Braided rug shop to open in Greenville
GREENVILLE — Janice Kimball-King, who owns The Moosehead Hooker, has been hooking and braiding rugs for the past 40-plus years. She found it was the kind of task easily picked up or put down, which worked well at the time her children were small.
Not long ago she built a two-story building to house her creative work on her property in Greenville Junction — the top floor for hooking and braiding rugs, and the bottom floor for ash pack-baskets that she makes from scratch and a nice space for her shop. She hopes to be open for business by the time the tourist season begins in late May.
“I‘m looking forward to being ready by then,” she said. “ It’s a good space to display my work. And, I would like to sell online as well.”
Right now Kimball-King is concentrating on finishing special orders as well as creating a new rug. “I love doing this!” she exclaimed. “I’ve had my rugs displayed at the Common Ground Fair (held every September in Unity) for consecutive years in the past. People would walk over to scrutinize my work. They would tell me they thought I was a painter,” she chuckled at the memory. “I told them, yes indeed you’re right — I paint with wool.”
The art of rug hooking had humble beginnings. In the early 1800s in England the workers at weaving mills were allowed to pick up 9-inch bits of yarn called thrums, and take them home without charge. Those small pieces were useless to the mill, but industrious women soon figured out a system of pulling the yarn through a backing and making a decorative and useful floor mat as well as a thick bed covering for cold nights. They came up with just the right tool — a type of crochet hook embedded in a wooden handle to act as leverage. The tool used nowadays is essentially the same.
“It began as a necessity for the poor,” said Kimball-King. “The fact that the materials were essentially free was the reason the rugs were so important to them.”
This craft traveled to the United States about 30 years later. It was widely adopted, again in the poorer homes. Those early hooked rugs were also free, thanks to American mills. Burlap came on the scene around 1850 in the form of grain and feedbags. That rough but very strong fabric became the backing of choice for hooked rugs, and continues to be so to this day. It’s ideal for passing thin strips of wool through and making just the proper loop.
In those early days however, you would never see an article about rug hooking in popular ladies’ magazines. That was considered a primitive, almost menial craft, at best. “The wealthy ladies of the day were busy with needle arts such as embroidery, crewel, needlepoint and tatting lace,” Kimball-King observed. “They never bothered with hooked or braided rugs.”
Nowadays, those antique rugs are worth a great deal, and today, hooked rugs created by hand are highly desirable, especially from those artists who hand-dye their wool as Kimball-King does. “I usually dye the white wool when I am creating a sky or when I need softer hues mixed in,” she explained. “Dying the material myself gives me the ability to control my colors as well as the palette I have chosen for the work.”
She has a good supply of rug wool in hand. “It’s getting increasingly hard to find. There are no more woolen mills around,” she said. “Before that happened a bunch of us would make regular pilgrimages to get wool at the mill store in Corinna.” In the recent past she has been scouring estate sales and, when one of the last mills closed downstate, she was able to purchase many thousand dollars worth of wool before they shuttered their doors for good. Their long staple wool, like the fleece from the Merino sheep, was one of the best wools for hooking and what she prefers.
Kimball-King specializes in scenic landscape rugs. She finished a whimsical view of Moosehead Lake from the top of Indian Hill, a view of Kineo and also East Cove, complete with the Katahdin steamboat sailing by, as well as many special orders from customers. “I love doing portraits of people’s homes,” she said. “I can work from their photo and I’ve found I like to see a photo of the interior of the house as well, so the finished piece will match their color scheme.”
She can create any size hooked rug you like from that information. Watch for the opening of The Moosehead Hooker and call 695-0746 to learn more, or order your special hooked rug, a painting created with wool. In addition, she also makes braided rugs and hand-pounded ash baskets.
Observer photo/Shelagh Talbot
BRAIDING RUG SHOP COMING TO GREENVILLE — Janice Kimball-King holds up one of the braided rugs she has created. Kimball-King hopes to open her shop The Moosehead Hooker in Greenville in May.