Sewing Machines for the Rug Hookers of Agustín González
By Charlotte Bell, photos by Charlotte Bell & Judy Christofferson
The craft of rug hooking was born in the seafaring villages of eastern Canada in the 1700s. This was their way to recycle worn-out woolen clothing by cutting the garments into strips and then weaving them into a base fabric to create rugs. This practical craft has taken off in popularity in the last 20 years with thousands of people in the US and Canada taking classes and attending conferences to learn and improve their skills in hooking.
Until 1997 there were no rug hookers in Mexico. Mujeres en Cambio, known for its scholarships for rancho girls, had a second part to its vision: creating money-making opportunities for rancho women. They wisely chose to teach rug hooking, thus the Rug Hook Project, Las Rancheritas, was born. The group makes one-of-a-kind wall hangings and small rugs that are sold throughout the US, Canada and at craft fairs here in San Miguel de Allende. Their rugs have also been featured in major rug hooking magazines. Sales have been encouraging but not sufficient. To increase sales they needed a functional product and pillows seemed a viable addition. Judy Christofferson and sister Becky Rhodes, seasonal San Miguel residents, took on the task of making decorative couch pillows by sewing backings to rugs. They have been doing so for the past two years since the group had neither sewing machines nor the skill to use them. However the concept of “teach a woman to sew and she feeds her family for a lifetime” gave them the idea of sewing lessons and sewing machines. Becky had taught sewing to junior high students for years and agreed to provide instruction. In July of 2011 they gave their first lesson. The women were enamored with this new skill and caught on quickly. The sisters donated a sewing machine and another San Miguel resident donated a second. However, with 18 group members and only two machines, opportunities to learn and practice were limited.
When these resourceful sisters returned to the US last fall they took on the task of obtaining more machines. Their excitement about the project was infectious and they managed to raise enough money to purchase four more machines. Then, for teaching purposes, the group needed a simple project with high sales potential. Judy, a retired art teacher, whose creative mind is a volcano of ideas, came up with the idea of wine caddies made from colorful local oilcloth. They made 10 samples and brought them to the Mujeres en Cambio luncheon on January 19. They sold out and the money went towards the purchase of more oilcloth.
On January 21, they returned to the village with the groups marketing consultant, Charlotte Bell. They brought the sewing machines, patterns, ribbons and their characteristic enthusiasm. The meeting took place at the house of Isabel Cazares, whose patio has enough covered space to house everyone plus a large table. It also has one electric outlet. Within a half hour the women were cutting oilcloth and the machines were buzzing. The women and their children crowded attentively around the table. Becky commented that she wished her students in the US had been this dedicated to learning, and said it brought tears to her eyes to see the birth of this new endeavor. Everyone in the group made a wine caddy and had a great time.
The addition of sewing machines has planted seeds of many new possibilities in the fertile minds of the eager Rancheritas.
To view and purchase rugs or wine caddies, visit the Instituto Craft fair February 3,4 and 5 or call Charlotte Bell: 152 7548. Learn more about the project at: www.rughookproject.com. Las Rancheritas is a project of www.mujeresencambio.org.