Friday, February 22, 2013

For Rug Hookers: "What the Heck is a #8 Cut" (and Other Musings of a Beginner Rug Hooker)

When I first started rug hooking, I remember being confused by the "cuts" referred to for wool strips. The cuts refer to the width of a wool strip.  Since I don't have a mathematical mind and never successfully committed the cuts to memory, I keep this handy chart posted on a bulletin board in my workshop:

#2 Cut
#3 Cut

#4 Cut
#5 Cut

#6 Cut

#7 Cut

#8 Cut
#9 Cut
#10 Cut

The most common width used by beginning and experienced rug hookers alike is the #8 cut, which is 1/4" wide. This cut is often used for folk-art-style or primitive pieces because it is an easy width to work with on the hook and you can fill the canvas in a reasonable amount of time.  To this day, the #8 cut remains my favorite width and the one I use most often in my patterns:

If you are creating a very primitive rug, I suggest you use a #9 or #10 wool strip.  Primitive rugs are charming in that they don't have a lot of fine detail and they are fun to hook because the canvas fills quickly. And last, for a finely-shaded rug, I recommend you use a #2, #3 or #4 cut.  These cuts are very thin and allow you to hook a great deal of shading and detail into your piece.

How Long Should You Cut Your Strips?  The length of your strips does not have to be absolute.  For me, it often depends on how big the piece of wool is that I am working with (obviously I can't get an 18" strip from a 12"x12" piece of wool). Conventional lengths are 16" to 18", but I have worked with strips from 26" to 30" long. The thing to keep in mind is short strips must be ended and started more often (which allows you to build more color/shading variations into your rug) and long strips let you hook longer without stopping and starting (alas, less color/shading variations). Remember, there are no right or wrong choices here and the rug police are not watching.  Just grab your hook and go!

Speaking of Hooks . . .  There are many types of hooks available and you might be confused as to what to choose.  Very generally speaking, if you are working with a fine cut of wool, say a #2 or #3 cut, I recommend you use a fine-tipped hook like the ones you see below. They have a small shaft and you can grab the wool strip easily with the small head:

For primitive pieces using a #9 or #10 cut (up to 1/2" wide), you might choose a hook something like the ones you see in the lower-left-hand-side of the picture below.  These types of hooks allow you to grab the wool and pull the loops up through your canvas with a minimum amount of effort:
However, my all-time favorite hooks are bent hooks.  Like most people, I started with a straight hook and held it like a pencil.  Unfortunately, I noticed lots of strain in my wrist and my arm would tire easily.  First, I changed to "palming" my hook, meaning I held the hook as one would grip a bicycle handle so the top of my clenched hand was facing up toward me.  And then finally, I combined the palming method with the use of a bent hook, as the bend naturally lessens the amount of work my wrist and arm has to do:

I hope this information helps you with understanding cuts and hook choices.  Next week, in addition to showing the beginning tutorials for a new wool applique candle mat pattern, I'll post a guide on how to figure how much wool you need for your rug hooking projects.  Please feel free to post a comment or just let me know how you're doing!  In the meantime, Happy Stitchin'!  xoxo--Melanie


  1. Great information here Melanie - it should be very helpful to beginning rug hookers!

    1. Thanks Gayle. Hopefully my posts next week will be tuned a little more toward beginning and experienced rug hookers. :)

  2. Love all hte info I am just getting ready to start my first rug hooking project soon as I get a pattern drawn out that i like

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    1. Jen, you are going to be "hooked" before you know it! I'm glad you are liking the info. I'm going to post a blog next week about tricks and techniques for transferring patterns to your foundation cloth, so be sure to check back!

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  5. Hi Melanie, I've been considering hooking a rug for a while now. I was planning to purchase some nice wool at a fabric store and cut it into strips. Would I need to felt it? I'd like to not have to but I wouldn't want to go ahead and cut my wool only to discover afterwards that I should've felted it!


    1. Hi Pamela, thank you so much for commenting on my blog, and congratulations on entering the world of rug hooking! Yes, wool that is used for rug hooking should be felted before you cut it into strips. Felting is a process that causes the wool to shrink a bit and the fibers to bind together. It's important to do this so the wool strips don't fray when you hook them, and it will also make your rug last for generations. Since you are a beginner, your strips should probably be more heavily felted, although experienced rug hookers sometimes want a bit less felting. There are several ways to felt wool, but the washing machine method is probably simplest for you to learn. To begin, simply place your wool in the machine with very warm water with a few drops of LIQUID soap. Let the wool LIGHTLY agitate for a few minutes and then allow the machine to finish its cycle using a cold rinse. The combination of gentle soap with very warm water followed by a cold rinse causes the animal fibers in the felt to bind together. You will also notice the wool has shrunk a bit--this is exactly the result you are trying to obtain. When the machine's cycle is done, place the wool in your dryer on medium heat until it is very nearly, but not completely dry. I usually hang my wool over a chair until it finishes drying. Bingo, you have felted wool just like a pro! Again, thank you for commenting, and please let me know if I can answer any other questions. I love to help! --Melanie