I’ve been making punch needle style hooked rugs since 1982, when I was trained as a rug hooker by McAdoo Rugs, of North Bennington, Vermont. I worked as a “home rug hooker” for the McAdoos and began teaching the craft in 1985. My students were very enthusiastic about their rug making but frustrated that there wasn’t anywhere nearby to buy supplies. At this time, McAdoo Rugs didn’t sell yarn or other materials, only finished rugs, and there was only one shop in The United States that specialized in punch needle rug hooking supplies, The George Wells Ruggery, in Long Island, New York.
To meet this need I opened my shop and mail order business, Red Clover Rugs, which I ran from 1985–1995. The shop featured punch needle rug hooking supplies, (including a collection of 315 different colors of rug yarn), kits, and my own original rug patterns. During two of the Red Clover Rugs years, the shop and studio were located in the Vermont State Craft Center at Frog Hollow in Middlebury, Vermont, where I served as a resident artist, selling my work in The Craft Center’s gallery, teaching, and demonstrating for hundreds of visitors. During this time, with the help of five home rug hookers of my own, I also punched and sold a full line of finished rugs, and completed many commissioned pieces, including a room sized rug and a 24’ long stair runner. In 1995, I sold Red Clover Rugs to Barbara Benner, who moved the business to her home state of Oregon, where the company continues to this day. This same year, I invented The Oxford Punch Needle and The Oxford Company was formed, operating out of our solar and wind powered home in Cornwall, Vermont.
I was honored to be licensed by Vermont’s Shelburne Museum to make adaptations of the museum’s antique hooked rugs and my adaptations were sold in the museum’s gift shop and catalog. I also created patterns and kits for the museum, and had the wonderful experience of going through the museum’s collection, choosing rugs that I thought might appeal to today’s rug hookers. I was also asked to help catalog the museum’s collection of over 400 hooked rugs and worked for two years as a volunteer on this project.
Over the years I’ve been privileged to work with many craft related groups and I served as president of The Vermont Crafts Council, and vice president of the Green Mountain Rug Hooking Guild. I’ve had the pleasure of teaching for public schools, private groups, guilds, clubs, craft schools, and rug hooking schools across the United States and Canada. In an effort to increase the number of punch needle rug hooking instructors, I offer a teacher’s certification program each summer at Fletcher Farm School for the Arts and Crafts in Ludlow, Vermont, where I’ve been on the faculty since 1984. I’ve spoken about hooked rugs at The Museum of American Folk Art, and have served as a mentor for The Northeast Handspinners Association. In 2001, I was honored to receive an award from The Vermont State Craft Center and Vermont’s Governor, Howard Dean, in recognition of outstanding service to the Vermont art and craft communities.
I started teaching completely by accident. In 1986 McAdoo Rugs was asked to teach a class and no one there wanted to do it, so I finally gave in and said I’d go. I dreaded it, but it turned out that I loved to teach! Teaching is still my favorite part of what I do, mostly because the craft makes people really happy and gives them a sense of pride and accomplishment.
People have told me that rug hooking has changed their lives. I have seen it wash away sadness, awaken creativity, build confidence, and forge friendships. I’ve watched slow and patient punching bring calm, and witnessed aggressive punching dissipate intense anger and frustration.
It turns out that when I first got started, punch needle was considered by many to be a very lowly form of rug making. Luckily, I didn’t know this, and by the time I found out I didn’t care. Many people were afraid to admit that they worked with a punch needle. It seems silly now but it was a problem for many years. I have loved watching this craft flourish and gain respect, as artists strive to do their best work and elevate the craft.
I don’t know why, but I always forget how much I like to punch. When I thread my needle and get going, it all comes back to me. ‘Oh yes,’ I think to myself, ‘I remember now… I love doing this!’ Give me a book on tape to listen to while I work and I remember what got me started with all this in the first place: it soothes my soul. I design my rugs ahead of time but always change things as I go. I like to punch, but also spend a lot of time pulling things out. Call me crazy but I love this part, fiddling with colors and design and changing things until they please no one but myself -not knowing why I like the changes – but just liking them. Not having to know why is my favorite part of all. Just being happy with the end result is a pretty great thing for me. In a world that doesn’t always make sense, there’s something satisfying about being able to pull thousands of loops together, combining them in a way that doesn’t exactly create order, but creates a certain gratifying peace of mind.