the end and start hooking. Just as a note, if you buy yarn that is not balled yet, be sure to ask the retailer to take the skein and ball it for you. It makes hooking the yarn easier than trying to deal with a skein getting tangled up or trying to ball it yourself. Retailers will have a little winding machine that should ball it quickly. I'm not sure about the technical term for this since I'm not a knitter and rarely deal with yarn but the point is, you don't want to hook from a skein that is knotted and will tangle up. You need to have a ball of yarn to pull from.

Hooking ease: on a scale from 1 to 5 with one being "Hooks like a dream; easy as wool" and five being "Why am I trying this?", cotton yarn gets a "3". Cotton yarn is a bit stiff so you have to work with it a bit to get the loops to sit the right height. The cotton yarn I used was variegated in width, and this made it a little more tricky because the really thin areas of the yarn didn't want to stay tall and put. In one area of my rug (pictured to the left) I doubled the cotton yarn as a hooked. In another area of my rug where I am hooking all the alternative fabrics together (and wow is this fun! but more on that in another post on another day) I am using only one strand. The one strand is a bit harder to keep even loops, but I think this is because the width of the yarn is variegated.

Overall look: on a scale from 1 to 5 where one is "gorgeous like hand-dyed wool" to "bad look even for a bad hair day", cotton yarn gets a "3". I'm not sure how much I like the look of cotton yarn. It is stiff in appearance, and the loops are really visible. It reminds me of cotton string - which I guess it is in some respect - although it puffs out a bit more than string when it is hooked because it is not as tightly wound as cotton fibers that make up string. I liked the fact that I could get really thin lines if I wanted them, and the cotton yarns I found at the yarn shop had a good range of color choices. I imagine if I really looked, I could find plain cotton yarn and dye it myself. But I would really have to want the stiff string look to go to that much trouble, especially when I have gorgeous wools in my hooking closet.

Average evaluation: 1.2 out of 5: "Not bad hooking, but it's string"

Loopgram: Hooking with acrylic yarn

One of the eight possibilities for the alternative fabrics category of the Rug Hooking Merit Program is to hook a 100 square inch mat in yarn. So for one of my panels in my alternative fabrics rug, Got Wool?, I chose to hook acrylic yarn, since I am reserving real wool for another area of my rug. Here is my evaluation.

Cutting ease: on a scale from 1 to 5 with "1" being "Cuts like butter; easy as wool" and five being "So terrible don't bother," acrylic yarn gets a "0." Why? What could be easier! Just find the end and start hooking. If the yarn is narrow, it might require a double thread. But there is no tearing, no fabric raveling, no wool dust, nothing. It's great.

Hooking ease: on a scale from 1 to 5 with one being "Hooks like a dream; easy as wool" and five being "Why am I trying this?", acrylic yarn gets a "3". There are a couple of snags, literally. The acrylic yarn can snag so you have to be a little more careful with the hook. Really thick yarn is a dream to hook and just one strand will do. Thinner yarn is impossible to hook as a single thread. It just slips right back out. So you have to work with a double thread which is tricky until you get used to twisting the two threads on the hook and not allowing one of them to pull back out of the linen when you pull the next loop. You also have to be aware of the direction of your hooking, much more so than with wool. With thick acrylic yarn, it matters that you hook all the loops exactly the same - in the same direction and with the same twist. If you don't the hooking ends up looking messy - all over the place. I ended up pulling out the black background and rehooking in straight lines because of this.

Overall look: on a scale from 1 to 5 where one is "gorgeous like hand-dyed wool" to "bad look even for a bad hair day", acrylic yarn gets a "2". I like the look every much, but missed the ability to be able to control my colors via dyeing. It was difficult and expensive trying to find yarns in the color ranges that I wanted, even when I went to a fine yarn store. Now this would be remedied with wool yarn which I could easily control. But this is not an evaluation of wool yarns, but acrylic.

Average evaluation: 1.7 out of 5: "Pretty darn good but not quite wool"

Loopgram: Hooking with velvet

One of the eight possibilities for the alternative fabrics category of the Rug Hooking Merit Program is to hook a 100 square inch mat in a "unique" fabric. So for one of my panels in my alternative fabrics rug, Got Wool?, I chose to hook velvets, including crushed velvets and regular velvets that have no stretch to the fabrics. Here is my evaluation.

