Rug Hooker Shares Craft

Michele Micarelli loves being a hooker.

It’s lucrative, utilizes her imagination and allows her to meet many and varied people.

No, it’s not what you may think.

The 56-year-old Westville resident makes a living off of traditional rug hooking. Rug hooking is a craft where rugs are made by pulling wool through a fabric backing. It requires a frame and a crochet-type hook.

Rug hookers use this method to create items such as rugs, wall art and handbags. The craft developed in North America during the 1800s. Though rug hooking normally requires a pre-drawn pattern, Micarelli only does original work now.

“I feel that my work comes from within me and my creative imagination, not from outer influences” said Micarelli, who views herself as an artist rather than a crafter.

She discovered the art of rug hooking from her father. After undergoing surgery, her father hooked while recovering. Though he no longer did it, his rugs remained in the house and she became interested in learning more.

Micarelli’s desire to learn the art sent her on a journey to discover the secret of rug hooking.  In 1991, after much searching, with no results, she finally stumbled across a small store in Woodstock, that sold rug hooking supplies.

“It was a dream come true for me, and I was really overcome with joy,” said Micarelli, who is married with two children.

Once she began learning the craft, she became hooked. After a few years, she mastered the art and began teaching classes at her home. Three years later, she quit her job at a catering company to focus full-time on rug hooking.

She also works as a backing supplier, providing materials needed for the craft. Though it took a while to build up, she now makes more money rug hooking than she did as a caterer.

Micarelli does not sell any of her work. Rather, she makes money from teaching and from selling the supplies. Micarelli has her own website and an eBay store where she sells her supplies.

Though the economy has been turbulent in recent years, Micarelli said it hasn’t affected her business.

“In really hard times, people rely on their art and crafts to entertain them,” said the blonde-haired, blue-eyed artist.

She said still has many students who are willing to learn rug hooking. Micarelli has anywhere from two to 12 students in her classes, and 10 to 20 when she is hired to teach away. Over the years she has taught students who had many different professional backgrounds, such as lawyers, states attorneys, doctors, physical therapists, and landscapers.

Micarelli uses her classes to help others use their imagination and express their creativity.  Sometimes during her classes, she has her students play word games or do puzzles in order to explore their imagination. She’s had all kinds of students, both men and women, ranging in age from their 20s to their 90s.

Micarelli’s goal, as a teacher, is to open up a world of new possibilities to her students. “I believe that everyone is creative,” she said.

She holds classes bimonthly in her studio, which is inside her house. She travels about six-to-eight times a year to places as far away as California and Canada to teach workshops.

“I get to see parts of the world that no one else has seen,” said Micarelli, who also enjoys listening to nonfiction books on tape and writing fairytales.

As much fun as her job can be, it can also be dangerous. People who hook frequently risk damaging their hands. Micarelli believes hookers have an increased risk for tendonitis or carpel tunnel. In her classes, Micarelli encourages her students to take breaks while hooking.

In the rug hooking world, Micarelli isn’t just known as a mentor. She is widely regarded as an innovator in the field due to her experimentation with color. She said she also discovered that more than just wool can be hooked. She has used materials such as ribbons, yarn, synthetic fabrics and novelty fabrics. 

“She’s very creative” said Louise Hulbert, fellow rug hooker and friend. “She’s doing her own thing.”

Bridget Abbot, who has taken several of Micarelli’s classes and workshops, agrees.

“She has a very vivid imagination, and at the drop of a hat she can come up with these amazing, epic, storytelling rugs,” Abbot said. 

Though Micarelli has hooked rugs, wall art, hand bags and foot stool covers, she wants to further her rug hooking abilities. She wants to experiment more with color and with different materials that can be used to hook with.

“With each piece I do, I hope to improve and achieve something new” she said.

For more information, visit http://www.michelemicarelli.com/

Caitlin Scena is a journalism student at Adelphi University in New York.

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