Visiting Rugmakers

After visiting Guild members in Queensland, New South Wales and South Australia and thinking about rugs hooked by members in Victoria and Western Australia, I realized just how differently members of this Guild approach design and the creation of their rugmaking projects.

The question often asked  –

“is rug hooking an art or craft?”

is hard to answer because it depends entirely on who you’re asking and what they’re aiming to express through their rugmaking.

The simple techniques used in the past to create floor coverings, are now used artistically to create wall hangings, home decor items and wearables; to make social commentary; express inner feelings; bring groups together to work on community projects;  promote well-being or just provide an outlet for a person to relax while making something they feel is attractive and useful.

While staying with Jacqui Thomson in New South Wales I was thinking about this as I admired the art work and rugs on her walls, particularly a large 4ft (122cm) square wall-hanging on the wall of Jacqui’s study hooked by Ilka Landahl, a member of the Narrawilly Proggers.

Unfortunately this photo,  taken with my phone (permission given by Ilka & Jacqui)  kept turning sideways in this blog. No amount of editing would prevent that happening,  so I resorted to printing and scanning it back to my computer and in doing so lost the high resolution of the original image.  My apologies Ilka, the detail in your rug, traditionally hooked with recycled fabric is truly amazing.


Social Commentary features in many of Judith Stephens (South Australia) hooked wall- hangings. Her work below, traditionally hooked using 100% wool yarn (photographed by Malcolm Edward-Cole), is for an exhibition later this year or next, concerning immigrants and Australia’s double standard.


Artistic expression: Judi Tompkins (QLD) has taken the rug hooking technique of Waldobrough to another level in wall hangings of her own design that represent something unique and full of meaning for the recipient of the piece.

Judi also pushes the envelope when it comes to the shape and framing of her hooked creations, as in Costas Hummingbirds which is framed with cactus wood.

Baron ready to come home_hooked_by_Judi_Tompkins_Qld_AustraliaCostas_Hummingbirds_designed_hooked_framed_by_Judi_Tompkins_QLD_Australia






Community Projects:   Bec Andersen (QLD) has promoted several community projects using various rug hooking techniques in her fibre installations.

Below are pieces hooked by school children (11 year olds) using the Oxford Punchneedle hook. This was a special project of Bec’s which she shared with me and has given me permission to write a full report on in a future magazine article.

photo 3

Expression of feelings:   Our plans changed and I wasn’t able to visit Victoria (Aust) and meet up with Joy Marshall and Chris Noorbergen however they’d previously forwarded me photos of their rugs shown below.

Joy entered the work below in an exhibition which included works that depict loss, love and hope by those who have/are experiencing grief and depression.

Joy describes her Glimmers of Hope as

My first rug using a linen backing and is approx 4 feet long and 1.5 feet wide. It uses recycled hand dyed blanketing and is my own design. It is a graphic representation of a phrase I woke up with in my head one morning a few years ago. “Glimmers of hope pierced the gloom” I then finished it with “like stars in the night sky”. After googling this phrase with no results I can only put it down to inspiration. I have long admired Van Gogh’s work and this piece is strongly reflective of Starry Sky. After the recent loss of my youngest son, this rug brought together the hope I have in God’s love that shines in the darkness of grief, Starry Night, and a hankering to try a design with cats paws.

Glimmers of Hope sharp

Chris Noorbergen   has used her creative rug hooking talents and the experience gained from a workshop with Heather Ritchie to hook a wall-hanging from a photograph of each of her six grandchildren, as they were completed, all have been featured on the Guild’s Facebook page. Chris has also lovingly created a hooked wall- hanging depicting members of her family and family events.

Yarra Valley, VIC

Marion Nefiodovas (South Australia) – subsequently took a Hooking a Portrait from a Photo workshop from Chris. Marion hooked a remarkable likeness of husband (George). Marion displayed the finished project at her visit to the Perth Craft and Quilt Fair when she and George were in Western Australia last May.

Marion and George Feb 2015

Chris also traveled to Western Australia at the same time and she visited Elizabeth (Lies) van Beem who lives in the South West  of the state, and took this photo of the wall hanging Lies is working on. It’s Lies’s life story since arriving in Australia which  she plans to enjoy on the wall of her home and hopes will become a family heirloom.


Wearables   Robin Inkpen who also lives in the south west of Western Australia is creating more of her unique hooked bags.  These one of a kind bags are now offered for sale in a high-end gift shop.


Community well-being: I (Jo Franco from West Aust) have been instrumental in bringing together a community group and teaching them to teach others.

Sue Gilmartin from the UK stayed with me after the 2012 TIGHR Conference and when she heard me talk of an idea for a hooked installation to depict the coming together of an inter-generational, multi-cultural group who are passing on the knowledge of a simple craft and using it to create artistic pieces, she encouraged me to enter a local sculptural exhibition we’d just come across online – it was closing day for entries, so we brainstormed a title  Handing It On and I emailed my entry minutes before closing time.

After Sue returned to the UK I was pleased to be able tell her my entry had been accepted and then came the interesting part – putting it together.

