The Rug Lady of Waldoboro enjoyed challenge of hooking
Camden — LaVerne Dickson, 96, has hooked more than 500 rugs in the last 50-plus years. All the obvious puns apply.
On the door of her room at Windward Gardens, she has a small rug with a picture of a woman working on a rug – know to practitioners as “hooking.” At the top, it says, “The Happy Hooker.” For years, she taught rug-hooking out of her home in Waldoboro, gathering weekly with a group of women who called themselves The Hookers.
“I miss that,” she said.
Dickson grew up in Warren, on Wottons Mill Road, named for the sawmill that used to be there, she said. Her grandmother, who braided rugs and did handwork, taught her to make quilts. She remembered that her great-aunt worked at the Brewster shirt factory in Camden and would bring home fabric scraps for her grandmother's quilts. As a youngster, Dickson also learned to tat — to make lace out of thread.
“We grew up with nothing,” she said, so anything she and her neighbors had, they made. Her family, the Youngs, had longstanding roots in Warren, while a great-uncle established another branch of the family in Lincolnville.
After she married, Dickson moved to Waldoboro. She learned rug-hooking around 1960 from an older woman who was a friend, and in 1969, opened a shop out of her home, where she sold her work for about 35 years. She was known in Waldoboro as The Rug Lady. Besides the group that met at her house, she also taught rug-hooking at an antique store in Thomaston during the summer.
Dickson recalled many sociable times working on rugs with other hookers. She told a story of one woman, at a time when it was still a novelty for women to be allowed into bars, who haltingly acknowledged she had met her husband in a tavern. “'Don't worry,' I said, 'I met mine in a gravel pit!'” In fact, she had met her husband when she was working in the office of a gravel pit.
She told another story about a rug she made with a cat's paw print pattern. Several years ago, Dickson wanted to give a rug to the man who had plowed her driveway for 25 years without ever charging a cent. He picked out the paw print rug, and after he died, his wife gave the rug to the Waldoboro Historical Society. That rug was among those featured in an exhibit at the Historical Society Aug. 17.
Dickson always enjoyed setting new challenges for herself with her rugs. She made rugs that imitated quilt patterns, Currier & Ives scenes, fruits and flowers, sayings, even a Tiffany window from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The largest of her rugs was 3 feet by 6 feet, with a “log cabin” quilt pattern. She said a 2-foot-by-3-foot rug would take her about six weeks to do.
“Whatever took my eye, I hooked,” she said.
There are two main types of hooked rugs, she explained. She did traditional rugs, using strips of wool up to an eighth of an inch wide; the other type, primitive rugs, use strips from about a quarter of an inch to half an inch wide. A hook similar to a crochet hook is used to pull the strips through a backing made of burlap or canvas. The pattern can be drawn on the backing by the hooker, or may be bought pre-printed. She got her wool from Dorr Mills in New Hampshire.
The best part, though, was that “my husband always was interested.” Her mother-in-law also hooked rugs, so her husband took an interest in the art. Dickson moved to Windward Gardens about three years ago, after he died.
She recalled being videotaped demonstrating how to hook a rug for an exhibit at the Maine State Museum about 10 years ago. Now that arthritis in her hands has made her unable to hook, Dickson misses the craft she enjoyed for so many years. “I just enjoyed the challenge of doing different ones.”