One gal had a pattern she’d purchased online that was on monk’s cloth from a shop in the states. The type of backing has no relevance to the story but the condition of the design did. It was cute, a primitive sheep with vines and berries surrounding it. The photo that accompanied the pattern was sweet as well but there was a border around it that wasn’t drawn on the pattern. No biggy really if they had allowed enough selvage edge to put it on plus allow for the inch and a half bit for finishing. On one side there wasn’t enough excess to put the pattern in a hoop and hook out to the edge of the design. It would have worked in a gripper frame but generally new rug hookers start with the less expensive hoop to see if they will like it before upgrading to another frame. Not knowing who would buy the pattern, it should have been geared to fit any frame.
In my shop every pattern on the rack has four inches of extra all around the pattern so if you have a hoop you don’t have to take the time to sew material around it to be able to hook it. When paying top dollar for a pattern, and this small one, about 14” x 19”, came with a price tag and shipping of $80 plus dollars, it should be user ready, not needing to be fixed to hook it. The drawn bottom line on the pattern wasn’t straight on the grain either. As far as I am concerned that is three strikes against it.
Then there was a gal with a kit purchased elsewhere. The wool provided didn’t match the picture on the bag. That is strike #1. When shoppers are browsing, usually a kit is decided upon by the beautiful hooked photograph that smiles up at you from the front of the bag, the image that shows you what the project should look like when completed. The picture is also a guide to help with matching the colour to the area to be hooked. A beginner wouldn’t realize they needed to scrutinize the wool through the plastic in the back to see if it is a match to the photo, it would be assumed and rightly so.
Strike #2. I could clearly see that there wasn’t enough wool to hook the piece. The plaid for the background was unique, so matching it would have been impossible and the rug hooker would have had to tear it all out and find something else or contact the kit maker for more wool. When it’s recycled, coming up with more might be a problem. In my book, this is inexcusable. The gal said maybe she could make the starfish bigger to compensate for the lack of background wool, a smart alternative but there wasn't enough to do the motif the original size let alone enlarge it and besides, why should she have to do that? She paid good money for this kit. There should be at least 20% more wool than is required to hook the piece, extra to account for high hooking and packing and when there isn’t enough for even normal loop formation to cover, it’s a crime.
The wool for the starfish in the center was lacking as well. Although the background wool was the proper weight and thickness, the wool for the starfish was extremely thin and clearly not enough to do the job. When wool is a bit thicker you can fudge more as it will fill in better by skipping more spaces, but when it is wafer thin you can only do so much. My experienced eye could see there was a shortage immediately and I gave her a lesson on how to tell if you have enough to do the job by folding a strip in four, laying it on the design and counting up how many she would need to do the area. I counted how many strips she would need to cover the five armed echinoderm and one whole arm was going to be left naked. I felt badly for her and dug into my basket of left overs to find a plaid that matched enough to blend that she would be able to mix the colours to complete the starfish, I didn’t charge her for the wool and I’m not saying this looking for a slap on the back, but why did I have to compensate for someone else’s poorly constructed merchandise? I’ll tell you why, the last thing I want a student to feel is frustrated with their first project. That does little to exude excitement over the craft. The point of teaching is to cultivate interest, be an ambassador to build this continent’s rug hooking empire to grand proportions. Bring victory! Not be cut down on the front line. Also, the wool was cut poorly as well; it frayed more than I would want a beginner to struggle with, once again potentially turning them off instead of on.
In all the years I’ve been teaching I’ve seen a lot of this. Sometimes I’ve cried silent tears for those who have struggled and been frustrated with inferior wool and poorly draw patterns, trying to hook a straight line on a stamped pattern that defies the meaning of straight on the grain. Working on burlap or linen that isn’t worth a second glance, the vagabond cousin of the superior backing, with its holes and gaps wide enough to stuff Jimmy Hoffa in. If that was all that existed to work on I would quit rug hooking and open a beading store. Its crap! Stuff I would wrap around my shrubs to fend off the cold winds and nibbling deer of winter.
I don’t verbally disparage those who sell these kits to interested, newbie hookers; I don’t want them to feel badly about their purchase. I’m a better person than that. I’ve never liked professionals that dump on their predecessors. “OMG, who cut your hair last?” “Who did this carpentry job, a two year old?” That sort of thing is unprofessional and ugly. You can point out a problem discreetly without tearing anyone down, doing it kindly in the name of education for the next time they are in search of a project.