For the base I utilized an old rug of unknown origin, probably made in the 1920 or 30’s from recycled clothing; connected to my new rug, made also with recycled fabrics however these were brightly coloured recycled sari-silk off-cuts and novelty yarn.

Circles made using an aboriginal basketry technique taught to me by Judith Stephens were incorporated in my rug and the same technique was used to make a group of arms and hands to represent the women from the community group. The hands were also were made of fabric representing old and new and from the same “coiling” method as the circles on which they sat. The hands held hooks from my collection of old and new rug hooking tools. The installation was the only textile exhibit and very colourful among sculptures of metal, iron and ceramic in a white gallery!

Handing it On, Walking with Totems Exhibition Blender Gallery J

This same community group in Wanneroo worked together on an entry for a  Wearable Art competition in 2014, and in 2015, a wall hanging in commemoration of the ANZACs.

Ebb & Flow hooked by the Wanneroo Rugmakers. Photographer Michael Kelly of Star Creations
Ebb & Flow hooked by the Wanneroo Rugmakers. Photographer Michael Kelly of Star Creation

2015ANZAC Commeration designed & hooked by Wanneroo Rugmakers










Norma Hatchett (West Aust) has been  teaching rug hooking with the use of a Rumplestiltskin tool, for almost 30 years, to blind and disabled members of the community.  Over the last 10 years she has successfully run programs with residents suffering from dementia living in aged cared facilities.

Below Norma is shown giving a presentation at WAFTA about facilitating these projects and the benefits received by the residents as they sit together hooking.  Norma designs the piece and transfers it onto the backing in 16inc x 11inc segments (the size of her frames) then each person hooks their individual piece of the wall hanging and when all are complete Norma sews them together. You can see this in the second image which I photographed from the back – this image also gives a good indication of the overall size of the piece.

In a nutshell; Norma said this program is successful because while residents are “together”  no interaction is needed between the rug hookers each one has their own carer to help them with their part of the project. This provides an enjoyable social activity in a non-threatening environment. There is much more involved in setting up and facilitating the project and I have visited one of Norma’s sessions to see how it all comes together – it is amazing. One of her successes was a resident who wasn’t to be part of the group because she hadn’t spoken for 2 years – Norma encouraged her inclusion and at the conclusion of the 12 week rug hooking project this same lady had begun to talk again.




While I was traveling, Kira Mead from Albany West Australia whose quillie wall-hangings created such a stir on the Guild Facebook page, sent me an image of her latest rug. She is experimenting again!  this rug was hooked with a traditional hook using chain stitch on the wide open-grid backing used for locker hooking.


The local Wanneroo group also sent me images of a new member’s work.

Margaret is new to the group and likes to work, not necessarily on miniatures, but on small pieces. Below is her first piece of “toothbrush” rugmaking finished after returning home from her first day with the group. Not quite sure how to overcome the fact that her rug was curling up, Margaret turned it into a birds nest. With some further instruction from the group the following week, she made a rug base for the nest and her bird,  that I’m guessing is a Blue Fairy Wren from the south west of WA.

Judith Stephens and I will be teaching this Toothbrush rugmaking or Naarlbinding technique at the Conference of The International Guild of Handhooking Rugmakers (TIGHR) in Victoria on Vancouver Island, BC, Canada in a couple of weeks.

Eight members of the Australian Rugmakers Guild who are also members of TIGHR will be traveling to this year’s Conference. Miriam and Jacqui have already left and have visited a rug hooking friend in Israel. They were thrilled to see Pamela’s hooked rugs, which will undoubtedly feature in Miriam’s next newsletter on her return home.  Their travels will take them through Europe, to the Outer Hebrides and across the USA before we meet again in Victoria.

A few weeks ago when I was in New South Wales we talked about how amazing it is that this simple, old-fashioned craft has taken us on journeys across Australia and around the world and bought us in contact with so many interesting, sharing and caring people.

I have just realized that Miriam will be giving a talk on this very subject at the Conference; the different techniques of rug making in Australia, and has taken  some samples to show. Hopefully she will include an article about her experience at the Conference in her newsletter at the end of the end of the year.

Now I must away and pack my bag, as I too will soon be leaving for Canada.

Judith Stephens and I have planned a short road trip in British Columbia prior to the Conference on  Vancouver Island. The scenery will be vastly different from what I recently drove through on my trip across Australia – we definitely won’t be seeing any road signs like these……..

I just had to include this image which I took on our return trip as we approached the West Australia border having driven across the Nullabor Plain. This part of the  coastline shows on the map as the Great Australian Bight.

We’ve made this trip before on Eyre Highway the southern East/West road but have never pulled off to at any of the vantage points to take photos. It wasn’t far to drive from the main road and I was glad we took the time the view was spectacular!

Well this blog started with a rug hooking image on a grand scale – ending with almost a miniature,

and here I am finishing with my own personal travel pics.

I feel fortunate indeed to be able to travel and enjoy my craft through meeting other rug hookers and seeing their creations.

Jo Franco, Editor/Membership Chair



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