Since she was a girl, my friend Leslie has been a fine watercolour artist and all-round talented person. But when she and her husband, Ed, pulled up stakes and moved from Ottawa to the south shore of Nova Scotia in 1996, she discovered a unexpected new passion: rug hooking.
Primitive rug hooking is a tradition that goes back many generations in Canada’s Atlantic provinces and the New England states. Women, making the most of what they had, would cut remnants of old clothing, usually wool, into strips. Then, with a simple hook, they pulled the strips up through a backing material such as linen or burlap in a series of loops, creating floor mats, pillows, tea cosies and other things that told the story of their lives. They dyed their own wool with natural dyes, boiling lichen, flowers or bark on the wood stove and using salt or vinegar to fix the colour, and they hooked simple folk art designs either drawn by themselves on the burlap or using a commercial stamped pattern.
Leslie was born in Ottawa and her father’s side of the family came from Iceland. Yet this transplant “from away” is inspired by some of the best hookers in the Maritimes, including Doris Eaton (a friend and neighbour) (Chapters Books) and Deanne Fitzpatrick (www.hookingrugs.com), and her mentors Joan Patterson and Marguerite Ellwood. Drawing from her art background, Leslie creates most of her own designs and dyes most of her wool. She is technically skilled, her colours are beautiful, and her designs are charming. Here, for example, is a floor mat she finished last year of the 1830s home she owns with Ed, situated along the Lighthouse Trail just a five-minute walk from the Atlantic Ocean.
And here is a pillow she hooked for me. The sheep is a traditional folk-art design but the border is Leslie’s creation. The pillow is backed with a grey-green silk I brought back from Thailand and it looks gorgeous on my antique white matelassé bedspread.
Leslie and her rug-hooking group get together twice a week in each other’s homes, and the hooker who is hosting usually makes a little something for the group to have with coffee or tea. Often that little something is oatcakes, which also have a tradition in the Maritimes. There are dozens of recipes for oatcakes. This one is adapted slightly from the website of Deanne Fitzpatrick, who found it in the cookbook of the small Anglican church where she was married. Here it is, in honour of all those who are keeping the Atlantic rug-hooking tradition alive.
- 3 cups large-flake oats
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup butter, softened
- 1 cup shortening (or butter)
- ¼ cup water
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.
- In a large bowl, mix together oats, flour and salt. With your fingers or a pastry blender, work in the butter and shortening. Sprinkle water over the mixture and mix to combine. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and bring it together with your hands into one cohesive mass.
- Roll out dough to ¼-inch thickness, dusting with flour as needed. Cut into circles the size of your choice (I used a 2½-inch cookie cutter). Transfer cookies to the baking sheet, and bake for about 15 minutes, or until cookies are just turning golden brown. Transfer to wire racks and cool. Serve the oatcakes unadorned, with a piece of cheddar cheese, honey, maple butter, or a slathering of jam.