It’s a busy day at Deanne Fitzpatrick Studio in beautiful downtown Amherst, Nova Scotia. There is a steady stream of rug hooking enthusiasts coming through the doors to purchase kits, patterns, yarn, or fabric swatches to use in their own work. The cheerful and welcoming staff who work there offer hot or cold beverages, and of course one of the famous, individually-wrapped oatcakes that is a hallmark of a visit to the studio.
In the back room, a well-lit and welcoming space, Deanne has her Cheticamp frame set up with a rug that she is working on. It’s peaceful in there, surrounded by warmth and colour, and when there’s no conversation, there is the steady rhythm of her hook as it pokes through the backing of the fabric. She is drawing up loops of colourful yarn, interspersed with accents of silk or wool fabric strips, to create an alluring piece of art—in this case, a sampler of her new yarns in an actual mat for the floor, in simple squares and circles and rectangles of colour. I’m inspired, and have decided to learn to hook just to understand more intimately the joy of this creative art form.
Among rug hooking enthusiasts, Deanne’s name is renowned for her colourful, fabulous rugs, many of which hang in collections throughout the region and beyond. The native of Freshwater, about an hour from St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, has recurring motifs in some of her work, with a sense of home being particularly meaningful to her. (Incidentally, she has a show ongoing at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, entitled The Very Mention of Home, featuring rugs from the permanent collection of the AGNS.) She has parlayed her art into a booming business selling rug hooking kits, frames, and all the supplies one could possibly need to make anything from a coffee cup mat to a full-sized floor rug.
In the beginning
It began, innocently enough, with an invite from Deanne’s sisters to go to a rug hooking event back in 1990 hosted by the Rug Hooking Guild of Nova Scotia. Deanne had an old farmhouse and wanted mats for her floors, but she wasn’t satisfied with those she found at auctions, as they were expensive and falling apart. So, she went to the meeting and Marion Kennedy taught her how to do a basic kit. Deanne thought she might buy a rug at the event, but Marion said she didn’t need to buy one, she needed to finish the one she started.
“I made a lot of mats for my floors, I had a great go at that,” Deanne says, “and within a couple of years, I somehow knew I would always do this…and then I knew it was going to be a business for me.”
As a child, Deanne had enjoyed drawing, and while she says her drawing skills are somewhat limited, they aren’t limiting.
“When I learned that I could use rug hooking as a way to tell stories about growing up in Newfoundland, and about resettlement history, and about my love for where I live now, that was a game changer.” She names all her pieces but says with a giggle that she sometimes forgets the names and then renames them.
What is the allure of rug hooking for Deanne? She says, “It’s partly the sound the hook makes as it goes through the fabric and draws up the wool or material. I’m a very social person but also an introvert, and I enjoy listening to podcasts and music while I hook.” She adds that she loves when she has a blank canvas, and if she just keeps on hooking, she will fill the space with colour and stories.
There are rugs adorning every wall of the studio, but also several on the floor. Deanne says visitors often don’t want to step on them. She is quick to reassure people—she says the mats are strong and sturdy and there’s a long tradition of walking on them. At the same time, “I’m glad that people are seeing rug hooking at art for the walls—but I don’t want to forget rugs for the floor. They are utilitarian, but bring beauty and colour and fun into your life, too.” While she mostly makes art rugs now, she says even those floor mats are art.
“I’m glad that people are seeing rug hooking as art for the walls, but I don’t want to forget rugs for the floors,” says Deanne Fitzpatrick, shown here at her loom.
Creative drive and inspiration
Everyone has their own style as an artist, and their work becomes recognizable as theirs as time goes on. Deanne’s work is noted for its subject matter, and for her use of colour. And for the technical souls among us, her stitches tend to be higher and looser than other artists. She has been known to use dozens of colours in an individual rug and refers to her colour choices as recipes, including the studio-dyed yarns she sells at the studio. Much of her yarn comes from New Brunswick’s own Briggs and Little in Harvey, NB, and recently the mill produced The Maritime Collection of 22 custom colours, to complement a few they had made for Deanne previously. These are exclusive to Deanne Fitzpatrick Studio, and are
How does she keep the creativity flowing and fresh for herself? Deanne says she reads voraciously, and spends a good deal of time in thought while she’s making. She also walks daily, which helps her see new things all the time.
