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Timely Tips for Beginners

Ask the Experts

By: Patti Gaufillet
Updated May 13, 2019

Illustration #1

Question to the Expert:
I am self-taught, and I have been hooking for about three months. Why do I keep twisting wool on the back side? Also, my hooking is a bit uneven, and I sometimes pull out loops. There are no teachers in my area, and I want to break my bad habits before they are too ingrained. Help! 
 
Answer:
Don’t fret! Common beginner rug hooking errors can be corrected quite easily. Here are some answers to your questions.
 
Common Errors
1.  Wool twisting on the back side is the result of not holding your thumb and index fingernails against the backing. When space is left between your fingernails and the backing, the wool may twist or have a half turn when it is initially grasped; hence, a twist appears on the back side when the loop is pulled through the backing. Keeping fingers stationary on the back side of the backing straightens any twists in the wool as you pull it through your fingers.

This article is from the March/April/May 2013 issue. For more information on our issues, check out our issues page.

Common Errors Cont.

2. To correct your technique when the loop you just hooked pulls out, lean the shank of the hook toward the previous loop that was hooked. (See Illustration #2. Shown hooking from right to left.) This will eliminate inadvertently pulling out a loop that was just hooked. Try it, this works; and yes, it is that easy!

When using a #3 cut, all backing holes and rows are filled. With wider cuts you may have to hook, skip a hole, hook, hook, skip a holw. Use  your judgment on how many holes to skip. From a #4 cut and up, your loops should look full, not elongated. (See Illustration #3.)

If you are consciously making an effort to pull your loops up to the same height and your work still looks uneven, it may be because the loops and rows are too close and "packed" in. Allow more space between loops and rows.

Just hooking a half hour a day, every day, will make your hooking more consistent.

When hooking a #3 cut, you will see no backing (or very little) on the wrong side of the piece. With a #4 cut, 1/8" to less than 1/4" of backing will be visible between rows on the reverse side. You'll see more if you use a very wide cut, such as 1/2" hand-torn strips of wool.

3. If you finish a round piece with whipping and you notice ripples on the edge, use the following technique implemented by Betty Sosa. This method is done after the whipping is complete and only if the round piece ripples.

When thread is required in any part of the a finishing technique, use only upholstery weight thread, not regular sewing thread.

  • Thread a needle with upholstery weight thread and tie a strong knot.
  • Hand sew a running stitch between the last hooked row and the whipping along only the offending section.
  • Working on a flat surface, pull on the thread and slightly gather the backing until the area flattens.
  • Finish by anchoring the thread with a knot.
  • If more than one area is rippled, do each section separately.
4. As a general guideline, pull the loop as high as the wool is wide. Tip: When starting a new project, lay a piece of wool—picking the widest cut to be used in the project—on its side and pull the first couple of loops up to that height. You want to use the widest cut, since all loops are pulled to this height. For example: A project may have #3, 4, and 5 cuts (3/32", 4/32", and 5/32" wool widths). You would want to use the #5 cut as the guide piece of wool since the #3- and 4-cut wool will be pulled up to the height of the #5.

This is a good habit to start when beginning a project. I normally switch projects: one may use #3, 4, and 5 cut; the next project may use #7 and 8 cuts. Adjusting and maintaining the height of a new project is simplified.

I started my hooking career using a #3 cut; I therefore have a tendency to hook low. Anyone starting on wide cuts may have a tendency to hook high. This is fine; don't worry about the height. Pulling the wool as high as it is wide is only a guideline. We tend to pull up loops to the height with which we are most comfortable.

  1. Illustration #2

  2. Illustration #3

Additional Guidelines

Here are a few more guidelines that a beginner should focus on when starting a pattern or while hooking.
1. Before starting a new commercial pattern, trace over the entire pattern with a Sharpie Rub-a-Dub Laundry Marker pen—even if the pattern appears dark enough. You will understand the pattern better, and as you are tracing, you will be thinking about how you will hook the design elements. You may also notice details that you weren't aware of when initially picking out the pattern. Now is the time to consider making minor changes to the pattern to personalize it.

This is also a good time to write your name and address on the back of the pattern. This is a huge help should you ever have to identify your work or confirm that you are the artist after the piece has been hooked. Be consistent from rug to rug in the location, so you only have to pull out a specific area on each piece.

