To clarify, Carol is a primitive rug hooker, an art that once was considered a craft of poverty during the 1800s.
As a teacher of this primitive art, Carol explained, “Rug hooking authorities agree that rug hooking was utilitarian, a functional art that not only made use of leftover scraps of material and old clothing, but also added warmth to cold, drafty floors and beauty to the home. There is disagreement as to the origin of the craft.” Some believe it started in Egypt while others believe it originated in the 18th or 19th century in Europe.
When Carol started to do rug hooking, she used old woolen clothes, blankets and other items that she found in thrift shops, but today, she buys wool in many patterns by the yard from wholesalers, and uses a special cutter to cut the material into strips of various widths that average about 16 inches in length. In her home studio near Hackensack, shelves are filled with neatly folded, color-coordinated stacks of wool.
“The more wool I have, the more I want,” she admitted, adding that she washes all the wool she buys. “If using old wool, the colors may run.”
A kitchen stove sits in a corner of her studio, which was once a porch, and will soon be remodeled to include a dye kitchen, thus, the need for a stove. She dyes some of the wool she buys but emphasized that one needs to know the color-dyeing process, of which there are many recipes.
“Different colors of wool take color differently,” she noted. “Gray wool and tan wool will take the same color of dye differently.”
Besides creating rugs, chair pads, mats, wall hangings, hot pads, and Christmas tree ornaments, Carol also designs patterns which she sells on the website Etsy, including her wool material of many colors.
Shes participates in the Arts Off 84 Art Crawl, held every Labor Day weekend along State Highway 84 between Pine River and Longville, but admits that she doesn’t sell many of her creations due to the high prices that are determined by the cost of supplies and the many hours put into each piece she designs and makes.
While demonstrating her craft at the Art Crawl, she visits with women and encourages them to take classes to learn how to be a hooker. Every June for the past six years, Carol has taught rug hooking at the North House Folk School in Grand Marais on the shores of Lake Superior. She has also been a student, teacher and director of the Northern Lights Rug Camp held every July in Crosslake.
Carol draws a design on the backing, which is either monk’s cloth or linen. The backing is placed and secured on a stand similar to a quilting stand for larger pieces or a small stand or hoop that can sit on a table or rest on the hooker’s lap. Burlap was used as backing years ago, but Carol does not use it as it can crack with age.
Using a hook similar to a crochet hook with her right hand, Carol uses her left hand to wrap the wool strip around the end of the hook as it’s inserted through the top of the mesh backing. She pulls the wool strip through a hole in the backing and continues by inserting the strip back through the second or third hole, continuing until the entire strip is used. In comparison, in latch hooking, a hinged hook is used to form a knotted pile from short pieces of yarn.
Sharing what she tells her students, Carol says, “As we evolve into hookers, we feel the need to tell our own stories with our rugs, such as family history, pets, or homes we’ve lived in and our favorite places. You can do this with your own designs, or with designs of others that ‘speak to you’ when you see them.”
Many of Carol’s hooked pieces displayed throughout her home tell her story, and she prefers not to sell them as they mean so much to her.
She has done commission pieces, including a 54-inch round rug with the design of a person’s property that sold for $2,700.
Carol noted that many quilters are interested in hooking as primitive quilt patterns can be created by hooking.
She taught her sister, Mary Johnson, the art of rug hooking. Mary lives in California and gave up quilting to learn the primitive art. Today, when quilters tell Carol or Mary that they are quilters, the sisters reply, “Come and take some lessons and we can fix that.”
Both sisters sell hooking supplies on the Internet. Carol sells through the Etsy website at www.etsy.com/shop/PrimitivesByCarolRae, and Mary sells through her website, www.designsinwool.com and Etsy.
Carol has many years of teaching experience, not only teaching how to hook. This is her 26th year teaching fifth-grade reading and language arts in Pequot Lakes.
She was raised in Thief River Falls where she graduated from high school in 1964. She received her elementary education degree from Bemidji State University, where she met her husband, Bart, who is a retired building contractor. She taught for a couple of years but then quit to be a full-time mother for 18 years to raise the couple’s four children – Christopher, Erik, Amy and Melissa. The family lived near Pequot Lakes for over 20 years before moving to their present home near Hackensack five years ago.
Before returning to teaching, Carol earned her master’s degree in curriculum and instruction in order to prepare herself better for the classroom after her child-raising hiatus. She and Bart have been married for 46 years and have 10 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
She is only now “thinking” about retirement. After her studio is remodeled, she hopes to offer hooking classes in her home.
The couple lives in a home with rustic or primitive décor. Adding to that theme are the primitive folk dolls that Carol has been creating for three years.
She learned the art from Inez Mostue, a talented woman in her 90s who graduated from Concordia College with an art degree, and lives in Thief River Falls. She does not sell her dolls but donates them to her church for fundraisers.
“I was always captivated by the dolls they were creating!”
The folk dolls are referred to as a “nisse” in Norwegian, a small Scandinavian folklore character resembling an elf or troll, and is known as a “household spirit” in helping to protect the farmer’s homestead. They have also been known to play tricks on family members. They usually have a white beard and red pointed cap, but Carol makes different outfits, too.
The bodies are formed with wire, and Carol creates the head, hands and feet by sculpting with polymer clay, which is baked in an oven. Every doll is different, with many having an impish grin that creates many a smile from shoppers. The clothes for the dolls, which are about a foot tall, are hand sewn by Carol, who added, “There is no machine sewing.” She refers to her dolls as “Lille Folk,” with “Lille” meaning little.
Carols enjoys her primitive arts and finds that rug hooking is more a social pastime as it’s usually done with other hookers, while making the dolls is a more solitairy activity.
Carol claims that her cat, Sherlock, played with one of her hooked rugs and removed all the wool strips from the backing. Perhaps it was one of her nisses?