Author Archives: thewooleryguy

Rug Hooking Materials: Backings

Rug hooking is a simple technique that has been around for for many years.  It started as a way for people to use the thrums left over from weaving and any scraps of material they had around the house. Traditionally burlap was used as feed bags were recycled into the backing material for the rugs. These very frugal rugs varied from utilitarian pieces to works of art. Today the rug hooking technique isn’t just used for rugs; it is also used to create ornaments, button covers, chair pads, wall hangings, bags, and much more. Your imagination is your only limit on what you can create using the rug hooking technique. However, in order to look outside the traditional uses you have to understand how different materials impact the final result.


The first thing you have to look at is the backing you pick.  Even today, burlap is the most economical choice as it is easy to find and inexpensive to purchase. However, it is also the least sturdy of all of the backing choices you have today.

Burlap Backing


Burlap is made of jute and when it gets wet (and rugs do tend to get wet!), it will degrade faster than the other backing options. So, if you want to make a rug that you can pass down for generations, burlap is not your best choice. However, if you want to make a wall hanging, ornament, or something else that isn’t going to see much wear and tear, burlap is an excellent choice for a backing. One thing to keep in mind with burlap is that the weave is not perfectly even; the holes will vary in size and the ditch may not run exactly straight. If you are wanting to create a geometric piece where consistency is key to the finished object, burlap is not a good choice for that type of project.

monk's cloth

monk’s cloth

The next step up from burlap is monk’s cloth.  This cloth is a bit sturdier and more expensive than burlap; it tends to have some type of marking system woven into the cloth, either vertical lines or a 2”x2” grid of white lines against the base cream color of the cloth. This makes it very easy to transfer patterns and to keep your rug hooking square in the frame. Each hole in this cloth is framed by a square of two threads on each side. New rug hookers sometimes find that when they go to push their hook through the hole that they split the threads with their hook instead. While it is something that a rug hooker will adapt to, it can certainly be frustrating at first! Monk’s cloth is made of cotton and is decently sturdy, but not stiff.  It makes it a good choice for bags, pillows, and other items which need flexibility in the final product.

rug warp

rug warp

The next choice for backings is rug warp. Rug warp is also made of cotton, but each square is made of a thicker, sturdier thread than monk’s cloth. Again, this is more expensive than the previous two choices, but when you compare the three you can easily see why: rug warp is much heavier than monk’s cloth or burlap, making it a good option for rugs and other items that will see a heavy use. It is easy to hook into as the holes are clearly defined and always run in a straight line.



The last, and most expensive type of backing, is linen.  Linen is light weight, flexible, and sturdy.  The weave is not quite as uniform as rug warp, but it is considerably more uniform than burlap is.  Linen is a good choice for any project as it has all the best qualities of the other backings put together.  If you want to make a heirloom quality item, then linen is the best choice for that piece because linen lasts.


All the best,

Chris, Nancy, and the entire Woolery team

Setting Goals for Spinzilla!

Spinzilla is returning this fall, and we’re counting down the days til the festivities begin on October 6. Spinner signups are happening now through September 22, and the proceeds benefit the Needle Arts Mentoring Program (NAMP), which provides volunteer mentors with supplies and educational materials to share the joy of handspinning with children. In 2013, the event raised nearly $6,000 for NAMP to fund the addition of a spinning component to their program; this year, they seek raise even more funds to double the number of children served in the years ahead.

The Woolery is proud to be a Yak Sponsor for Spinzilla this year; sponsor donations such as ours help to underwrite the costs associated with running the event. This ensures that spinner registration fees go directly towards supporting NAMP, and that will help them reach their goal of doubling the number of children served in 2014.


In addition to fundraising, Spinzilla’s goal is to empower spinners to learn more about the craft through hands-on experience. By spinning as much yarn as possible, Spinzilla aims for each participant to surpass their own expectations and break down the their inhibitions about spinning yarn, giving them a sense of accomplishment and perhaps even mastery!

Last year, #TeamWoolery spun a total of 74,593 yards and was in the top 5 teams for most yardage spun. We offered some fantastic, fibery prizes for our team members last year, and this year we’re planning even more exciting events and prizes for those of you spinning on #TeamWoolery!

