Everything's old fashioned in the Log Cabin Museum at the annual Tunbridge World's Fair. Atop Antique Hill, with Civil War reenactors camped outside, the exhibition hall features weavers, printers and a rock-candy-dispensing general store.
But for Autumn Joyner, the appeal was Stephanie Allen-Krauss and her voluminous creation — a hooked rug, taut on its frame. The 6-year-old leaned over the pattern, lured by the abundant, precise drawings of leaves, flowers and vines.
It didn't hurt that Allen-Krauss, a fourth-generation rug hooker and educator, was also dressed in 19th-century attire. While passersby looked on, she pulled strips of wool fabric upward through a linen backing, using a tool that looks like a crochet hook with a handle.
Allen-Krauss invited Autumn to touch the soft yet tough loops of neatly cut white wool that make up the background of the rug. She demonstrated by holding a strip of wool up to the pattern from underneath. With her other hand, she dipped the tip of her hook through the linen, caught the woolen strip and pulled it through elegantly, so it was even with the other loops.
"Would you like to try it?" Allen-Krauss offered. Taking the hook, Autumn slowly, cautiously pulled up three almost-even loops and proudly showed them to her family standing nearby.
That sense of accomplishment draws young people to rug hooking, Allen-Krauss said. In rug hooking, there's only one stitch to learn, making it easier to pick up than knitting or crocheting. That single motion can be used with an infinite number of colors, textures and drawn patterns.
"The most important thing, at any age, is to work on a design you like and colors you love," added Allen-Krauss.
New England farm wives of the early 1900s used scrap wool to make rugs that were cheap, beautiful and added warmth to their homes. They cut up old woolen clothes and blankets, and dyed them in creative preparations — onionskins and butternut — to get the colors they wanted. In the absence of linen, burlap feedbags served as backings.
Allen-Krauss began to make rugs at the early age of 5. Her mother, Anne Ashworth, was a nationally known rug hooking teacher who founded Green Mountain Rug School. Her daughter carries on the tradition each June at Vermont Technical College. Ashworth cofounded the Green Mountain Rug Hooking Guild with her students in the mid-'80s. The Guild now has 600 to 800 members, an educational program for children and an annual November show at the Shelburne Museum.
Allen-Krauss also offers classes for beginners and kids at her Montpelier studio-store when she's not teaching at rug schools and camps around the country.
Recalling an enthusiastic group she taught there recently, Allen-Krauss noted, "The homeschoolers really went to town on it! One of them — a girl of 10 or 11 — finished her design after the first lesson and wanted to do another one right away."
Rug hooking offers rich history lessons for kids. It's easy for them to imagine early Vermont settlers wielding similar hooks, making similar loops. The perfect recycling craft, it also allows them to transform favorite T-shirts or old jackets into a warm, cozy, old-fashioned floor mat. Before you know it, they're hooked.