Inside the hooking room: hidden treasure

It’s probably one of the least-known perks of any Annual. And yet it has a special role…

I’m talking about the ‘Hooking room,’ somewhere I have yet to visit but am adding to my must-check-out list for next May.

“We have seen how our members will find a space somewhere and create a small hooking area so they can visit,” explains Jayne Nevins, the OHCG Annual Advisor, when I ask. She confirms that a hooking room – or designated open area – is provided at most OHCG annuals, and has become a popular tradition among attendees.

“Friends and acquaintances get to catch up, as sometimes they only see each other at each Annual,” she explains in an email. “It is also a place for hookers to rest their weary bones during the weekend!”

Joan Shouldice, the lead for this aspect of the 2018 Annual in Ottawa, agrees. She notes: “It’s … good to have a place for people who can’t walk a lot” but want to share in the Annual’s buzz and creativity. She also thinks it’s an opportunity for those who favour traditional rug hooking to gather “in fellowship”, since some of the 2018 workshop sessions lean to more contemporary approaches.

Here are some great reasons to visit the hooking room:

  • Peer learning — The room is often full of experienced rug hookers who are happy to share their knowledge in a friendly, informal way. I’m told it’s a great way to ‘see what’s going on out there in the rug hooking world.’ And there’s nothing like seeing what others are working on, and hearing tips/advice firsthand, to boost your own craft knowledge.
  • Quiet refuge — It can be a peaceful place to park your bag(s), sit and sip a quiet cup of tea and take a break from the noisy bustle of workshops, vendor booths, displays and hallway chatter. You can work on a piece you’ve brought along or newly acquired, or try out something you’ve just learned about. On the other hand, the room can be lively, the laughs a bit raucous and the pleasure of gathering totally infectious!
  • Be inspired — As well as admiring the work of fellow visitors, you can gaze in wonder at the digital images of 100 amazing rugs and hooked items from past annual gatherings, courtesy of OHCG. See the craft’s traditional roots and more contemporary approaches.
  • The not-another-project solution — If you’ve been hooking for a while and have more than a few unfinished projects tucked away, the hooking room is a guilt-free zone. You can work on what you please, compare shopping finds, discuss new trends/techniques or just chat. No need to start yet another new project, and no pressure.
  • Designated meeting spot — Notify friends that you’ll meet them in the hooking room, much easier than making your way through halls, exhibit space and lobby trying to find them in the crowds…

See you in the loop,
Marla, Content creator

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One fish, two fish…

Photo by Vicki Cameron: Fishbowl creations by the Fabulous Five

“We had a blast!”

“They are addictive.”

“We laughed and played like kids in a sandbox, each doing their own thing but marvelling in others’ creations.”

That’s apparently what happened when the ‘Fabulous Five’ spent much of a cold November day creating vibrant fishbowl prototypes for the 2018 Annual.

I sure wish I had been there! I try not to waste much time or energy envying anyone – or their possessions, accomplishments, creations – but this one definitely had me feeling jealous. It sounded like such big fun! And the camaraderie and inspired sharing that the participants described perfectly captures what I think rug hooking is all about.

Laura Boszormeny was delighted with the outcome of her end-of-course challenge to students taking the ‘Textured Techniques in Rug Hooking’ course, part of the Fibre Arts certificate program at St. Lawrence College (Brockville campus). “The results far exceeded our expectations … The fact [that] the students were using what they had learned in class [about 3D creative stitches and alternate fibres] and moving beyond that was special for me, personally.”

The longtime rug hooking teacher says the students who agreed to add an extra day to their course to participate were happy to help with pre-Annual preparations. They pooled their materials, vision, excitement and “treasures” to produce samples that various ambassadors will now use in travels around Area 1 to encourage more contributions, and to stir up interest in the event.

Contributor Vicki Cameron summed it up nicely: “That one word, fishbowl, opened up a whole flood of ideas … [and] when an idea this brief conjures up so many creative responses, you know it’s a great idea, and a project bound for success.”

Let’s hope she’s right; some 50-55 fishbowls are needed by next May!

