Story and Photos By Juanice Gray
What do you do when you get a tip that hookers have booked the entire Church Street Inn for a week to ply their trade? The first thing I did was pick my jaw up off the ground, then headed down there to check it out. I walked in and lo and behold, there really were hookers there. They were in the front lobby, in the break area and at the coffee stand. My eyes couldn’t believe the sight, and what beautiful sights there were.
Oh come on, you don’t think I’m talking about the oldest profession, although these hookers do ply a pretty old craft. Those booking rooms at the inn are rug hookers.
They create beautiful works of art from tapestries to doorstops and kitchen rugs to trivets. Gayle Soileau of Baton Rouge leads the Red Stick group of rug hookers who stayed the week for their annual meeting.
Amzi Collins of Lake Charles explained the art of rug hooking began hundreds of years ago when sailors did it while on ships to help alleviate boredom. They used primitive tools and whatever they had on board. Women later took up the art and used old clothing and knapsacks to create rugs to cover their dirt floors and windows. Soon, the craft began developing and salesmen created stencils and sold them to the women in the countryside of Nova Scotia. The craft that began for function soon became aesthetically pleasing by adding florals and landscapes to their designs. With the demand for rugs and wall coverings increasing, teachers emerged who developed courses in person and via mail correspondence.
Through generations, the daughters took up the lessons of the mothers and continued creating patterns to sell. They also developed ways to dye the wool to enhance their designs. Today, there are no limits to colors and textures.
“Rug hooking is very prevalent on the East Coast,” Collins said. “Here we are more limited. That is why we so enjoy this meeting. We can exchange ideas and designs and just talk shop at these ‘hook-ins’. It has expanded from a hobby to an art.”
The closest rug hooking supply store is the Nimble Thimble in Tyler, Texas. Collins said styles can range from primitive to steam punk, but they all utilize wool or fabric strips, just in different textures and widths. Traditional uses the smaller strips, while primitive uses wider strips resulting in a more “folk art” style. Hookers of all ages displayed their creations while working on new ones. The process includes taking a piece of printed backing and holding it in a frame or hoop, a choice entirely up to the artist. Most use an elasticized, and sometimes embellished piece of fabric that holds the backing snugly in place.
A cutter is used to strip the fabric into the desired widths. The artist chooses their color palette and the process of pressing the strips down and back up through the backing with a specialized hook begins. It can take hours, days or weeks to complete a design, depending on the skill level and time constraints of the artist. There were 28 hookers from several states at this meeting, each with their own basket of tricks, materials, patterns, tools and ideas.
They use many identical tools and developed the use of charms and embellishments to mark the tools as their own. “Necessity is the mother of invention” really comes into play in all aspects of the rug hooking craft, from it’s origin to keeping your special pair of scissors from accidentally landing in someone else’s material box. Jeanne Crotty of Tyler worked on a very large floral piece while Marilyn Hooper of Georgetown, Texas, created a cat themed double-sided door stop and Kay Moring of Dallas created a sweet soft-toned autumn bunny.
The scope of what they can create is limited only by their imagination and dedication to their craft.
These hookers create beautiful hand-crafted works of art and we are pleased they chose Natchitoches for their annual hook-in.