Hooked on rugs: Leyden woman’s work earns magazine cover

Recorder/David Rainville
Sherry Fiske, of Leyden, works on her latest hooked rug. At right, her "Field of Poppies" rug, which was featured on the cover of the latest issue of Rug Hooking Magazine, a quarterly publication.

Recorder/David Rainville Sherry Fiske, of Leyden, works on her latest hooked rug. At right, her "Field of Poppies" rug, which was featured on the cover of the latest issue of Rug Hooking Magazine, a quarterly publication.

LEYDEN — When Sherry Fiske asked her coworker in 2006 if she could buy a handmade rug she’d been working on, she was told “no.”

And while the sale may have been turned down, Fiske picked up a new hobby.

“We had a temp who would hook rugs between calls,” explained Fiske. “I wanted to buy one, and she said she wouldn’t sell it to me, but she would teach me to make my own.”

Since then, Fiske has hand-hooked 21 rugs, one of which won best in show at the 2009 Big E.

After her coworker showed her the basics, Fiske signed up for classes with Margaret Arraj, who runs Mill River Rugs in Florence.

It just so happens that Rug Hooking Magazine’s Betsy Archer also took classes with Arraj. When Archer decided last year to write about yarn-hooked rugs (as opposed to those made with woolen strips), she put out the call for Arraj’s former students to send in pictures of their work. Fiske answered, never knowing her rug would make the magazine’s cover.

She had met Archer years before, in the warehouse of a defunct North Carolina rug-hooking factory, where the pair loaded up on the former factory’s yarn. Fiske prefers to create her own colors, dyeing her yarn in a kitchen, where she also keeps a “recipe” box, full of sample bits attached to tags that list the percentages of different dyes used in making a particular color.

Fiske’s Process

While most rug hookers weave strips of wool through a linen base to make their rugs, Fiske and the rest of the crafters featured in the story use yarn.

But there’s a lot of work to be done before Fiske starts hooking that first skein of yarn.

First, she’s got to find a pattern. She often looks to “Art Nouveau” project books, which provide a plethora of non-copyrighted patterns for the picking. Once she’s chosen a design, it’s off to the print shop to have it enlarged to the size of rug she wants to make.

Then, she carefully traces it onto Reemay, a thin fabric used as an intermediary. Once traced, the pattern is transferred to the linen she’ll use as the rug’s base.

“It’s a process just to get the pattern onto the rug,” she said. “Once it’s on the linen, the fun begins.”

Fiske takes the linen to a holder called a puritan, which holds the fabric tight so she can use both hands, one to hold the yarn, the other to work the hook that pulls it through the thousands of little holes between the fibers.

Fiske estimated that it takes her 150 to 200 hours to finish each rug, which she spreads out over about five months. She makes them in ovals and rectangles, and they’re usually smaller than the 28-by-50-inch “Field of Poppies” rug she’s now famous for.

The first rug she finished went to her daughter, who had her own baby on the way.

Other rugs Fiske has hooked have made their way to friends and family as gifts, and she’s sold a couple, too. But parting is such sweet sorrow.

“When you’ve spent so much time making them, they become your babies,” said Fiske.

‘It’s very meditative’

It may seem like a lot of time to put into a project, but Fiske said the time passes quickly when she’s got her hook in hand.

“It’s very meditative,” she said. “If I’ve had a stressful day, I’ll pick it up and start working, and it transports me to another dimension.”

Though rug hooking is mostly a solo endeavor, Fiske said she keeps in touch with her former classmates, many of whom meet monthly to share what they’ve been working on. And, every November, Arraj invites her current and past students to put on an exhibit in the Florence Civics Center.

Fiske has primarily worked in floral patterns, but she’d like to broaden her horizons. She enjoys traditional ethnic patterns, and would like to learn how to transfer her own photographs onto a rug. She’d also like to hook landscape scenes into rugs.

Small beginnings

There was a time when Fiske thought she’d never be able to make something as big as a rug.

“I used to crotchet doilies; they’re small and do-able,” she said. “I used to just do things that I could finish in a day. I didn’t do large projects, because I didn’t think I could finish them.”

When she finished an afghan blanket, she realized large projects weren’t beyond her means.

“The afghan took me a whole year, but once I finished it, I felt like I could do big projects.”

There are still some challenges, though.

“I hook every rug just about twice,” she said. Often, she’ll find that the colors she’s chosen don’t play well together, so it’s off to find that perfect shade of red or hue of blue and begin again.

“I made one rug where I just couldn’t find the right colors,” she said. “That’s the dog’s rug.”

David Rainville can be reached at:
or 413-772-0261, ext. 279

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