Cutting ease: on a scale from 1 to 5 with "1" being "Cuts like butter; easy as wool" and five being "So terrible don't bother," velvet gets a "4." Why? There are some velvets that tear easily and others that don't, so you have to experiment carefully with each piece. The crushed velvets I vetted were great in terms of tearing across the selvage (opposite what we do with wool) about 3/8" strips (something between an 9 and 10 cut wool strip). But torn strips meant velvet dust like nothing I have ever experienced before in terms of wool dust (which I always thought was bad until I encountered velvet dust!) and threads galore. I had so much velvet dust that I felt like I needed to wear a mask and carpenter glasses and wash my face thoroughly after hooking. The velvet dust got in my nose and eyes, it got in my pockets, it got under my feet, it covered my chair, and it was all over my hooking. This meant I had to pull out some of the white yarn I had already hooked and rehook it after I was done with the velvet panel. So if you use velvet in a piece, try to hook it before you add any other materials to the mat, just to keep your hooking clean. Some of the velvets I used wouldn't tear at all, so I had to cut strips by hand and prayed they would come out even. My Bliss machine wouldn't cut the velvet at all, it just chewed it up. Also, regarding the threads. I discovered that the backing of crushed velvets did not always match the front in terms of color. My yellow velvets, for instance, came with a bright pink backing. So when torn, teeny pink threads stick out the edges of the strip, and when hooked, the pink shows through the yellow velvet at the top of the loops.

Hooking ease: on a scale from 1 to 5 with one being "Hooks like a dream; easy as wool" and five being "Why am I trying this?", velvet gets a "2". The strips were thinner than I like to hook with, but because of the wide width of the strips, there was plenty of bulk. The velvet pulled easily into loops, although I found myself having to carefully pull each loop up fully and straighten them out in order to manage the width properly. I did try hooking a couple of smaller widths strips I cut by hand, 1/4" wide, but these didn't have enough bulk to hold their shape well.

Overall look: on a scale from 1 to 5 where one is "gorgeous like hand-dyed wool" to "bad look even for a bad hair day", velvet gets a "4". The loops look bulky and heavy to me, and put me in the mind of those awful velvet paintings sold out of the back of trucks at flea markets. The loops hooked up as individual kernels rather than as soft waves.I liked being able to choose from a wide variety of colors, but missed the ability to shade or add subtle interest through mottling. In the end, the panel feels stark and primary.

Average evaluation: 3.3 out of 5 or "Do I really need to hook with this fabric?"

Loopgram: Hooking with tee-shirts

When I was in CVS a couple of days ago, I grabbed a bunch of tee-shirts, 4 for $10. Happily I carried them home and immediately went to work hooking them into my next area on my alternative fabrics mat, Got Wool?. Here is my assessment of tees as hooking fabric.

Cutting ease: on a scale from 1 to 5 with "1" being "Cuts like butter; easy as wool" and five being "So terrible don't bother," tee-shirt material gets a "5". Tee-shirt material will tear along the selvage but not across the selvage. When it is torn, it does not always tear straight. I was not successful tearing it thinner than 3/4" to 1". Once torn, the long edges curl so that you end up with something akin to inflexible cording rather than a strip of fabric. When I tried cutting it on my Bliss, it was too thin to keep a straight line and still curled. So I tried cutting it by hand across the selvage. It didn't curl, but the edges looked very raw, especially if there was any unevenness in the cut (which with this material and hand scissors was impossible to avoid).

Hooking ease: on a scale from 1 to 5 with one being "Hooks like a dream; easy as wool" and five being "Why am I trying this?", tee-shirt material gets a "5". I tried hooking the tee-shirt cords and they were so bulky they were difficult to work with and looked terrible. When I tried to open up the curled tube and cut along the center line to create a less bulky cord, it was easier to pull loops, but still looked terrible. When I tried to pull the strips I had cut by hand across the selvage, it was so thin that it looked miserable hooked and those raw uneven edges didn't help anything.