Team Woolery 2013

Team Woolery 2013

It’s never too early to start preparing for Spinzilla. If this is your first time doing this event, it may seem overwhelming. However, we’re all about setting manageable goals to ensure spinning success this fall! You may choose to set your Spinzilla goals by distance, by weight, or by the clock:

niddynoddySpinning the Distance
This year, each spinner is being challenged to join the Monster Mile Club, which is a new award category for 2014. Any participant who spins a mile of yarn (1,760 yards) will be automatically entered in a special prize drawing for Monster Mile Cub members! Many of our teammates from 2013 spun more than a mile of yarn, so rest assured that this is a very attainable goal! For added insurance, we have created special Monster Mile Spinning Fiber Packs which include 2 pounds of high-quality, easy-to-spin fiber at a great price!

fiberscaleSpinning by Weight
For those who are concerned about running out of fiber during the event (or for anyone with an extensive fiber stash they want to spin through), setting daily goals for Spinzilla by weight is the way to go! Whether your goal is to spin through a 4oz braid of roving or a pound of fiber, outlining these goals now will help you stay focused during the event.

clockSpinning by the Clock
For those of you who are concerned about time management, setting a daily goal in hours or minutes is a stress-free approach to spinning sanity! Weaver and spinner Sara Lamb recently blogged about her experiment with spinning for one hour each day and found that she was able to spin 2,000 yards in that time. Now is a great time to do your own experiments to see how long it takes you to fill a bobbin or spin through a braid of roving, all of which will help you plan your spinning schedule for Spinzilla.

All the best,

Chris, Nancy, and the entire Woolery team


Guest Post: Pin Loom Weaving with Meg Stump

IMG_7553When we think of easy-to-handle, portable fiber arts, weaving does not immediately spring to mind. However,  a pin loom (and all the tools needed to weave on it) can be carried in a small bag!

Not only that, but weaving on a pin loom offers an immediate payoff. Unlike a standard loom, there is barely any setup, and with a little practice a square can be woven in ten to fifteen minutes. It is thrilling and fulfilling all at once. Weaving the squares can offer an incredibly effective way to unwind, relax, and focus. The repetitive movements ( as with other forms of weaving) can deliver a state of calm, relaxed alertness.  This is the state of awareness that allows your body and mind to regroup and restore. This is where focus and creativity live. And who isn’t interested in a bit more of that?

A Brief History

Pin looms have changed a lot over the years, but they still remain true to their basic function: weaving.

"The Weave-It Book." Medford, Massachusetts: Donar Products, Corp., 1936.

“The Weave-It Book.” Medford, Massachusetts: Donar Products, Corp., 1936.

The first books of pin loom patterns came out in 1936. This was at a time when a lot of women’s clothes were still being made at home. The primary focus in the early books was on clothing for adults and children with home decor items coming in second.

You can see a wonderful sample of these early books and patterns at as well as access an incredible reserve of pin loom information.  You can purchase a Pin Loom at the Woolery here.

Looking at the early books, its hard to remember that folks were just as interested in color and style as today’s weaver, they just didn’t have access to affordable color printing – so you have to use your imagination.

Pin looms and pin loom pattern books seem to have been an active part of the handcrafting scene through the 40’s and 50’s. Life Magazine had illustrations of World War II soldiers using pin loom weaving as part of their rehabilitation. At least a few of the Minnesota county fairs had specific categories for pin loomed items. But then the 60’s came along, and the pin loom’s popularity fell away and the Scoville factory that manufactured the pin looms burned down. There did not seem to be any reason to rebuild it.

That might have been the end of the story for pin looms except that even as interest in old fashioned home arts faded, a new passion for self sufficiency was taking off. This included raising fleece animals and spinning.  As the move toward natural, hand crafted items took off, the pin loom was discovered to be a perfect sample loom.


The perfect sample loom.

A third pin loom transformation occurred very recently with Schacht Spindle’s decision to work with John Mullarkey to design and construct the Zoom Loom, a pin loom which incorporates all the original functionality of the pin loom with an updated, easy to use style.  The Zoom Loom has been largely responsible for reintroducing the pin loom to an avid fiber audience, and  has helped me to share my pin loom patterns with both experienced and novice pin loom weavers.

Technique: Joining Squares

One of the challenges for many new pin loom weavers is that while it is easy to weave the square, it is not always clear how the squares can be joined  together to create a larger project. There are a number of ways that all work very well, depending upon the purpose of the item, and you can find a number of basic joining techniques here.


