Dianne Tobias teaching how to attach braids around hooking at recent ATHA conference
Christine here. Recently, Kris McDermet and Dianne Tobias and I went to the ATHA (Assoc. of Traditional Hooking Artists) biennial conference in San Antonio, Texas. How did a confirmed rug braider end up at a hooking conference? We three taught a class on attaching braids as a border to rug hooking. It was actually Kris and Dianne’s class, but when the registrations ran over a manageable number, I got pulled in the back door to help them out.
Kris McDermet working with students at ATHA
I’ve taught this class before, so it wasn’t quite as intimidating as it could have been at a forum such as that. I trotted out my same samples of rug punching (which looks the same as rug hooking, just a little messier — when made by me anyway). The class went well, I think… when we would run into our students later that weekend, they were full of praise for all of us as teachers, which was very nice to hear. One of the statements that we heard again and again was how nice it was to have a completed project to take home, instead of just a started rug that would have a zillion more hours of work.
Kris McDermet’s hooked and braided rug on display at the exhibit
This conference has sent my mind in a bunch of different directions. I’ve been thinking about the culture of different crafts, the comfortable big-ness of braids, the slightly unsettled feeling of forcing yourself to work in a new craft, and the down-sizing of projects.
First, the culture of different crafts. I felt that there was a slightly different “feel” to the hooking conference. OK, maybe some of that feeling was due to the plush and extravagant surroundings: it was a bit different to stay at the San Antonio Westin River Walk Hotel rather than the St. Basil’s Seminary where you make up your own bed… pulling sheets over a plastic-coated single bed and running down the hall to the bathroom. The St. Francis Retreat Center is a bit “prettier” but still is nonetheless a former Catholic girls’ school. So some of the different feeling was just that braiders tend to keep things lower cost and have a more frugal approach to conferences. We also don’t have large enough numbers to be able to draw 500 people from across the country the way that the hookers did.
Dianne Tobias poses next to her “tile” rug (lower one displayed) with a braided frame
Some of what I like about braiding, though, is that it still is a smaller, more intimate, and more frugal group. Perhaps due to more than a few years as a younger woman where I barely had enough income to cover my bills, I still wince a bit when I have to spend money. I like recycling wool from thrift stores. I like putting recycled wool into each project that I make. Recycling wool saves money, of course, but it also connects me to the roots of the craft, as when my grandmother made “rag rugs” braided from my father’s and uncles’ clothing. It makes me happy to re-use wool in my fat braids.
On the surface, the similarities between rug hookers and braiders are certainly clear – both fond of wool, both making rugs, both obsessive crafters. But… the pictorial aspect of hooking makes it a bit different. While Delsie Hoyt is a unique example of a “pictorial” braider, most of us braiders have a more diffuse and fuzzy design in mind for our braided rugs. Do I think a braided rug can be “art”? Absolutely. But it’s a different, more impressionistic art than the clear pictures drawn by rug hookers.
Not quite finished — my rug punched and braided rug on display (it’s getting more rows of braid added on)
Most of us braiders still USE our rugs on the floor, too… which seems pretty unusual for most of the hookers I spoke to at the conference.
Did I enjoy myself? Mostly… of course it was fun to see Dianne and Kris, and I do enjoy teaching. It was just a little unsettling to be in a culture different from the one where I have become comfortable. But that’s a good thing: challenging myself to try to incorporate new techniques into my braiding was one of my New Year’s resolutions for this year. If nothing else, new experiences clarify what you like and what you don’t. I don’t think my future holds any recognition or acclaim for my hooked rugs. But, there might be some collaborative work with rug hookers, in which braids are incorporated and equal in the rug design. (As long as I don’t have to do any hooking!)