So…. I’ve decided that from now on if a person signs up for one of my beginner classes, they will need to use my products. I’ve never believed in forcing anyone to be exclusive, but I can no longer stand by and watch a newbie struggle. In the past, I used to suggest, if their wool was inferior, cut across the grain or shedding like the hair on my head, they should use pieces from my basket for them to practice on. I can’t do my job properly unless I am confident in the materials. I’ll put that little note on my website and from now on all students will learn on my top quality wools and patterns, making their first experience like passing a knife through butter, perhaps inspiring enough joy that they want to do it again.
I’m not perfect. I’ve screwed up in kits already but never in the quality department. Despite our constant process of double checking before a kit is bagged I’ve left a bundle of wool out every now and then, not often though, I can count it on my one hand for the past 16 years of service. Considering how many we sell that’s almost not worth talking about. I’m fanatical about kit quality and I do my best to inspect what goes out the door.
The biggest grumble over my kits has nothing to do with the quality; it’s with the amount of time they take to make. In a world where we demand immediate service it’s difficult to wait for a handmade product. The wool has to be dyed, measured and cut. If it is a new kit, detailed instructions have to be written, a label designed and a colour placement chart created. Every piece of wool is hand dyed and matched to the actual rug for continuity and ease for the hooker to follow the picture as well. I have to make these in between all the customers, shop duties and office work. At any given time there are several kits on the order board to create. Large kits can take up to 4-6 weeks and in summer perhaps longer as the list of orders we receive is always long. Our kits aren’t thrown together without a care for the customer. I call them idiot proof, not as an insult to the buyer; we’ve never had a call because someone couldn’t figure out the colour plan or the instructions. We are proud as punch over this.
Our kits don’t fall off a China delivery truck, they are made from scratch, one at a time and all the attention you can imagine is put into the bag. So over the years, waiting has been our customer’s biggest angst but in the end it is well worth it when that parcel arrives full of care and love. If it is a large kit with a lot of colour we sometimes label each bundle so there is zero confusion. Each bundle is precisely cut and tied. I’ve seen kits where the wool is cut and thrown into the bag without any separation between the other colours, matting together into a ball. And sometimes the wool is poorly cut, more like scored and not totally separated and having to pull the strips apart frays them.
And, when the strip colours don’t match the picture, the rug hooker is left to figure out what goes where. When you’ve purchase a kit because of the beautiful red building in the photo of the finished rug that will look great with your home décor, you feel a bit ripped off when you open the package and find pink instead. I remember one student on a Saturday afternoon laying out all the wool in her kit bag, untangling it all as it was all mixed together like dog fur matts. Some of the wool was fraying and dropping bits all over the place because it was worsted, the absolute worst wool for hooking. All the strings from being poorly cut congealing the mess into a ball. We separated all the colours into groups and tied them together We spent a lot of time trying to figure out where each colour went according to the picture. The only easy match was the black for the roof and various other objects. None of the colours matched so I had to help her figure out by the quantity of each pile where each might go. A beginner, on their own, would have no clue how to proceed.
It was clearly short for most of the buildings and boats. She paid over a hundred dollars for the kit. The pattern was hand sketched without using red dot and there were places where the drawer kept correcting mistakes so it was a mess of black lines. None of the buildings were straight on the grain and the poor quality backing smelled like it came out of a musty basement that had suffered an oil drum spill. There were no instructions except for a small piece of torn edged brown paper with a couple of words written on it that for the life of me I can’t remember.
I will say that the student was a trooper. She realized how bad it was but said she would have to work and make the best of it. She was a visitor from Ontario, loved the area and really wanted to learn how to rug hook on her holiday. She bought enough wool from me to hook the pretty red building to look like the photo because that is what drew her to the kit in the first place. I’ve never heard from her again and I think about her every now and then, wondering if she finished the project or if it’s stuffed in a closet somewhere.
I’ve taught students where the wool literally disintegrated while they were hooking with it. Worsted wool, cut across the grain isn’t worth the powder to blow it up, why anyone would stuff that crap into a kit bag and sell it to an unsuspecting buyer is a mystery. Even with my experience I wouldn’t be able to hook with it. There’s recycled wool and then there’s recycled wool. Not all of it is worth using just because it’s called wool. Customers that have purchased these kits have literally told me that hooking is too hard and frustrating. How very sad is that?
Our shop has almost zero returns because everything we have is well built and top quality. I wish others were of the same thinking. If we sell product to the masses our job is to cultivate new hookers to the fold, it is our mandate. We need repeat business; we depend on it to stay open. I personally can’t see those disgruntled customers ever going back for the second kit so where is the value in cutting corners or not putting the proper care into your merchandise?