The marine-themed creations offer a refreshingly lighthearted take on centrepieces. You’ll see some remarkable wonders relating to the theme ‘Hooked on Waterways’. Think crazy fish, sunken ships, turtles, lighthouses, sparkly things, mermaids, shells, starfish, frogs on lily pads. They’re sure to make a splash.

And then there’s the dinner

Some 400 Annual attendees and guests are expected for the Saturday night gala. That’s when winners of the Theme and Rowan awards are announced and rug hookers gather to catch their breath, take stock of all they’ve learned and enjoy the company of friends old and new.

No problem, right? Even our indomitable planning lead, Lesley Larsen, admits that the details, logistics and expectations have kept her hopping. Ottawa is an expensive place to host a big do, she notes, and it’s tricky to figure out timing, menu and entertainment that will suit such a large, diverse crowd while sticking to a tight budget.

“It’s like when you entertain at home,” she explains. “You want it to be fun and entertaining … [but] you know you can’t please everybody, and that’s hard.”

There’ll be live music, and Lesley has alerted those who are so inclined that they should bring their dancing shoes. The Back Beat is an Ottawa-based band with considerable experience playing pubs, community events, private parties, bonspiels and more. You’ll no doubt hear a favourite tune — whether you favour music from the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s or something more current.

Let’s party, everyone!

I can’t close without expressing my deep thanks to the Fabulous Five for so openly – and quickly – telling me about me their impressions and experiences relating to Project Fishbowl: Laura Boszormeny, Vicki Cameron, Lesley Larsen, Sue Perry, Maureen Robertson.

See you in the loop,
Marla, Content creator

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The program: how we got to all these great choices!

Photo by Carol Pugsley: 2017 Annual workshop, Cobourg, ON

Photo by Carol Pugsley: 2017 Annual workshop, Cobourg, ON

When you ask Elaine and Margaret, co-coordinators of the 2018 Annual workshops and education program, which sessions they’d like to take their reaction is swift. They exchange a glance, eyebrows raised — then break into broad grins.

“I’d like to take all of them,” says Margaret Mitchell of Ottawa Olde Forge Rug Hooking Branch. Co-lead Elaine Armstrong agrees. Both are “totally excited” about the range of sessions planned for the May event.

They’re pleased with the expanded timetable (full program coming soon on the ‘Event details’ page), covering both long and shorter workshops, the introduction of other presentations and the addition of instructors from outside OHCG to broaden the mix of topics and styles available. They hope an estimated 350 participants will be happy too.

“This is an event for the members,” Margaret emphasizes. “We’ve tried to organize workshops that would be of interest … and generate enthusiasm, and give the opportunity to try new things.” A key criterion was finding proposals that responded to survey and other feedback they received about what members wanted to learn. Another was finding workshops where the project could be completed – or nearly finished – within class time.

18 sessions, including:

  • private viewing of Canadian Museum of History’s hooked rugs collection
  • ‘cutter’ workshop to learn the ins and outs of cutter care, maintenance
  • presentation on Cheticamp rug-making from Canadian Museum of History curator
  • watery, fishy & nautical elements in some workshops to complement ‘Hooked on Waterways’ theme

Steep challenges, deep satisfaction

Challenges abound, including: having more selection and the right blend of instructors and presenters; arranging suitable session space and volunteer helpers; ensuring all registrants have equal access to registration; offering a program that breaks even.

Since hands-on workshops are generally limited to 12-15 participants, it can be tricky to accommodate high interest among registrants. Prioritized choices have been added to the registration process, to provide better access to popular selections.

It has been interesting, satisfying work, Elaine states. “We wanted to contribute in a meaningful way.”

While neither has attended many annuals, Margaret and Elaine have taken many classes and participated in similar events. They say the best workshops are those that involve stretching their skills, seeing things in new ways and savouring the shared creative experience. It’s about trying something you’re seriously interested in, and having the satisfaction of finishing it during the class — or soon after.