Deanne draws from the world around her, both in nature and in community; she seeks to tell stories in many of her rugs. In 2021, she went to Sable Island and that trip inspired great rugs; but she says, “I’m not a huge traveller. I’m very much about where I’m from, and everyday ordinary moments are interesting. The way the fields bloom, the way the light was last night on the way out to dinner…. You can see the same landscape every day but it’s always different if you’re really looking at it.”
While Deanne doesn’t go to shows anymore or give talks as such, she is a master at teaching and encouraging online. She mostly focuses on the studio because if you want to be good at something, you must do what’s right for you.
“I mostly just stay here and hook rugs. And everything people need to know is on my websites.”
She has also authored eight books, with a ninth in the works; one of the most popular, not precisely about rug hooking but for all creative spirits, is her recently-published Meditations for Makers, via Nimbus Publishing. In addition, Deanne hosts a podcast, has a regular Facebook Page, plus a private Facebook group called Wild about Wool with more than 11,500 members. She also writes a weekly email newsletter called The Sunday Letters (soon to be a book) and a Thursday Live event that runs for about half an hour on her social media channels and on her well-built and updated website. She does online Zoom events and paid courses in colour and design theory, among other topics.
Of the need to be entrepreneurial as well as an artist, Deanne says, “I am primarily an artist, I make what I love and I am driven by creating, and have created a business from it.” As she observes, business takes creativity too, and she runs hers like an art project. Her driving force besides creating her own art is to encourage others to discover the beauty and pleasure of hooking rugs for themselves.
The nature of art
No one becomes an overnight success, and Deanne stresses the dedication required to become an artist with rug hooking. She taught me to hook in a matter of minutes, but I have no desire to become an artist, merely to hook the occasional piece. I was dubious about this art at first—I was an admirer, but didn’t think it was for me to try—but spending more time in the studio, and with other hooking enthusiasts, made me succumb to the temptation to try it for myself.
Are more young people embracing rug hooking? Yes, says Deanne, “It’s the kind of craft you can do with young children—you can pick it up and put it down, it doesn’t require a lot of mess and setup. You take your time with it, and you can come back to it after being interrupted.”
When COVID-19 hit our region, she and her staff weren’t sure what would happen, but the business got busier as people embraced slow, contemplative pastimes like baking bread, gardening, knitting and rug hooking. It’s a slow and relaxing process with a great yield at the end.
As a well-known and established artist, does Deanne still face challenges with her art? She says pleasing herself is a challenge, but most importantly, having what she does recognized as art has been a challenge. “I had a show at the Art Gallery 25 years ago, and they could see what I do is art, but if I tell people I’m an artist, they ask what kind of painting or sculpting I do. I still feel the little bubble burst a wee bit. I think people don’t always see traditional women’s work as art, but that is changing.”
There’s something uplifting about the community of fibre enthusiasts, regardless of which medium they work in.
“People are attracted to natural beauty and people who like to do things slowly have something in common and it helps bring them together,” says Deanne. “Necessity, community, tradition, simplicity: these are the roots of rug hooking.” She is adamant that rug hooking has changed many lives. “I’ve seen it bring them through grief, and loss, and difficult periods in their lives. When you start expressing yourself it’s not just about making the thing, it’s about the thing being made and about you. You start taking time for yourself and think about things…when you sit with yourself, there’s just you. And you know yourself a little better, and that is one of the things about rug hooking that changes people. It slows you down.”
Deanne Fitzpatrick’s desire is to create beauty every day. In that, she surely succeeds.