Traditional Rug Hooking
at the C.B. Centre for Craft & Design,
Sydney, NS (12 October 2004)

Seventy-five-year-old Barbara MacDonald has been a hooker for a long time, but says she seems to like it more now than ever.

In her words she's only been an "occasional hooker" since she also held a position as a secretary. But her mother belonged to the local Happy Hookers club, so perhaps it was just in her blood.

Barbara sits among a group of women of all ages and demographics, some local to Cape Breton, several from away. What ties these women together is a love for pulling wool through burlap in a repetitive technique called rug hooking.

"It's a comfortable craft," says Betty Paruch, one of two Sydney residents hosting this class, part of the 2004 Celtic Colors International Festival. "It's a great social life!" chimes in Maggie Miller, the other teacher.

Paruch and Judson say they believe the craft came to Nova Scotia with settlers. "The winters were long and cold, it passed away the hours," said Miller. Then, the beautiful craft was seen more as functional than artistic. Women traded hand-hooked rugs for the more valuable (to them, anyway) linoleum. "The women thought it was just great," said Miller, "because they didn't have to shake it and clean it."

Today at the Cape Breton Centre for Craft & Design, hooking is a lively hobby still, and it finally seems to be getting the artistic respect it deserves. Paruch and Miller show off intricate and beautiful creations of their own, to the admiration of the small class gathered around them. Each of the women around the cozy table holds a small wooden frame, a tool similar to a miniature handled crochet hook, and strings and strings of colored wool.

It seems hard to believe that our hesitant first steps could someday equal the impressive offerings on display by the talented pair of Paruch and Miller, and yet the skill of their teaching proves out. "You can learn it in a day, but you'll spend the rest of your life perfecting it," is Miller's teasing warning to the class.

The craft is in fact addictive, and thankfully forgiving. Though several times I have had to pull out every piece of my carefully pulled wool, the final result truly pleases me, and I know it won't be my last.

Luckily for anyone interested in learning this easy, yet rewarding art, the Centre for Craft & Design will again offer the workshop as part of the 2005 Celtic Colors Festival.

by Katie Knapp
17 September 2005