- Associated Press - Saturday, February 14, 2015

DAVENPORT, Iowa (AP) - A length of burlap-colored linen is stretched taut across a square wooden frame on a pedestal.

In one hand, Beth Anne Smiley holds a thin strip of colorful wool under the linen, and in the other hand she holds a hook on top. With a deft motion, she pokes the hook into the linen, catching the wool strip underneath and pulling it up to form a little loop.

She repeats this motion over and over, creating rows of loops. And by changing the colors of fabric and following a pattern drawn on the linen, a design emerges on the cloth - a flower, a horse or a chicken.

Smiley is doing primitive rug hooking, a craft brought to the eastern United States in the mid-1800s. It is different from the perhaps more familiar latch rug hooking done with yarn that is knotted.

At first, primitive rug hooking was practiced mainly by the poorer classes, but it grew into an art form prized by all, Smiley explains. People used established patterns as well as those of their own making, and they used their creations as blankets and wall hangings as well as their original on-the-floor purpose.

Smiley, a second-grade teacher at Davenport’s Adams School, has liked hooked rugs since she saw one in a friend’s house when she was a little girl.

The Quad-City Times (https://bit.ly/1zbhXuC ) reports that Smiley and her husband Barry are huge collectors of primitive folk art, including hooked rugs, and about 15 years ago she decided to try to learn how to make them herself.

She took classes from a woman in Pennsylvania and, in time, Smiley became so accomplished that the woman suggested Smiley begin teaching the art.

In 2012, Smiley founded Wheaten Woolens (Wheaten for the breed of dogs the couple owns), teaching classes and selling kits with designs and materials.

Her studio is a large room inside a 1860s stone barn on their Davenport acreage.

Stepping inside reveals a feast for the eyes.

In the middle of the room is a large wood table, and around the walls are antique shelves stacked with folded wool fabric in rich jewel tones - purples, reds, greens and blues. With some of the fabric, Smiley “over-dyed” it herself to create a greater variety of shades.

When Smiley began making rugs, “100 percent wool was not there,” she said.

“I’d go to Goodwill and get Pendleton clothing (Pendleton Woolen Mills is a family-owned company based in Oregon) and pull it apart and dye it.”

Nowadays there is much more of a selection.

Hooked rugs might be compared with quilts in that they use fabric to make a utilitarian item that is also beautiful. But unlike quilting, rug hooking isn’t very widespread in the Quad-City region.

An Internet search reveals that people practice it here and there across the country, but “I think it’s still kind of under-the-radar around here,” said Lynn Gingras-Taylor of the Figge Art Museum in downtown Davenport.

Cindy Pippert, the owner of the Naked Sheep Yarn Shop in Milan, agreed, saying, “It’s almost a lost art.”

But the craft is attracting interest.

As the Figge’s creative arts coordinator, Gingras-Taylor has invited Smiley to teach at least two sessions of rug hooking, and they are “are always a go,” Gingras-Taylor said.

And attendance has been picking up at Smiley’s studio, which is open for classes on Saturdays as well as by appointment.

“The process isn’t that hard. It’s the color-planning” that is the challenge, Smiley said. By that she means determining which colors of wool to use to create the design.

Through the years, Smiley has made about 50 rugs. Several were in a display two years ago at the Quad-City International Airport in Moline, an exhibit organized by Rock Island-based Quad-City Arts.

She displays many of them on the walls of her home as some people do with quilts. But she also uses them on her floors, as intended. They can’t be washed in a machine, but wool naturally repels dirt and can be kept presentable with vacuuming and spot-cleaning.

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Information from: Quad-City Times, https://www.qctimes.com


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