Using Embellishments in Rug Hooking

Using Embellishments in Rug Hooking

Guest Post by Peg Irish

Many people have asked me how I go about working with embellishments in my rug hooking. I love mixing materials and techniques to expand my options for creating a greater variety of textures. Let me use a new series of three pieces to illustrate my approach. Collectively they are called Waves Across the Pacific (Parts 1, 2 and 3). Each piece measures about 8 x 6 inches and incorporates yarns, cut wool, rocks, seashells and small birds printed on plastic.


First, please understand that you can embellish with whatever you choose that will enhance your work. I begin with the rocks. I try to find rocks that have one side (the backside) that is fairly flat so it will settle into my piece. First I draw the basic design with the actual rocks in place, drawing around each rock. Then the rocks are removed so I can begin hooking. I do not hook where the rocks will go. I am very fond of hooking with yarn because there is so much more variety of texture available. For instance, I chose a very fluffy yarn to provide the splash against the rocks. And I chose shiny yarns to provide sparkle in the water. When the hooking is finished, it is time to place the rocks in the hooking holes left for them. When you place them, if you can see backing then it is necessary to fill in with a bit more hooking. And, since rocks don’t tend to be flat on the back, it is often necessary to trim the hooking by beveling it to help the rock nestle inside the hole. When you are sure that all the hooking is completed, it is time to glue the rocks to the backing and adjacent hooking.

There are several types of glue that can be used, including Tacky Glue, but for this project I chose Silicone Sealant (like you would use to seal the edge of your bathtub). It comes in a clear color and remains pliable so is a great choice. With protection spread out underneath your work, squeeze the sealant into the hole and nestle the rock into the space. I use a weight to hold it in place until it dries. I have made several small beanbag weights with suede cloth filled with lead shot. These assume the shape of the rock (or whatever you are gluing) which helps with adherence.

For the shells, I figure out where I want them in the design and then I snip a little off the top of the hooking so the shells nest easily. I apply some glue or silicone to the “hole” and hold in place with the weights. The seagulls were made from photos which I printed onto plastic and then glued on top of the hooking since they are flat and I want the birds to be on top of the “sand.”

When working with rocks or other heavy items, it is generally desirable to place your finished piece on a stiff backing. Depending on the size, I have used foam core, Masonite, or even stiff felt. On small pieces, I just wrap a piece of fabric around the back of the stiff material (I used foam core for these pieces). These pieces were done on foam core so I wrapped the fabric to the front and taped the edges down. Then I turned under the hooked rug backing and sew with overcast stitching to the backing fabric. On Masonite or other wood product I would probably staple the fabric down with a staple gun. Before attaching the hooking, I like to add a hanging device of some sort. For these pieces, I just made two small holes in the backing (and fabric covering) and ran a loop of fishing line for hanging.

I am just beginning a larger project that is a mosaic of rug hooking, felting, standing wool, beading, rocks, and whatever else I can come up with. All the pieces will be attached to a stiff backing with the silicone. I am very excited to see how it will come out. It is being made for the 2014 Hooked in the Mountains exhibit which will tentatively take place October 15-19, at the Expo Center in Essex, Vermont. I have the privilege of being one of the featured artists. Check the Green Mountain Rug Hooking Guild’s website for more information as the time nears (

The best part of the Waves Across the Pacific project was the destination of two of the pieces. I belong to The International Guild of Handhooking Rugmakers (TIGHR). Last fall the meeting was in Australia. I was not able to attend and it was the first of these triennial meetings that I missed. I did send a piece for the traditional swap. My piece was received by Elke Smith-Hill of Ulladulla, Australia. Because of a mix-up I did not receive her swap piece, but received a charming piece from Ilka Landahl, her good friend in Bateman’s Bay, Australia. After conversing via e-mail with Elke, we decided to do a follow-up swap so we would each have something from one another. That is when I decided on the Waves Across the Pacific. I made one for Ilka and myself as well. In return, I received a magnificent rug from Elke with many of the birds of Australia depicted. The next triennial meeting of TIGHR will be in the fall of 2015 in Victoria, British Columbia. I hope to be there – maybe you can come too.


Peg Irish has been rug hooking since 1980. In 1989 she won Best-In-Show at the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen’s annual juried show and since then her work has been selected for more than three dozen juried and invitational exhibits, including a two-woman exhibition at the Cahoon Museum of American Art on Cape Cod, and a couple of international shows that traveled to Japan. Her work has appeared in two dozen publications, most notably in three volumes of Fiberarts Design Books and Anne-Marie Littenbergs’s Hooked Rug Portraits. Peg Irish has lectured and taught numerous workshops throughout the northeast and she has served as the newsletter editor of the International Guild of Handhooking Rugmakers. She is a juried member of the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen.

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