For example, this tablet case was joined using a mattress stitch. It offers a swift, smooth way to join squares, but  the caveat is that it works best on seams that are not going to get a great deal of stress.

Sheep and cow

On the other hand, these sheep and cow toys were joined by using a single crochet stitch to join the seams, which were then turned to the inside.  I will use a single crochet join anywhere where its okay to have a very noticeable or protruding seam, for example if the seam is to be a part of a purse embellishment, or when the crochet join is going to be turned to the inside and will not show at all, like with stuffed animals.

Pin looms have a rich history and an exciting future as artists and craftspersons begin to express themselves in this new medium, finding her or her own pin loom “voice.”

megstumpMargaret Stump is the author of the newly published, Pin Loom Weaving; 40 Projects for Tiny Hand Looms. She lives with her husband, Jerry, in Mankato, MN, and spends far too much time thinking about what she is making and what she might make on her pin looms.

Margaret, also known as Meg, can be found at where she is attempting to compile everything she knows about pin looms as well as everything that she can request from others to share. For example, Meg is very interested in posting examples of other people’s finished and unfinished pin loom projects, along with any comments on their own weaving/creative process. These will go up in a Gallery Page as soon as there are a number of examples. She can be reached at and would be happy to chat about pin loom weaving.


Guest Post: Make a Tapestry Diary with Janette Meetze

Meetze, Arrowmont- July 31 2012Most people get started with Tapestry weaving by making a small sampler or two, but what is the next step on the journey to learning how to weave tapestry? There is a fairly large gap between that first small sampler and being able to use tapestry as a way to express yourself as a weaver. Why not try getting started on a daily practice that will help you focus on learning techniques while also providing an opportunity to become comfortable expressing yourself with the tapestry process, one day and one small space at a time?

My first suggestion would be to start small. Maybe you will set up your loom and just start on the first day available or maybe you will think about how you want to proceed and start the following month, making a commitment to weave everyday for a small amount of time over the period of one month. There is no right way or wrong way. It is a diary, so it is all about you.

If you are new to tapestry weaving consider making a narrow warp, about three to four inches wide so that you can weave all the way across for each days practice. Perhaps you will want to separate each day with a pass of a specific color. A illustrated tapestry book with clear photos or diagrams would also be useful in providing ideas about how to proceed.

If you have more experience with tapestry you might want to devote the month to a specific tapestry technique like hatching, pick and pick variations or shape making. Consider this type of approach similar to how you might go about learning to play a musical instrument, a small amount of time devoted each day. Soon you will find that your hands are moving with more confidence and that ideas flow more freely when you are actively engaged in making.

My first tapestry diary began in June of 2012 in a class with Tommye Scanlin at Arrowmont School in Tennessee. After the week of class I drove home and started weaving a small space representing my day, everyday; a special occasion , a patch of color, or a symbol. The first one covered the last week in June and all of July 2012, it was about 5 inches wide and sett at 8 threads per inch. Then I wove another for the month of August, and the third covered September through December 2012. There is a freedom in not having to make all the decisions about the entire design ahead of time that allows you to experiment and learn while also accomplishing something personal and meaningful.

By the time 2013 came around I was ready to establish some rules to help me focus on a daily practice that would encompass the entire year. Because they are rules you set for your self they can easily be changed to suit your needs as the year progresses, but having some guidelines does help with getting started. My first yearly diary was warped at 7 inches wide at 8 threads to the inch and my rule was to confine myself to a rectangle space for each day of 1 inch by 2 inches. I established a repeating pattern of horizontal and vertical rectangles for each week. Each month was separated by a number for the month and some pick and pick tapestry technique and I decided to explore the color palette of some new yarns that I wanted to become better acquainted with. Since I had to warp more than once to get the length needed for the entire year I chose to work the project in three panels of four months each.


By the end of the year I had a substantial Tapestry Diary Triptych made up of small rectangles for each day. Even though I had kept the space for each day small there were still days when I could not find the 15 to 30 minutes it took to weave the day, or days when I was away from home and my loom. I decided to make up those days one way or another as I was able. Other solutions to this situation might be to weave a solid color to represent days away from your loom, there are many options.


