In to the Hands of the Next Generation

In to the Hands of the Next Generation

Last Friday I left Maine early in the morning to head out to Rochester, NY for the weekend. It's not a trip unfamiliar to me because my third son, Peter, is an engineering student at RIT (Rochester Institute of Technology), but I wasn't visiting Peter. In fact, I could not visit Peter this trip because he is on co-op semester working for a company in North Carolina right now and through the summer. No, I was visiting the RIT Hooks & Needles Club to teach them rug hooking. Saturday at lunch time I was greeted at the local Macaroni Grill by Mirjam, Felix, Elizabeth, Theresa, and Cathryne, the executive board of the club. We had a wonderful Italian lunch and got to know a little bit about one another. One thing that was completely clear was that these young women, from different parts of the country (even the world), studying different college majors, and with a variety of interests were all avid fiber artists. Between them they knit, crochet, cross stitch, needle felt, and engage in other creative pursuits. They talked about their oversized yarn stashes (some things are universal) and about what fiber art meant to them in their lives. By the time lunch was over, I knew I was going to have an interesting and good day with them. They had reserved a great classroom space for us on campus and they helped me set up the room. It was Accepted Students Day at RIT, so there were a lot of visitors on campus, and some of the students we were expecting for hooking had gotten commandeered to serve as volunteers for the day. As a result, our class size was smaller than anticipated, but I did not mind. The mission of getting rug hooking in to the hands of the next generation is worth the trip, whether there are five students or twenty five students. I felt that having these young women create their own designs would accomplish two things. One, it would give them a chance to learn how to get a pattern on linen, on the grain, correctly. Two, it would guarantee that their patterns were things that they could relate to and be excited about. Their design efforts did not disappoint.

Brightly colored flowers.
A purple goat!
A woolly sheep.
A pig being abducted by aliens!
A design from a popular show (I am dying here that I can't remember the name of the show now!)
My students immediately realized that the Beeline cutter was essentially like a pasta making machine for wool. They were somewhat disappointed by the price of such a cutter, but I explained that used cutters are very find-able and that I'd keep an eye out for one for the club. We only had a single afternoon to try to get in a lot of information and the fundamentals of hooking. Naturally, the projects were not finished by the end of the day, but we did go over finishing techniques on some example pieces and I have promised them that I will start making videos (which people have been asking me to do forever now) on steaming and on each finishing technique we talked about. It's absolutely critical to pass rug hooking on to the next generation, and we have to pass it on in a way that honors and respects the fact - the glorious fact - that they will want to make it their own by bringing their own aesthetics, experimental techniques, and unexpected styles to it. There is no question that every generation also works to preserve the heritage of any art, but if we encouraged them to do only that and not grow and adapt the art to the modern world, we would be contributing to the stagnation and death of the form. I believe in teaching good fundamentals so that the craft moves down generations intact in terms of the overall quality of the work, but I do not believe in restricting students (of any age) to one genre, one color palette, or any one anything. At RIT the students are innovators by nature, and it was exciting to talk to these young women about how they might innovate in their fiber art lives as well. Toward the end of class, one of the students asked me how I got in to rug hooking. As many of you know, I took up hooking after my mother passed away and I desperately needed a grounding, zen, creative activity as a mode of healing. This story opened the door for the students to share what their art had meant to them, and the aspect of healing came up in their stories as well. What a beautiful thing we have here. It turns out that art transcends age, especially if we allow and encourage the young to make it their own. As I was starting to pack up my things, I was presented with an absolutely gorgeous pink crocheted throw that the women had made for me as a thank you gift. I will treasure this forever. I put it to use as soon as I got home, wrapping it around my shoulders as I worked at my desk. It was truly a privilege for me to teach these young women. I want to give a heartfelt thanks to Mirjam, Felix, Elizabeth, Theresa, and Cathryne for spending their Saturday with me and I can't wait to see their finished projects. When I have pics of those, I'll share them as well. Who can you pass hooking on to? Make a list of at least five young people to approach. Rug hooking can survive for centuries more. It's up to us.

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  • Elizabeth Miller
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