Heart of Dixie Rug Bees Will Display Handmade Rugs at Southern Voices Festival
A group of hookers meets every Wednesday at the Episcopal Church of St. Francis of Assisi.
It isn’t what it sounds like; these women are rug hookers.
Rug hooking is a craft and an art form in which rugs are made by pulling yarn or other fabrics through a stiff woven base such as burlap or linen. The term “hooking” comes from the crochet-type hook used.
The Heart of Dixie Rug Bees is a group of 17 women who share their love of and dedication to the art form. Their work will be featured during the Hoover Library’s 2016 Southern Voices Festival.
Meeting for 25 years, the group’s oldest member is 93, and many of the members drive more than an hour to participate. Two members live in log cabins.
Jan Henger has been a part of the group for 13 years. She said she learned to hook from her sister. A natural artist, Henger has worked with calligraphy and stained glass, and she taught art for several years. She and her husband are docents at the Birmingham Museum of Art.
Henger said rug hooking is more than just a hobby for her.
“Whenever you design a rug, part of the process is choosing colors and I even dye my own wool. It’s like watercolor or any painting – if you don’t use the right colors the result won’t be what you hope.”
Just as clay is the medium for making pots; wool is the medium for rug hooking. And just as there are many styles of painting, hooking has many different looks.
“Our group tends to do more contemporary designs using brighter colors and patterns. Some of our women even hook images of their grandchildren,” Henger said.
She said the group is close-knit, but it is common for members to sit and hook together and not say a word.
“It can get very quiet as we concentrate. But every 18 months or so we have a challenge we participate in.”
As part of the “challenge rug” competition, members all hook the same pattern but the colors and materials are their choice.
The challenge ends with a big reveal and members try to guess whose design is whose.
Rug hookers such as Henger are part of a bigger culture that spans the nation. There are annual conferences and workshops where artists learn new techniques and trends. They also provide a chance to admire other hookers’ work.
The Over the Mountain community will have the opportunity to admire some of the Heart of Dixie Rug Bees’ work at the end of February during the Southern Voices Festival at the Hoover Library.
The annual festival features a variety of Southern authors and artists. This year, the Heart of Dixie Rug Bees were chosen as the visual artist.
Their work has been showcased before, but Henger is especially excited to be presenting the group’s work in their own backyard.
“Nobody knows anything about rug hooking and the library didn’t really either. But they saw our work and chose us for the Southern Voices festival.”
Henger and her husband will be hanging the exhibit the second week of February. The festival runs Feb. 23-27.