Top-notch instructors

The instructors who have stepped up are dedicated souls who love to help fellow rug hookers expand their prowess and enjoyment, the coordinators note. The planning group initially received a handful of excellent proposals from OHCG teachers, and then equally appealing submissions from outside Ontario. The latter instructors are making a big commitment, since they must spend valuable personal time and their own funds to travel to Ottawa — and can’t sell beyond their workshop kits/supplies unless they’re also registered as vendors at the event.

Register early

The registration process opens with the publication of the OHCG Winter Newsletter in mid- to late December, and online at the OHCG website. I know I’ll be early off the mark to make those hard choices and get my registration in! How about you?

See you in the loop,
Marla, Content creator

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Our fibre fixation

Iverson: Photo courtesy of Wilhaven Ridge Alpacas, Cumberland, ON

It’s amazing what you can tuck into a developing rug hooking piece to bring it to life and personalize it: a shiny porcelain button, shards from a broken bracelet, a rusty nail or a bit of sari silk, maybe some alpaca fleece.

It’s all part of the joy of creation, a fringe benefit to being involved in fibre and multimedia arts — and a way of stretching your vision and your work.

“I like to have a variety of things to work from when I’m hooking … To me, the multimedia thing adds to the fun of the piece,” says Barbara Lukas, Ottawa Olde Forge Rug Hooking Branch member and fibre/multimedia artist. “The other fibre arts I use inspire me to reach out and try new things.”

Her creativity was sparked when she started taking courses at the acclaimed Green Mountain Rug School, in Vermont. Some 30 years later, she still attends annually. Her circle of arts and crafts endeavours keeps widening, and the ideas keep coming. Since retiring in 2009, she’s bumped up the inspiration level by taking lessons from experts in areas that interest her, and happily shares that with fellow creators.

It’s a healthy trend

Barbara thinks rug hooking has opened up to more contemporary interpretations and personal designs over the last decade or so, with broader acceptance. She finds that refreshing, and notes the Ottawa area is well represented in this movement.

She’s probably right. The number of rug hookers I meet who also knit, weave, quilt, sew, do multi-fibre art, make lace and/or other fibre-related creations just keeps growing!

One woman who can attest to this is Roberta Murrant, coordinator of the annual Fibrefest event hosted for the past 22 years by the Mississippi Valley Textile Museum in Almonte, ON. She observes that interest in fibre arts (and related activities) has grown “exponentially.” Annual attendance has now surpassed 2,500, filling two sites over one very busy weekend in September. Visitors can see remarkable works of art, craft demonstrations and a kaleidoscope of everything from beads to fine weaving, smocking, quilts, yarns and even ‘woven wood’ from some 80 vendors. Hands-on workshops were offered for the first time this year. Roberta says Fibrefest’s reach is wide and deep, and she finds this group supports and encourages its members continuously.

Thriving local fibre community

‘Ice Storm’ by Barbara Lukas, 2014

The Ottawa area also boasts an active community of men and women who rejoice in fibre. The collective known as Out Of The Box (OOTB) is self-defined as a “group … passionate about creating innovative and thought-provoking works of art with fibre.” It includes artists working in: silk painting, felting, weaving, embroidery, mixed media, art quilting and more. At monthly meetings they “share ideas, techniques and inspiration,” according to the group’s website. Other activities include: periodic ‘play dates’; theme or technique challenges; presentations by guest artists.

This group’s public Fibre Fling shows are eagerly anticipated each year.

There are some businesses that serve rug hookers and other fibre aficionados well: Wabi Sabi in the Wellington West neighbourhood has an excellent selection of yarns, kits and other specialty items, and Wool-Tyme in southwest Ottawa has abundant knitting and sewing/needlework supplies. At locations in the Glebe and Kanata, Yarn Forward sells yarns, sewing machines and craft-related goods.

If only Fibrefest was on in early May! Then those of us who love playing with colour and fibre could get our fix while attending the 2018 Annual. But as a friend has pointed out, then we’d be agonizing over how to get the most out of both events in an all-too-short weekend.

See you in the loop,
Marla, Content creator

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Setting up shop: the vendor perspective

Photo by Carol Pugsley, 2017 Annual

It’s still more than eight months before the 2018 Annual opens in Ottawa, and Martina Lesar is already drawing patterns, ordering more supplies and dyeing wool. Several more rug hooking suppliers are making similar preparations.