Overall look: on a scale from 1 to 5 where one is "gorgeous like hand-dyed wool" to "bad look even for a bad hair day", tee-shirt material gets a "5". In fact, it was so bad that I pulled out what I had hooked and abandoned the idea of using tee-shirts in my alternative fabric rug.

Average evalutation: 5 out of 5 or "Go and get some wool."

The moral of this story? Be smarter than I was. If you are going to try to hook with tee-shirts, make sure to buy sizes that will fit you and your family in case you decide to abandon the project too!

Alexander's pattern

Oh how are our little ones watch and imitate everything we do!

A couple of evenings ago when I was transferring my pattern for Got Wool? to the linen backing, Alexander asked if he could have the ram head piece I had taped together after enlarging sections of the face on a copy machine. Happily he sat down on the floor with his crayon basket and an hour or so later he showed me the results.

Can you believe those mini rug hooks he drew in a pattern around the head, adding a pair of scissors and his own drawing of the words "hook" and "scissors"? I especially love the word "hook" with the mini hook between the two "o"s.

Loopgram: Hooking with polar fleece

I've been hooking yesterday and today with polar fleece, creating the first square of Got Wool?. So here is my rating of it as a rug hooking material and some tips for using it.

Cutting ease: on a scale from 1 to 5 with one being "Cuts like butter; easy as wool" and five being "So terrible don't bother," polar fleece gets a "3". First, it can't be ripped in a straight line. So scissors are a must. Second, it HAS to be cut with the selvage, not across the selvage. If you cut it across the selvage and try to pull it into a loop in the rug, it gives and forms a curly string, like paper ribbon that you curl with a knife. It has to be cut straight with the grain or it gets funky when you try to hook it. Straight is hard to maintain because you can't tear a straight edge. My Bliss cutter will cut it, but just barely. I am using a 6-cut and it holds together well.

Hooking ease: on a scale from 1 to 5 with one being "Hooks like a dream; easy as wool" and five being "Why am I trying this?", polar fleece get a "2". It is a little slippery, so it pulls nicely through the linen, very much like wool. After a couple hours of hooking, my finger tips started to feel a little strange from the nap of the polar fleece. It is easy to see the "right" side and pull it consistently. It is stretchy, however, and therefore I notice two things about it. One, you can't crop your tails as close to the top of the other loops as you do with wool. In other words, if you pull on the tail and then crop it, the cropped end will sink down further in the rug than is desirable, leaving a slight indentation. Solution is: don't pull the tail taunt when clipping; just hold it gently and clip near the surface of the other loops. Second, when the material is hooked and stretched in the process, there is a slight color change. The color seems to lighten, so my bright red has become a red-coral when hooked. This is important to keep in mind when color planning. You might want to hook the polar fleece first to see the actual color it will be before buying or dyeing the materials for the rest of the rug.

Overall look: on a scale from 1 to 5 where one is "gorgeous like hand-dyed wool" to "bad look even for a bad hair day", polar fleece gets "1". I am stunned with how beautiful the piece is looking. I show it here in the unfinished block. It is amazing that a firetruck polar fleece blanket is turning into this!

Average evaluation: 1.2 out of 5 or "Almost wool!"

What am I going to do with this?

It is a polar fleece blanket. It is not from my son's room, but a panel I just bought from the fabric store. And I couldn't be more delighted. Look at those oranges and reds and the mottled black!

What will it become? This panel is going to be used to hook part of my alternative rug for Phyllis' MERIT PROGRAM on Rug Hooking Daily. I decided to incorporate the different mat requirements into one bigger sampler rug, and the polar fleece I just bought is my inspiration for the colors of the entire piece. One of the blocks will be hooked with polar fleece, another with t-shirt material, another with non-wool yarn, and so forth. The sheep will be the only wool in the rug - I will use roving and carded fleece for him. The result is my rug hooking sampler which I'm calling (tongue in check) "GOT WOOL?"

Here is the pattern I laid out with no border yet. I'll put that on after I hook the rest of the rug and figure out what the rug needs.

Here's to Phyllis for setting up a fun and challenging program!