To Hook or to Punch.. it that really a question?

For me it has become a pretty simple question to answer. Before you get any silly ideas, I am certainly not advocating any kind of physical altercation.  Referring, rather, to how to make a woolen rug. 

Floral Chair mat. Moose River Rug Hooking design.  Combination of traditional hooking with wool fabric strips for the flowers and leaves. Punch needle technique with wool yarn for the black background.

Floral Chair mat. Moose River Rug Hooking design.  Combination of traditional hooking with wool fabric strips for the flowers and leaves. Punch needle technique with wool yarn for the black background.

Rug hooking is a big part of East Coast Canadian Culture.  I wrote a piece about it as a guest blogger for the Second Annual Digby Multicultural Festival. You can read the post here.

I had never hooked a rug before moving to Nova Scotia. My only experience with rug making was the 'shudder' acrylic latch hooking kits of the 70's ish era.  Don't think I could bring myself to make one of those even then. Yes, the yarn snobbery is strong with this one. 

When my sister-in-law heard I was taking up rug hooking to get to know the neighbours, she was apprehensive, possibly even worried about my state of mind as she knows well that I prefer elegant to 'kitch'. 

She saw what I was working on when she came for a visit. It was not what she expected. She was relieved - and a little impressed ! 

Celtic dog rug, from an original drawing by my friend, Robyn.  Still a work in progress. 

Celtic dog rug, from an original drawing by my friend, Robyn.  Still a work in progress. 

I've finished only two pieces so far. The first was a traditional 'Hit & Miss' mat from a kit - it's small, only about 20cm  (8'') square.  You can see it here:

Hit & Miss Table Mat 'rug'. 

Hit & Miss Table Mat 'rug'. 

The second one is the chair mat featured in the aforementioned post, and shown below:

Black & Coral chair mat.  Here you can see the traditionally hooked flowers and leaves in contrast with the punch needled background. 

Black & Coral chair mat.  Here you can see the traditionally hooked flowers and leaves in contrast with the punch needled background. 

Honestly,  I would rather knit than rug hook rugs - but I may have found something that will make it so much better for me. And faster. Yes, I'm all about the speed. 

Enter the Punch Needle. 

Traditional rug hooking is made by drawing up a loop of wool fabric that has been cut into strips.  With needle punching, the action is reversed. You push the loops through the fabric. The end result is the same, but with some very key differences. 

With the punch needle, you don't need to control the height of each loop manually.  You plunge the needle to its hilt so each loop is the same height. You work from the back of the work, so lettering and imagery has to be reversed. Yarn is the preferred medium to use with the punch needle.  You don't have to cut it carefully, or invest in a very expensive cutter.  I want to cry every time I see such beautiful wool fabric being cut up when good quality pure wool yarn is readily available.  My favourite Briggs & Little Heritage is superb for rugs. Cheap, cheerful, Canadian. It dyes like a dream and wears very well. Have I convinced you yet? Several of the Smiths Cove Rug Hookers have decided to make the switch, for some of their pieces anyways. 

The punch needle also makes the hooking  quick (and easier on the hands)!  I would still be working on the background of the little black chair mat if I had worked it the 'traditional' way.  

I am so encouraged by this fabulous tool that my poor Celtic Dog rug may have to be sidelined, or re-imagined to accommodate this new technique. I actually have a new pattern lined up and almost ready to go - just have to transfer the pattern to the linen!  I'll show you that in a few days. 

So which do you like better? Have you tried a punch needle?  I'll be giving tutorials at the Smiths Cove Museum over the next few weeks as many of the hookers there have decided to give this 'new' technique a whirl. 

See you soon, 

Coryna