This is a big event in their business year.

“The Annual allows me to connect personally with customers (who) normally place orders via phone, email or website,” Martina notes. She has been a regular in the vendors’ hall for the past eight years, and says it’s a great place to launch new products and boost her business profile. [Martina Lesar Hooked Rug Studio, Caledon, ON]

Loretta Moore, who has sold goods at the past three annuals, considers the event “an amazing experience” that has benefits well beyond sales and visibility. She counts creative inspiration, renewing connections with rug hooking friends/customers from afar and the chance to see “all the amazing rugs” among personal highlights. [Hooked On The Lake, Godfrey, ON]

What makes a vendor happy?

Vendors – and attendees! – say a great Annual includes a healthy mix of suppliers, all offering a grand array of attractive wares. Imagine numerous tables overflowing with woollen fabrics in eye-popping colours and blends, neat tools and accessories, and tempting yarns, ribbons and novelty fabrics.

The Ottawa gathering is expected to feature more than a dozen vendors. If they feel appreciated, they are most likely to delight the discerning rug hooking crowd. So I wondered what vendors need to make their participation truly rewarding. The survey of past vendors (conducted last spring by the 2018 Annual planning group) provided interesting insights.

Respondents told us the top five factors when deciding to participate are:

  • early notification of acceptance to sell at the event, and a list of participating vendors, to assist with planning (six months’ notice preferred, minimum two months)
  • big, bright sales area, ideally in the same space as the hooked items display
  • help from volunteers with loading/unloading and booth set-up, and to provide short-term coverage for food breaks, etc.
  • free WiFi to facilitate online transactions
  • reasonable fees for booth space and table rentals, to offset vendor costs for travel, accommodation, any hired help

Changes introduced for the upcoming registration process are generally being well received, states Nora Lee, 2018 vendor coordinator. “Vendors can now bring their own tables… and vendor fees based on booth size now replace the Annual registration fee requirement. We are also working to arrange a lower price from an outside supplier, for those who need to rent tables.”


Vendors say ensuring they have adequate supplies to meet customer demand is essential. Customers can place orders for later delivery, but it’s far better to satisfy whims and desires on the spot. It’s also a spatial challenge: can you squeeze all you want to offer into the size of booth you’ve reserved?

Finding new products to keep customers interested and to set you apart is also important. “I think people are becoming more experimental and looking outside the box, so I have been offering alternative fibres and options,” Loretta notes in an email. Silk ribbon, roving and other natural texture yarns, as well as new/unique varieties of dyed wool, are among current trends.

What’s on your wish list? For me, the sari silk beckons.

See you in the loop,

Marla, Content creator

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Hooking up a winner

I recently heard a singer-songwriter on the radio talking about creativity. It got me thinking about the OHCG Theme challenge that’s part of every Annual. She declared: “Everyone wants to create…”

I know that’s true, and extends to all the creative arts. As formidable as hooking a Theme piece sounds, I believe that award answers this basic human need. Here’s why.

Demands originality, creativity — The rules require that the design be ORIGINAL. The OHCG Judges’ Score Sheet notes “…(t)he piece is your thought, your drawing, your own work. It is not meant to be an adaptation or interpretation of another artist’s design, photograph, greeting card…”

Pushes boundaries — You’re challenged to really think about your potential piece, maybe do some research and focus on colour, design and what you’re trying to express. Susan Clarke of Georgetown Rug Hooking (2016 winner for her psychedelic footstool; ‘Going for Gold’ theme) regularly enters the judged categories. She explains: “It pushes me to do my best, and to … look for where I can improve … I appreciate having feedback, even if it’s to tell me where I fall short.”

Fosters learning — You may have to get outside your comfort zone, learning about the theme and elements you’re considering, trying new techniques and exploring new colours/textures. All my interviewees described doing considerable research through personal observation, buying books or scanning online for useful information.

