Hooking in to the Future: It's Up to Us.
I'm turning 50 in three days. Yippeeee! No, seriously, I'm really yippeeee about it. I am so happy to be in the place in life where 50 finds me that I'm just all about continued adventures and self improvement. To use an overused phrase, fifty is fabulous. In fact, here I am with confetti on my head. With that out of the way... I also realize that I am squarely in middle age, headed on toward what is politely called "the later stages of life." This is something I have in common with most other rug hookers I know. And therein lies a problem. Think about the last hook-in you attended. How many people there were my age or older? 75%? More? On the one hand, this is magnificent. As someone who has been hooking a relatively short time, I have observed that our middle aged plus hookers are just filled with knowledge and talent in our craft. They are like the Library of Congress of hooking knowledge, and their enthusiasm for this heritage art form knows no bounds. We need them and what they know and what they can do. I personally need them. I learn from them on a continual basis. So, before we go any further, middle aged and beyond hookers, I love, value, and look up to you!!! But...we also need the under 50 crowd if this craft is going to survive in to the next century. Heck, we need the under 40, 30, 20, 10 crowds. Truly. When I demonstrate rug hooking at the Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village here in Maine, I often get very young children, dragging their parents over to my area, wanting to try hooking. And these children are amazing at pulling loops. They have not yet learned the common mantras of adulthood: "I'm not creative," "I don't think I'll be good at this," "That looks hard." Nope. They often start pulling the most beautiful loops within about two minutes of my showing them the basic technique, and they are delighted with themselves as they do. My recent classes at the Squam Art Workshops covered every adult age range, and that was really exciting for me. Here is a subset of the twenty talented women I had the privilege to teach at Squam. Note the owl being hooked in the foreground. That particular student, one of the younger in the room, wanted to do her own thing and I thought, "Ok, why not?" What if a twenty-something isn't interested in Waldoboro florals or traditional primitives? What if a ten year old wants to hook his favorite superhero? In hooking, this is not a problem! There is so much exciting contemporary work being done in rug hooking to inspire a younger person whose tastes are less traditional. In fact, I like to encourage younger students to draw their own patterns, to their own tastes, or even hook an abstract with no pattern at all if that is what they'd enjoy. There are still perceived barriers for younger people with hooking. Often in the midst of attending high school or college, raising children, working full time, possibly caring for other family members, or just not having a lot of disposable income, younger people may feel that hooking is not something they can do right now. I think it's important for them to know, however, that projects can be small and manageable and that they can be picked up and put down easily. In hooking, we don't have to worry about losing count in a pattern, or having a complicated process to fix a mistake. We don't need an entire workshop or craft room or too many specialized tools. We can use many recycled and repurposed materials if we choose to. Hooking is a craft that lends itself to simplicity. We actually have role models in crafting renaissances to look to. One super example: knitting. Knitting is back, with a popularity my own very skilled knitter mother would not have believed. Knitting is hip. Young men and women both are doing it. Ravelry has been instrumental in this knitting revolution, providing an on line forum for knitters all over the world to build and strengthen community. I had the pleasure of meeting, and teaching hooking to, Ravelry's founder Jessica Forbes at Squam. Her talent and energy are immediately evident. She is passionate about what she does. We need to be too. Or how about cross stitching? A quick perusal of Etsy or Googling will show you that cross stitching is making a comeback. Some of the contemporary cross stitch patterns feature the occasional impolite word or characters from film and video gaming, but this just reflects its vitality with a younger crowd. Some of those younger people are also stitching traditional samplers and heritage designs, but what cross stitching is offering now is choice. At the beginning of every class I teach I ask my students how they came to be there. The most common answer I receive is, "My mother..." or "My grandmother..." or sometimes, "My grandfather" hooked. Or, "I have a rug my (insert ancestor here) made and I want to make one too." We have such a strong heritage here that is so important to preserve. For my readers in New England or the Canadian Maritimes, you may think, "This craft is thriving! Look at all the hooking studios in our region." I would counter this: 1) Step outside of our region and then see how many studios there are. Jen and I have Etsy customers from all over the United States because hooking supplies are so scarce in other regions. 2) What is the average age of your customers? If you are my age or older, we need you - all of you - to pass this craft along to someone younger. You don't have to be a born teacher. Let's face it, the basic technique is not rocket science. I have taught scores of people now and I can tell you, they're pulling quality loops in very short order. Is there more to teach them after that initial lesson? Oh yes, of course. In fact, more than I currently know because I'm not sure you can ever know all there is to know. I'm still learning myself. But with that initial lesson a new hooker will often realize - in an "aha" moment - the zen quality of the motion, the unlimited creativity they can bring to their art, and an awareness that their rug can look like them and their world without in any way detracting from their appreciation of rugs by previous generations. By doing so, they are honoring those previous generations and preserving our hooking heritage. That's a pretty big deal. Let's get to making that happen. Happy teaching and happy hooking. - Beth
Jen (who is not anywhere near 50...) looking over the lovely work of Patty Rumsey.
- Parris House Wool Works