Another method of identification is to write the year completed and your initials somewhere on the front of the pattern and then incorporate this information into the pattern design. When you are hooking your initials and year, use a color that is slightly different thna its surrounding area and that is as inconspicuous as possible. In my opinion, nothing detracts more from a piece than when you see the creator's initials and year hooked in light-colored wool against a dark background, or vice versa.

All hooked pieces should have a label sewn onto the back of the rug or, if framed, glued onto the back of the frame. The label should have the name of the pattern, the name of the rug hooker, the date completed, and the name of the teacher. (The teacher can be someone that helped you with the piece or, if no one was needed, just say "Self" as teacher.)

I still go through these initial steps even after many years of hooking—especially when personalizing a commercial pattern, even if it is only a minor change.

2. To estimate how much wool is needed to hook a piece, use the following chart as a guide:

  • #3 and #4 cut: 4 times the size of the design element AND 1 1/2 times the width. It is easy to forget the 1 1/2 times the width, but that amount is very important to remember. Forgetting it is how rug hookers underestimate the amound of wool required.
  • #5 and #6 cut: 6 times the size of the design element AND 1 1/2 times the width.
  • #7 and #8 cut: 8 times the size of the design element AND 1 1/2 times the width.
  • 1/2"-wide, hand-torn strips and up: 10 times plus extra.
3. I strongly recommend "squaring up" a new pattern before hooking one loop. (See Illustration #4.) To square up the pattern, run a pencil—in the ditch—on the border line(s) of the pattern. Usually, the pattern is square. If the pattern is not square, the finishing will be a problem since the hooked piece will never look or lay square. This can be a very frustrating fix after spending the time hooking the piece. In my opinion, the finishing can make or destroy a hooked piece, regardless of how well the piece was hooked.

4. For a circular pattern, draw a circle the size of the pattern. If you do not have a compass, improvise with a thumb tack and string. If a 14" circle is needed, cut the string 7 1/2". (Change the size of the circle by changing the string length.) Tie one end of the string to a tack or push pin, and place the pin on the paper where you want the center of your circle to be. Tie the other end to your pencil. Keep the string stretched and move the pencil around the pin to draw the circle. Cut out the circle.

Place the circle on your pattern, and verify the pattern is circular in shape. Draw any corrections—if needed—directly onto the backing with a Rub-a-Dub pen.

5. To finish a circular piece, consider hooking a chain stitch, which resembles a single crochet stitch, around the edge with the cut wool used in the rug or wall hanging. A chain stitch looks great and works very easily around curves.

  1. Illustration #4

How to Hook a Chain Stitch

(See Illustration #5.)

  • Make sure all ends are on the back side of the piece. These ends will be hidden within the fold of the backing once the piece is complete.
  • Bring up a loop. Insert the hook inside the loop, and pull up another loop. (See the navy blue wool in center of Illustration #5.) If you're working with #5-cut wool or higher, skip approximately five holes; skip three holes for #3 and 4 cuts). Pull the second loop through the first loop. Repeat around the circumference of the piece.
  • Check your work as you go. The loop in the chain should look fairly puffy (See the orange wool in Illustration #5) instead of elongated (gold wool). Enlarge the size of the loop if the stitch looks elongated. Repeat until the outside edge of the circle is covered with the chain stitch.
  • Finish the end. Instead of pulling up a loop, pull up the end and pass it through the last loop. Skip one space, and pull the end through to the back. If you skip more than one space, the chain looks like a line instead of a puffy loop.
    • Adding wool: Hold a new piece of wool at the back of the piece, and pull up a loop of it inside the last loop to start the new piece. This is also how you would change colors. Continue using the new piece of color. Repeat as required to complete the circle.
    • Variation: Use a different color wool, and add one loop in the center of each link.
  • One final suggestion: If you find your back hurting after a couple hours of hooking, it may be your chair or your position. Sit in a fairly wide an dsomewhat rigid chair with your feet on the ground. If your feet do not touch the ground, rest them on a stool approximately 6" high. Placing your feet flat on the ground immediately eliminates any stress on your lower back.
If these basic instructions are followed, your work will improve. Thank you for the question. I hope you find this information beneficial!

  1. Illustration #5

About the Author

Patti Gaufillet is a certified McGown Teacher and president of Southeastern Teachers' Workshop for 2011–2012. She also gives classes at her home studio in Silver Springs, Florida.

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