History of Hooking
The art of rug hooking is centuries old, although just how old is debatable. Some historians believe that descendants of the ancient Egyptians made the first hand-hooked rugs between the third and seventh centuries. Others maintain that rug hooking originated in China or Europe.

What we do know for certain, however, is that rug hooking experienced a major resurgence of interest in the mid-nineteenth century in New England, USA and the Maritime Provinces of Canada. Born initially out of necessity, hand-hooked rugs were created by rural women to cover the bare floors of their homes. Later, people began selling hand-hooked rugs and cottage industries sprang up across the continent.

Painting with Fabric
Rugs made from rags have been used as a form of insulation on cold stone cottage floors by the poorest people in Britain for centuries. When Heather Ritchie moved into just such a cottage in Yorkshire, a neighbour showed her how to make a rug using hessian sacking and worn out clothing: Heather was immediately inspired by the idea and, 30 years later, she still makes useful rugs, cushion covers and bags. However, most of her work is designed to hang on the wall - she has developed the technique into an art form: some of Heather's most complex work has been described as 'painting with fabric'.

The basic technique is very simple and can make use of items which would otherwise be discarded. Hessian forms the backing of a rug: sacks (which are generally too rough for any other domestic use) are perfect for this, whilst almost any piece of 'material' which can be made clean, from new to well-used (ideally knitted textiles or plastic sheet - woven textiles can also be used), is suitable for cutting into strips to form the pile of the rug.

'Hooky' or 'Proddy'
There are two methods of working which can be used together to produce a piece of work with different textures. 'Hooky' uses a long strip of material to produce a smooth, flat surface and is worked from the front of the design. 'Proddy', working from the back of the design, uses short strips of material and produces a shaggy pile. The strips, normally 1.25cm wide, are cut by hand and finer strips can be used to produce more detailed work. A well-executed rug will have little or no hessian visible on the rear.

The Tools
The tools required to pull or push the strip of material through the hessian can have a wooden handle and a metal end or they can be made entirely of wood: there are a variety of styles of tool. Both techniques, hooky and proddy, generate results very quickly - most people can produce a pleasing piece of work within a couple of days. A rug can be worked on by a group of people if a frame is used to hold the hessian flat, giving everyone access to it.

When the design is completed, the work nearly always needs to be finished off with an edging strip of fabric to stop the hessian fraying. This is easy to do by hand with a needle and thread. Depending on the end use, the piece may need to have hanging hooks or a cushion back added, again simple hand sewing jobs.

An Income-Generating Activity
New interest in this absorbing craft is growing alongside recycling and 'green' movements, and amongst people using traditional crafts to express their creativity. Around the world, hand-hooked rug making has become a well-established hobby and income-generating activity. It has also evolved into a popular means of personal expression as well as a practical pastime.