Personally rewarding — I’ve never entered an Annual judged category so I can’t confirm this, but I’m told it’s deeply satisfying to see a piece through to completion. “I was very pleased with the finished piece,” notes Debbie Harris of Woolright Society (2017 winner for her Quidi Vidi Harbour scene; ‘Images of Canada’ theme). “I had captured what I set out to do,” which was to preserve fond memories of a Newfoundland vacation.

For some, doing a Theme entry is a process that evolves over weeks or months. For others, it’s a last-minute decision when the announced theme resonates strongly or aligns with a recently completed hooking. André Pinard, the 2018 display coordinator, says our theme is likely to connect with OHCG members: “Many hookers already incorporate water in their rugs… and it appeals to our Canadian identity, easily motivating.” While the Theme display has usually featured 10-15 pieces in past years, he’s expecting 20-30 for the Ottawa event.

One way to prepare is to take a class! Karen Kaiser, a three-time Theme winner and an accredited instructor, is teaching ‘Elements of Design’ at the OHCG School in Ancaster in October (now full). She loves helping hookers “create art”, and declares the most important elements when designing are Simplicity, Contrast, Balance and asking What if?

As Gail Mueller of Orillia Sunshine Hooking Group (2015 winner for her ‘Live in Colour’ piece; ‘Graffiti’ theme) urges: “If the subject interests you, enter, because it’s interesting for the audiences to see different interpretations.” Karen adds: “Lose the fear of being wrong — just do it!”

The rug hookers I approached were happy to ‘chat’ (electronically), so my sincere thanks for their contributions to this post!

See you in the loop,
Marla, Content creator

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Paddles up! Ready-ready. GO!!!


That phrase packs incredible punch — an instant jolt of anticipation, excitement and steely determination to all who heed its call.

For me, it conjures up memories of some very special shared times on the water. I’m no paddler, or even athletic, but two summer sojourns on my employer’s dragon boat team were electric. So much fun!

Dragon boaters everywhere will recognize the above-noted phrase. It’s a command issued just before the start of a race, when the boat is in position but not moving. Competitors are advised to lift their paddles into the air as they focus and prepare for the challenge ahead, then the coach calls “ready-ready” to have paddles lowered to the water, followed by a mighty “GO!” when the starter horn blasts to send the paddlers off with a lunge.

Let’s make waves

What does this have to do with hooking? Well, here’s the thing: Area 1 OHCG members have been challenged to create unique pieces that reflect our 2018 Annual’s logo. We have a line drawing of the logo (without text), and there’s plenty of room for personal interpretation.

So get your game on, ladies and gentlemen of Area 1, we want to see those water droplets and rolling waves! The resulting pieces will be recognized at the Annual in a special, non-judged display, and some will be used to help promote the event.

Here’s how it works: the drawing from the logo image has been circulated, and it must be part of whatever you Area 1ers choose to hook. The main requirement is that the line drawing must be clearly visible in your piece; it doesn’t have to dominate. Find full challenge details here.

“When we first thought about the logo, we wanted it to be a hooked image. However, time wasn’t on our side, as we needed to have our ‘memento’ item ready for the 2017 Annual in Cobourg,” explains Lesley Larsen, the 2018 Annual’s planning lead.

“With Area 1 branches co-hosting the 2018 Annual with the Ottawa Olde Forge branch, members from across our region appear keen to participate in this challenge… Not only have they helped shape the theme, they’ll now help us promote it and make it truly an Area 1 event … (and) we’ll see the diversity and creativity that is just so rich in this amazing fibre art.”

Coming in September — preview of challenge entries

I’m really looking forward to this project, and my head is already awash with potential colours, textures and design ideas. How about you?

Hooks up, ready-ready, GO!! And I’ll see you in the loop,
Marla, Content creator

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What’s so great about the Annual?

The question is a bit tongue-in-cheek, but not entirely. If you’ve never attended, you might wonder what all the fuss is about — and why you’d commit personal time and money to attend one, especially if lengthy travel is involved.