This year I am weaving another tapestry diary and continuing to learn and grow in my tapestry weaving through this simple process of daily practice. If you would like to learn more about weaving tapestry diaries and other weavers using this practice please refer to an article I wrote for the American Tapestry Alliance on the subject, There you will find work by other tapestry weavers such as Tommye Scanlin who was the first to use the phrase “tapestry diary” and has been weaving them for several years now. I also follow along with my tapestry diary adventures on my blog, Common Threads.

6_30 Woolery blog 2

Janette Meetze lives and weaves in Bixby, Oklahoma. More information about her tapestry diaries, her Fiber Studio classes and supplies can be found on her blog, Common Threads.

Stay Spinning This Summer!

A well-maintained spinning wheel can provide years of service, and keeping your wheel in tip-top shape is easier than you think! It’s a good idea to perform routine maintenance a few times a year by giving your wheel a thorough cleaning, tightening screws and any other loose parts such as legs and wheel supports, and replacing any worn-out parts such as leather conrod joints, drive bands, or brake bands.wheelmainttools

Believe it or not, this maintenance can be easily done with just a few tools and other supplies you’re likely to already have on hand – click here for a list of items and easy-to-follow instructions from our blog archive!applyingoil

However, there is something you can do each time you spin to keep your wheel in good working order: applying oil! In our latest video in the Ask the Woolery series, we demonstrate all of the possible areas which could benefit from a drop of oil at the start of each spinning session. Of course, each wheel is different, so you will want to refer to your wheel’s manual for specific instructions on where to apply oil on your particular make and model. In the video below, you can get a closer look at how and where oil should be applied to keep squeaks and rattles at bay:

Thanks for joining us!

All the best,

Chris, Nancy, and the entire Woolery team


Guest Post: The Dyers’ Garden with Dagmar Klos

Have you ever wanted to explore the world of natural dyeing? In today’s guest post, expert Dagmar Klos shares her own dyers’ garden with you! 

Well, the garden is finally planted. It was a long, cold, snowy winter here in Chicago. Spring was also rather chilly with no temptation to plant early. Then off to Kentucky for the Sheep and Fiber Festival, a fun event (I just love going to sheep festivals). Before heading back to Chicago, I stopped at the Woolery in Frankfort – what a treat, wish I lived closer. Upon returning home, it was time for spring cleaning in the garden. I live in Chicago, and although my property is twice the size of a normal city lot, I do have a lot of shade due to the amount of trees including a large, old willow. I have a small space in the front that has sunshine daily which is where I plant my marigolds along with some coreopsis planted right by the marigolds. Unfortunately, some of the coreopsis took a hit with the cold winter and I will need to get new ones for the bare spots; This is the extent of my dyer’s garden – for the time being.



I love dyeing with marigolds; they are happy little yellow/orange flowers. I prefer the French marigolds over the African variety, but I did just learn from my neighbor who is a horticulturist that the African variety has a dwarf version. I’ll need to look into that. The area in which I grow the marigolds is limited in size (about 9’ x 4’) and I think that the regular African marigolds would look too big. Years ago, in the backyard I planted Rudbeckia, black-eyed-Susans, but they are not thriving and are slowly disappearing due to too much shade. On the other hand, the sweet woodruff that I planted (I only bought one flat) has multiplied over and over. I should really plan to harvest the roots sometime this summer as I get them out of the areas where they shouldn’t be. Sweet woodruff is in the madder family. The roots yield a light red and the leaves, a light brown.

Sweet Woodruff

Sweet Woodruff

When I look at my beautiful, old black willow (one reason why we bought this house), I am sad knowing that one day it will be gone. It’s 60 years old and showing signs of decline. The dynamics of the back yard will change significantly which will mean more sunlight. And I think – oh, I will be able to expand my dye garden! One plant at the top of the list is weld also known as dyer’s mignonette or dyer’s weed, or dyer’s rocket. Weld yields a wonderful, lightfast, washfast yellow. It’s a cool yellow and when over-dyed with indigo gives a fabulous green. It’s not the prettiest plant, which explains one of its names – dyer’s weed – but the color is wonderful. Since I love black-eyed-Susans, I will plant more of them. My list would also include dahlia, daisy, dyer’s chamomile, dyer’s greenweed, golden rod, golden marguerite, queen Anne’s lace, yarrow, and zinnia. If I had more land, the list would be longer.

