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How to Make Friends

Hooking Colorful Characters

By: Tamara Pavich

Imaginary Friend #1, 18" x 18", #6-, 7-, and 8-cut wool, dyed seam binding, sari silk, and wool yarn on linen. Designed and hooked by Tamara Pavich, Council Bluffs, Iowa, 2015. This first friend in my IF series is based on a stranger I encountered. She drove up out of a ditch on a riding lawn mower. To me, she looked like a truth teller. I named her Vie.

One August, I sequestered myself at our family cabin on a lake with a large rug I was determined to finish. I had hooked the most challenging part of it, and the prospect of doing the rest bored me to sobs. To avoid the rug, I kept retreating to my sketchbook. For a few days, I didn’t go near the big rug. I “followed my bliss” and wore my colored pencils down to nubs, drawing women’s faces.

I was planning to take classes with teachers known for their portrait rugs, and yet I wasn’t comfortable drawing facial features. I needed practice. Having begun by studying a watercolor portrait of a woman and imitating it, I just kept turning the page and drawing another face, each a little different from the last. I wasn’t very good at it, especially the noses, but I kept filling my notebook anyway, and I actually liked my amateurish drawings. I liked making caricatures. If a nose were too small or if the eyes were enormous, it made the drawing more interesting—to me at least. I simply focused on the fun of inventing women.

I noticed what happened with slight changes to the shape of the eye, the curve of the lips, the tilt of the nose, the distance between the eye and the brow. I straightened hair, curled and braided it, gathered it up in a bun, or chopped it off. I started imagining different moods and states of mind, trying to evoke them in the features of each face, turning the page and beginning again. New page, new face, new woman. Soon I found that I was attributing personalities to my little drawings, making them confident, candid, bold, understanding, unhappy, insecure, secretive, disappointed, bashful.

One afternoon, I was driving back from town when a red-haired woman drove up out of a ditch on her riding lawn mower. Her whole life was written on her face. From childhood, she had worked hard, I thought. She squinted at me and steered away, mowing around an abandoned, falling-down house. I watched her in my rearview mirror. “Lady,” I said, “whoever you are, I am going to put your face in my rug.” 

Back at the cabin, I didn’t even put away the milk. I sat down and drew the lawn-mower lady in my sketchbook. I tried to capture her pale eyes, tan face, and frizzy red hair. Did I have the courage to draw her on linen?  Wait. I had no linen with me at the cabin, and in that part of Minnesota there are no handy rug hooking shops. But oh how I wanted to hook that sunburned lady!

And then my eye fell on the big rug I was dreading. Now this was a no-brainer. Out came the scissors—chop, chop. Voila!  My tiresome project was cut in half. I flipped over the piece of linen and drew two 18" x 18" squares, then freehanded two of my favorite faces on the backing and sat down to hook.

The lady on the lawn mower, whom I eventually named Vie, became Imaginary Friend #1 (IF #1), and I think of her as my truth-teller friend, the kind who tells you to get real or quit your sniveling. We all need such friends. Each of these colorful characters is a different kind of friend, and I have come up with names for each of them. 

That’s how a new phase of hooking began for me. I hook lots of different kinds of rugs as well—landscapes, adaptations, portraits of family members, rugs for the floor, challenge rugs, and various other pieces. But every now and then, I cut a piece of linen to 18 inches square and draw a new Imaginary Friend. Some are pillows propped on a shelf; others are small square rugs hung above my pillows. When people visit my wool room, they usually end up standing near my friends, studying them. At an art show, a very persistent woman wanted to buy Imaginary Friend #2 (a pillow), and it actually alarmed me to imagine parting with her. I’d gone there to demonstrate, not to sell. The woman was persistent. “Come on,” she said. “What would you take for the pillow?” Call me crazy, but I couldn’t name a price for IF #2. “Why?” demanded the woman. My friends had already
started to chuckle. “Well, um,” I stammered, “you see, she’s my Imaginary Friend.” 

Lately, my reasons for hooking Imaginary Friends have changed. When I started, I wanted to practice hooking facial features and depicting various facial expressions. I did a lot of that. But these days, I think more about hooking a particular state of mind. A couple of years ago, I hooked IF #4 (Rue), who looks like she’s had a tough time. I think of her as my friend who truly needs a friend. Last year, I suddenly wanted to make a new version of her. It’s not that I needed to make her giddy or gleeful, but I just wanted to see her come through that tough time and be mostly okay, even if she was still a little sad. So I hooked Rue again, rendering her with a little bit of peace and acceptance in her face. In my hooking room they are next to each other, these two versions of Rue—the bitterly disappointed one and the one who finally got over it.

My most recent friend is Bea in a Namaskar pose. She is Imaginary Friend #9, and I think of this as my Namaste rug. I kept her features very simple—her face is literally a few lines—so that I could be mindful of the meaning of Namaste while I hooked. To quote Isabelle Marsh, “Namaste is a thank you to the world. It says that the divine in me honors the divine in you.” Besides this IF rug, I have drawn and hooked Bea two other times. I have perhaps a dozen Bea rugs drawn in my sketchbook, a serene round-faced woman with downcast or closed eyes. Maybe she’s my Buddha. I think of her as someone I could emulate, a model of inner peace. She’s helping me with that.

It’s a nice feeling to hook away on an imaginary friend with absolutely no pressure that the finished piece look like a specific person. Rather than depicting this or that human being, my little square rug only has to look like a human being. She is a blank slate who gradually appears under my hook, gaining substance and personality with every loop. It adds to my pleasure to sit hooking in my wool room with this colorful cast of characters peering down. And the more I make these friends, the more I want to make more. In Chapter 2 of my book, Designed by You: Ideas and Inspiration for Rug Hookers, I described this Imaginary Friend series as a phase I was going through. But unless something changes, I’ll be making friends for a long time to come.


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