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The art of rug weaving

In the 51 years Joanne Flom has taught community education classes, she’s continued to use a 25-letter alphabet.

The Perham woman omits the letter ‘t.’

“When they ask why I left it out, I tell them we will start with the word, ‘can’t,’” said Flom who teaches home craft courses including her current courses on rag rugs. “Can’t without the ‘t’ is can. Then we move to the word ‘won’t.’ Apply it to what we are doing, and you find that you can and will be able to make the rug. It’s all about attitude.”

In her classes, no one makes mistakes.

“You can always fix it and use it,” she said. “If you make a mistake, it’s not really a mistake – it’s an individual trademark. And who is going to be on the floor to see if something is wrong. If you have a major screw up, which sometimes happens, you figure out what you can do. You might end up making a boat out of it or a basket.”

Flom taught her first community ed class in 1963 in Coon Rapids. She describes herself being “not the most confident.” But she drew on her people skills and craft abilities.

She learned to make rugs at an early age. Flom has memories of sitting in the high chair while her grandmother taught her how to weave the rags into rug form. She learned to knit and crochet. Although she disliked the lessons, Flom enjoyed and excelled at the homespun craft creations.

While her most popular classes have focused on rugs – twine and Amish braid – she’s also taught numerous knitting, crocheting, clothes pin and spool crafts, plus hooked rugs. One of her classes focused on “how to sell your products.”

She brings many of her life experiences to the classroom setting.

Flom grew up near Ottertail. Her family was poor and faced losing their farm after her father had surgery and couldn’t work, she said.

“I was only 5 or so, but I can still see my father standing in front of the bank in Henning, and the banker telling him, ‘No, you are not going to lose the farm.’”

The banker, the veterinarian, the local doctor and someone from the grain elevator helped them put in the crop that year. “My dad never forgot that,” she said. “That teaches you something.”

After her high school graduation, Flom married Harvey Gieser. The two lived in the Twin Cities where she started teaching through the community ed program. When Harvey’s employer transferred him to Tennessee in 1985, the family made the move to the southeast. There were no community ed programs, but Flom continued to make crafts.

Seven years later, Harvey retired, and the couple moved to southwest Minnesota to the area where he grew up, she said. Flom resumed her teaching.

While Flom may teach the students how to make the crafts, she, in turn, learns from them, she said.

Flom has not just helped some students with their projects, she’s given them encouragement they’ve needed for life. She recalls one student who sat by her at a class and announced that she’d been discharged from a psych unit. The group was unsure how to react, Flom said. At the next class, she had the woman sit further in the group. When she asked Flom why she’d been moved, Flom said she’d seen the woman interact with others and was accepted by the group.

She remembers another class where an older lady and younger woman entered the room together. Throughout the class, the older woman encouraged the other under Flom’s tutelage. The next night, the younger one came in alone with her Amish braid rug and said, “I did it!”

Two months later, the older woman called Flom telling her the younger woman, her daughter, had been going through a hard time. Her husband had lost his arm at the elbow. It was difficult as they learned to adjust while caring for their family. But working on the project brought her out of her depression.

Flom experienced her joy two years later when the daughter returned to Flom’s class giving her a hug.

After her husband’s death, Flom returned to Henning in 2006 and began teaching through area community ed programs. She married again, this time to high school friend Lawrence Flom. Lawrence’s uncle was one of the men who’d helped plant the crop for Flom’s father.

Although the two later divorced, they remain friends, she said. She takes out several rugs and shows at least two that Lawrence wove.

The rugs are the few she has in her house. Flom laughs at the irony.

“You have heard that the shoemaker’s kids have no shoes? Well, the rug maker’s kids have no rugs,” she says with a smile.

When an area woman, Margaret Dahl, saw Flom’s name listed for the rug class, she gave the Perham woman a call. Dahl asked if Flom could make a rug. She quoted a price and Dahl commissioned the rugs. Dahl spread the word of Flom’s work, and as a result, Flom received 45 calls from people wanting to take her class.

She’s a busy lady teaching classes, making rugs for others and building her craft and rug inventory for three craft shows she attends each year.

Flom has built quite a following that started with classes in Elk River and Osseo to New Ulm and Wahpeton, N.D. The students come to learn a craft and depart with their finished product and the wisdom of Flom’s life lessons.

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