Weld, also known as Dyers' Rocket or Dyers' Mignonette

Weld, also known as Dyers’ Rocket or Dyers’ Mignonette

Another thought pops into my head – I will need to buy a second refrigerator. I don’t always use up all my flowers for dyeing during the growing season. In fact, I need to collect and keep some of them for when I teach marigold dyeing. In the past I have dried the flowers; dying primarily with only the flower heads for the purest color the plant can give me, adding the leaves and stems will desaturate the color which is perfectly fine at times. But drying requires forethought. With a hectic schedule I find that right before a predicted frost, I am in my flower bed, cutting off the flower heads and putting them into freezer bags. Needless to say that looking into my freezer may surprise some, but it always brings a smile to my face remembering the sunshine of the summer and the fun that lies ahead while I’m dyeing in the dead of winter with that bit of sunshine.



coe_photoDagmar Klos is a dye master, fiber artist, and teacher. Author of the Dyer’s Companion, co-publisher and coeditor of the Turkey Red Journal from 1995-2006 (newsletter dedicated to natural dyes), recipient of the Handweavers Guild of America’s Certificate of Excellence in Dyeing. She also teaches at the Fine Line Creative Arts Center in St. Charles, Illinois. She lives with her husband and two big dogs in Chicago, Illinois.

Exploring Non-Wool Fibers

It’s our final month of Spinning Spring Training, and this month’s suggested challenges are perfect for summer: Non-wool fibers such as cotton, silk, bamboo, and flax are wonderful fiber choices for warmer temperatures, although they can sometimes be a challenge when it comes to handspinning. We have discussed cotton in-depth in our previous posts here and here on this blog, as well as silk (both here and here), so today we would like to focus our discussion on bamboo and flax. bamboo

Bamboo is a fiber that seems to be turning up everywhere these days! Bamboo fiber is a popular addition to many commercially-available yarns, and it is made from the cellulose found in the bamboo stalk. The fibers are unique in that they are naturally antibacterial, a property which can withstand multiple washings. Bamboo fiber also produces an extremely breathable fabric, as well as provides excellent moisture absorption thanks to the microscopic holes which comprise its cell structure.

Bamboo Top

Bamboo Top

Spinning bamboo fiber can be a bit tricky, however! Since there are no scales (as you would find on protein fibers), the fibers are rather slippery. Not only that, the fibers are also quite short! Needless to say, spinning a woolen yarn from bamboo fiber isn’t recommended. Rather, a worsted or semi-worsted yarn with plenty of twist will be the simplest approach. Most bamboo fibers will be similar to silk when it comes to spinning them up; there are plenty of great guidelines here in the KnittySpin archives if you would like to explore spinning with bamboo more in-depth!Linum_usitatissimum_-_Köhler–s_Medizinal-Pflanzen-088

Flax is also in the cellulose family of fibers and has a long and storied history of cultivation (for example, flax has been found in predynastic Egyptian cloth). There are many varieties which are used to produce products ranging from paper, paint, dietary supplements, medicine, and – of course! – fibers and textiles. Flax is incredibly durable and easy-care; machine washing only makes it softer! It takes dye beautifully and has its own evaporative cooling system which wicks moisture away from the skin. The one downside is that it can be difficult to work with, both in handspinning and beyond.ProcessingFlaxThere are 3 types of flax fibers you can expect to come across in your fiber journey: line flax, tow and twice-retted flax. Line flax is a longer fiber (usually more than 10 inches in length); tow refers to the shorter fibers which are a byproduct of producing line flax, and twice-retted flax is a relatively new process which produces shorter, finer fibers approximately 4-5 inches in length.

Flax Line Fiber - Strick

Flax Line Fiber – Strick

Spinning with flax is not recommended for beginning spinners, but many spinners (regardless of their skill level) are intimidated at the very thought of working with it! First, processing the plant into a spinnable fiber is quite a bit of work  if you don’t plan on using a commercially-prepared top. Secondly, most spinners are told that spinning flax requires the use of the distaff, which can certainly sound a bit scary to the uninitiated. However, most prepared tops do not require the use of a distaff, and  this informative article from the KnittySpin archives gives plenty of sage advice for tackling flax-spinning from the strick without the use of this tool.

We look forward to seeing which non-sheep fibers you explore this month in our  June Spring Training thread on Ravelry!

Thanks for joining us!

All the best,

Chris, Nancy, and the entire Woolery team