By Carol Taber
Wake Forest’s Joanne Page is one of a growing number of artisans starting businesses out of their homes.
British born, Joanne has a graphics arts degree from the University of Manchester. After graduation, Joanne worked for English Heritage, designing site graphics.
English Heritage, officially the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England, oversees the National Heritage Collection of historic sites and monuments. Joanne was part of a team that won a Carnegie award for the excellence of their graphic work.
In 1989, she married Matthew Page. While she embraced motherhood and working in the home, she always planned to eventually return to work as a graphic designer.
But, life intervened. Matthew was offered a one-year international assignment in the United States.
The Pages sold their home and moved to Wake Forest in 1997 with their two preschool sons.
That one year has stretched into 18, and along the way, the Pages welcomed a daughter and a third son to their growing family. They also decided to homeschool all their children, keeping Joanne even busier at home.
Joanne used her creative skills homeschooling, at church and in the community and she continued to learn new crafts and to design and make beautiful things.
Even during the busy, and sometimes overfull, years of having all four children at home, Joanne enjoyed drawing, painting and quilting. She often designed her own quilt patterns.
Since 2010, however, the designing and making of hooked rugs has captured her creative imagination.
And as she began to share her work on Facebook, people have contacted her about buying her patterns — and a business opportunity was born.
A brief history of rugs
Like quilting, hooked rug making was a home craft practiced out of necessity by women in Canada and the New England states in the 1800s. The rich could buy imported blankets and rugs to help keep their homes cozy and warm during the brutally cold winters. Most homemakers, however, could not afford the same. So, these smart, thrifty women used scrap fabric and burlap to make rugs for their homes.
A skill developed out of necessity became a creative outlet for many of those women as it was also a way to add color and an individual touch to their homes.
For Joanne, making hand-hooked rugs allows her to combine her graphic art skills with her love of fibers.
“It is painting with fiber,” she says.
There has been a growing interest in American folk art in the past two decades, but rugs dating from the 1800s are rare and expensive.
People who want to decorate their homes with the look of that time period either have to make rugs themselves or purchase them from craftsmen. But it can be a little complicated.
Hooked rugs are divided into three broadly categorized schools of rug design.
Primitive designs are based on those from those early Canadian and American homemakers.
According to rug hooking historian Pat Cross, during the late 1800s many of the patterns were designed by Edward Frost. At first Frost sold his patterns door to door and later by mail order through Montgomery Ward.
Skills shared and passed on
Craftsmen are made, not born; they learn their crafts from others. Like many beginners, Joanne learned rug hooking from another crafter in her community.
Kathy Newman generously shared her time and talent with Joanne. And then Joanne continued developing her skills through taking an online course, reading, YouTube videos and interacting with others who share her love of all-things-fiber.
Joanne is also a natural teacher and loves to share her knowledge. She has demonstrated rug hooking techniques for the past three years at Carolina Fiber Fest (and will be at the Checkmate Farms booth this year, April 10-11). She has been a demonstrator at Art After Hours in Wake Forest, most often at For Old Times Sake Antiques on South White Street.
Her proficiency as a hooked rug crafter is starting to be recognized as well: Joanne was awarded Best In Show for Threaded Needlecraft at the 2014 N.C. State Fair.
Creating her own style
During a chance conversation over lunch with Kathy Donovan at Carolina Fiber Fest last spring, Joanne got her first opportunity to design rug patterns.
Kathy happened to sit next to Joanne and admired the pattern of the rug she was hooking. Kathy mentioned she was looking for a pattern designer for her punch rug business, unaware that Joanne was a trained graphic designer.
Joanne offered to design some patterns for Donovan. Around the same time, Joanne started posting pictures of her rugs on her personal Facebook page, and folks started requesting copies of her designs.
She quickly realized she could combine her love of graphic design and hooked rug hobby into a home-based business.
“Your 40s and 50s are a great time to try things out,” Joanne says. “Many women are reinventing themselves at this time. I love that I can design while still being able to homeschool.”
‘Woolly Worm Rugs’
Soon after her encounter with Kathy, Joanne started Woolly Worms Rugs. She is still developing her “voice” as a fiber artist.
While Joanne’s first love is American primitive design, she would like to explore more abstract styles.
There is a certain amount of creative tension between what she would like to design, and what she knows will sell.
One of her artistic goals this year is to create some abstract rug pieces using the Blue Ridge Mountains as her inspiration.
As a designer, she plans to work on patterns people enjoy making.
As a businesswoman, she aims to get her Etsy.com shop up and running, develop her blog and submit some of her work to rug hooking magazines for publication — perhaps even Celebration magazine, the industry standard for hooked rug artisans and designers.
The level of artistry profiled in Celebration is of museum quality. As a fiber artist, that is where Joanne would like to see herself.
Having her work recognized by fellow hooked rug makers would be like a painter winning the British Turner Prize Exhibition and having her work hung in the Tate gallery, she says.
See Joanne’s designs online at facebook.com/woollywormsrugs or at woollywormsrugs.com.
Anyone interested in purchasing a pattern, taking classes on rug hooking or more information about a newly formed Wake Forest hooked rug group can e-mail Joanne at email@example.com.