rug hooking made simple by island sweet

April 7th, 2008 by islandsweet

Rug Hooking Made Simple by Shawn of islandsweet


I have been hooking rugs for about 8 years. In my adopted home of Newfoundland (a large island in the North Atlantic that joined Canada in 1949), rug hooking has a long history. In the outport fishing communities that dotted the coastline, every activity came from necessity (including artistic expression). The hooked mats were made with used burlap bags. The designs were drawn onto the burlap (or brin as it’s known here) with charcoal from the wood stove. The burlap was attached to a frame in the kitchen. The frame would be set up all winter (down time for the women). Strips were cut from clothing that could no longer be worn. Few of the old mats remain because they were used until they fell apart. But those that survived are beautiful and hold the history of this place.

I purchased a rug hooking kit at a craft fair 8 years ago. It contained a hook, an 8″ square of burlap with a floral design stamped on it, and 1/4″ strips of jersey. I started in and haven’t looked back. Because I am self-taught, I didn’t know you needed a frame, so have never used one. This makes rug hooking for me very portable. I can do it anywhere. In front of the TV, down at the cabin, in the car. I’ve tried a frame and find that sitting in one position for long periods hurts my back. I have made a 4′ square mat on my lap with no problem. The only trick is to start in the centre and work your way out evenly so that the mat doesn’t buckle in the centre. Some rug hookers aim for perfectly even stitches all in a row – and for them the frame is essential. I like the “energy” I get in my mats when my stitches are irregular.

I use only good quality burlap (it’s about $16.00 a meter). You need burlap with an even weave, so don’t try to use garden burlap. I buy it at a local craft shop but I’m sure you can find it online.

I decide on the size of mat I want to make and add 4″ each way for the border (so if my finished mat will be 12″ square, I will cut the burlap 16″ square for a 2″ border all around). To keep the burlap from fraying, do a zigzag stitch around the edge.

Use a sharpie to draw on your pattern (sharpies don’t bleed). Keep your first one simple – maybe squares within squares.

I use recycled t-shirts instead of wool for my mats. I love the vivid colours. I love the fact that I’m recycling. I love the ease of working with cotton jersey. I “dismantle” the t-shirts – cut off all the seams. I then cut (by hand with scissors although you can use a fabric cutter) strips about 1/4″ – ½” thick. If I have a large area to cover (say in red)- I chose all my red t-shirts , cut approx. equal number of strips from each t-shirt, put the strips in a bowl and mix them up. This way you’ll have an even distribution of reds. Patterned t-shirts – stripes, florals etc. make wonderful areas of textured colour.

Now – if you are right handed – hold the hook in your right hand on top of the burlap and a strip of jersey in your left hand below the burlap. With your hook, go down through a hole and pull up the end of the strip (just leave that end). Now, go into the next hole and bring up a “loop” of jersey. You decide how big a loop you want (mine tend to be about 1/4″ high). Now repeat. I tend to go into every 2 out of 3 holes. If it’s feeling tight, skip a hole. When you come to the end of your strip, pull that end up too. (Never leave an end hanging from the bottom). Take your next strip and pull the end up through the hole you were last in (so 2 ends will be in that one hole). This keeps everything tight and secure. You don’t need to tie any knots. You will eventually cut these ends even with the loops and they won’t show.


When you have finished hooking your mat, turn it over and steam press with a damp cloth (never iron the front because it will flatten the loops). Turn under the border and hand stitch it. You can sew a strip of twill tape on the top back of your mat and run a dowel through it. I like to just nail my mats to the wall – it doesn’t damage them and I like them flush to the wall. Smaller mats can be used as coasters or trivets. Most mats aren’t put on the floor anymore but if you want it on the floor, put it in a spot where there isn’t much traffic. To keep the mat clean, sponge mop the top (it’s just jersey) but try not to get the burlap backing wet – in the old days they were washed in the streams or the ocean which contibuted to their short lifespan.

It’s cheap and it’s easy. My first mat looked as good as the one I’m working on now. Rug hooking takes a long time (which explains why they are expensive to buy), but if you have the patience of a knitter you’ll be fine.


If you want to see some samples of my work, you can check out my blog at or my etsy shop at If you have any questions, you can leave comments here and I’ll get back to you.

Start small and start simple.

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