I decided to ask some rug hooking acquaintances, since I’m a relative newcomer to the craft (done it in spasms over the past seven years). I’ve attended two annuals and loved them both! But that doesn’t make me an expert…

Workshops, rug displays, fun

Oshawa Textures, 2014, Hooked by Marla Fletcher

Oshawa Textures, 2014. Hooked by Marla Fletcher

Someone who DOES know about the Annual is Pat Bonn, longtime member of the Ottawa Old Forge Rug Hooking Branch and a certified teacher with the Ontario Hooking Craft Guild (OHCG). Pat has attended about 10 over the past dozen years, and declares: “There’s something good about every Annual.” She lists as top personal highlights: rug displays, workshops, sharing.

“I’ve met so many people across the province, it’s great fun … and I’ve seen more of Ontario than I ever would have otherwise.” She adds you can’t beat the inspiration and opportunity to learn and find new perspective at these gatherings. And it’s focused, creative time among friends — no need to break for household chores or meal preparation.

Stephanie Gatszegi, another Olde Forge branch member, has been frequenting the Annuals just as often, and is equally enthusiastic. She loves the shopping, especially if there are vendors with unusual yarns and abundant fabrics, tools and fibres. Making a personal connection with a vendor can pay off, she says, particularly if you have a tough challenge in a piece to discuss. They have considerable knowledge and experience to draw from.

Stephanie also enjoys workshops when they offer something new, or a twist on standard techniques. But it can be an intense few days with “so much to see and learn.” Her advice? Rest up before you go, and bring your stamina!

Best of the best

With four or five Annuals under her belt, Kemptville resident Pat Reid (Rideau Valley Boots & Bundles branch) shares one experience with the two Olde Forge members that she’ll never forget: working as a host branch volunteer/planner of the gathering. It’s a huge undertaking, they confirm, rewarding and worth the experience but not to be taken lightly.

The Annual represents “the epitome”, in Pat Reid’s view, of the amazing range of ideas, colour, creativity and ever-evolving technique that the craft now embraces. It’s great value for OHCG members, and she urges anyone contemplating it: “Don’t miss the opportunity to go … and bring a friend, so you can talk about it afterwards.”

Source of inspiration

For my part, I came home exhausted from the Annuals I attended — but in a good way. I had bags of notes, tips, ideas and projects-to-come, and was thrilled to meet so many inspiring creators. As Pat Reid told me, “You never know what you’re going to pull out from inside of you” when you take up your hook to begin that next piece.

And as I heard recently at a similar gathering of rug hookers enjoying a lively presentation and hooking session (not an Annual):   Sharing = Joy

See you in the loop! And we’d love to hear from ‘newbies’ about that first Annual — what were your experiences? Anything especially memorable?

Marla, Content creator

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And so the fun begins!

Have you ever been stuck on what to hook next? What might you do to try something new, add something extra to your piece? Did it leave you frustrated?

Where can you find the inspiration and guidance to avoid this sorry state?

That’s the beauty of the Annual — there are so many friendly, willing teachers and fellow hooking enthusiasts gathered in one spot, eager to share their knowledge and experience. And it’s the perfect getaway, with no day-to-day chores or meals to prepare!

In May 2018, that magical event will be hosted in Ottawa, and an excited, dedicated team is already hard at work planning and preparing for the big weekend! Our theme ‘Hooked on Waterways’ captures what it’s all about: a visual feast with a glorious rug display that includes many saluting Canada’s rivers, lakes and streams. There’s also the ripple effect, as we expand our rug hooking knowledge and broaden friendships. Oh, and then there’s the shopping…

The scoop on reserving early

You’ll need to move quickly to take advantage of preferred rates at one of the two adjacent hotels linked to the conference centre. As of mid-May, you can use a special code – it will be posted here – at the Courtyard Ottawa East Hotel to reserve. (Hotel bedrooms are double queens or single kings, all equipped with microwaves and fridges.)

The Ottawa Conference and Event Centre is bright, spacious and well suited to the Annual, with close indoor proximity between the various events, workshops and hooking room. The site is well located just off a major highway to downtown Ottawa (about 10-15 minutes away), and on a key bus route. Taking time to explore the beautiful National Capital Region is an encouraged added bonus.

Keep an eye on this space for inside information, updates and other highlights as the 2018 Annual takes shape.

See you in the loop!
Marla, Content creator

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