Deana David started rug hooking to stay connected with home when she was living abroad. Fast forward to now, she is busy managing Ribbon Candy Rug Hooking, an active Facebook group, designing rug making patterns and kits and more! Through her efforts, she honors the rich heritage of this age-old craft, captivating a new generation of artisans with the timeless art of rug making with a modern twist.
How did you get started rug hooking? Was there a “moment”?
I got started on rug hooking when I was living in Amsterdam. Rug hooking doesn’t exist at all there, and I’d just had my daughter. I was homesick for New England because I’d been abroad for so many years. I started to panic about never getting back home, and the only thing that made me feel better was reading books set in the U.S. and finding hobbies that reminded me of home.
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I’d always done a lot of arts and crafts, professionally too. My undergrad degree was in costume design and construction for theatre, so I had a huge comfort level with textiles. I stumbled upon rug hooking and, discovering that it was a craft that likely began in New England, I threw myself into it. It was a physical way I could connect to home, and it worked better than therapy during those years.
When did you take the leap to start your own business?
On January 1st, 2020, I was feeling a little deflated. I’d given up my career when I moved to the Netherlands and had my kids. I never regretted any of it, but I couldn’t go back to working in the theater or being a tour guide with two little kids—my son being autistic to boot. I was with a friend who encouraged me to set up a social media group as a New Year’s resolution to try to start building something of my own again.
My favorite occupation at the time was my rug hooking, so I thought I’d give it a try. It seemed like a better resolution than trying to lose weight again. A week later I had to alter the group name from ‘Connecticut Rug Hooking Club’ to ‘New England Rug Hooking Club’. Shortly after the pandemic hit, I took the geography out of the name because the group had grown so large in such a short time. I realized I had a business started and began to market kits within the group. With social distancing and staying at home, I began to run live shows about rug hooking five days a week. I couldn’t have been more surprised to see so many people logging on. We were all surprised, scared, and isolated in the Spring of 2020.
What has brought you the biggest joy in growing Ribbon Candy Hooking?
Literally this afternoon I was talking to Dorothy – a sweet lady who’s bought supplies from me in the past. She lost her brother, her husband, and a bunch of other relatives within the course of a couple of years, and I remembered her from our last call. She doesn’t like to use the internet, so I programmed her into my phone so when she calls I actually pick up. She placed an order and then told me she’s been having some rough times. When she wakes up in the middle of the night feeling sad and defeated, she turns on my channel and I keep her company. She told me I can’t imagine how many nights I’ve been there with her, in Chicago – a place I’ve never been. Knowing that really makes all the busyness and chaos of building the business worthwhile. I was so proud and pleased that I could be there for someone like that.
Do you create your own designs for hooking? Where do you find your inspiration for your designs?
I create all my own designs, and I also license other artists whose work I love, and who I love personally. I’ve been busy and it’s been a great business move to include catalogs of work by other people – not just me. I remember reading that Norman Rockwell stipulated (when the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, MA was built) that there always had to be at least one other artist on display—it couldn’t be just him, him, him. I feel the same way. I love the variety and camaraderie between those of us within the brand. For myself, EVERYTHING inspires me. Art, songs, the crazy things my kids say—and their drawings. The seasons, memories, and traditions probably inspire me the most.
What is the difference between rug hooking and punch needle?
With both techniques you are making an example of fiber art that can be used as wall art, or a rug—but the tools are different for the two forms.
With rug hooking you are holding a small hook that resembles a crochet hook and you’re pulling up loops of material through your backing fabric.
With punch needle, you’re holding a tool called a ‘punch’ and you’re pushing loops down through the backing by stabbing the needle through the reverse of the piece. Punch needle is always done in reverse. The loops lock into place, cushioning each other, and forming a gorgeous textile that’s an instant heirloom.
Both techniques make loops, that’s the surface (or pile) of your piece. People sometimes prefer one tool over the over. Some people switch between them to give their wrists/ hands a rest from repeating the same motion. It’s very hard to tell the difference between a hooked or a punched piece when it’s don. Both forms go back to the Victorian period. They are both fabulous, easy, and fun, and one is not better than the other in any way. People choose which tool feels better in their hand.
Tell us a little bit about your new book, Easy Beautiful Handmade Rag Rugs. What can people expect?
This book was a pleasure to write. It introduces both the novice and the seasoned rugmaker to a variety of techniques that perhaps they haven’t tried yet. There are original, exclusive patterns in every chapter to encourage you to practice the technique, with step-by-step top-notch illustrations that my sister drew (she’s an artist at Yale, so she really knows what she’s doing!) and an absolute ton of gallery images from people who are in my social media groups – particularly ‘Rug Hooking & Punch Needle Club’ on facebook. That’s the one I set up January 1, 2020. There are people in there from all over the world, and so, so much talent. I go there first to find examples for my book projects because I consider it the hornet’s nest of the greatest rugmakers.
When you have time to create for yourself, what kinds of projects do you make?
I tend to make very personal pieces that I think have no commercial appeal when I have time to myself. For example, I did a design over the holidays called ‘Dumpster Fire’. A lot of other people must have been depressed and feeling like disasters too, because it was a popular pattern.
I also always default to hooking Halloween patterns. I love the magic and the little bit of scariness and dress-up that goes along with Halloween. We didn’t really celebrate it living abroad, so now I really go nuts when October rolls along. I like to put on movies like, ‘Meet Me in St. Louis’, ‘The Trouble with Harry’, and ‘Arsenic and Old Lace’ when I hook my Halloween designs.
What do you do differently? What is your signature that makes your work stand out as yours?
I am aggressively inclusive. Rug Hooking began as a thrift craft. You would take your rag bag of scraps from your dirty old worn-out clothes and loop them into a burlap feed sack with a bent nail until you finished and realized you’d made something beautiful and unique.
The craft started as a thrift craft around the 1860s, and you didn’t need money or any fancy equipment to make something special and lasting. In the 20th century, the craft went crazy with teaching certifications and prohibitively expensive supplies. It got way away from its roots, and it alienated a lot of people and became an elite craft.
I try to bring it back to being something everybody can do, no matter what their budget or their creative talent. It’s a craft that balances creativity and technical skill. Everybody is good at one or the other. I just keep reminding people to try. I keep making videos and running shows wherein I’m blasting the message that anyone can do this, sharing as much free information as I can about supplies, technique, and getting started.
When it comes to creating, are you more of a planner or an improviser?
I am a natural improviser. I hate planning. As the business has grown, I’ve had to be a bit more of a forward thinker, and I’ve had to be more cognizant of what’s saleable, what’s practical, and what makes business sense. I’m a fly-by-the-seat-of-the-pants girl at heart.
Do you have a dedicated space for creating? If so, what does it look like?
I have a studio space that’s over 1,000 square feet and it’s a tragic mess. I’m waiting for a film crew or an intervention of some sort. It’s honestly that bad. I am always rushing, always in a dither, but I do know where everything is. I guess it’s what people call ‘organized chaos’.
What is your favorite lesser-known tool for your trade? Have you taken something designed for another use and repurposed it for your studio?
Latch hook backing. With the rise of rug hooking in the mid-20th century, people became a little snobby about the back fabric, and latch hook (which is a relative of the rarer ‘Rya’ rug’) became super popular and marketed with synthetic yarn in patterns that now seem a little corny and dated. That era of latch hook kits poisoned people against latch hook BACKING.
But the backing is fabulous for rugmaking – it’s sturdy and it doesn’t require an expensive frame to work with it. It’s also very easy to get, while traditional rug hooking backings (linen, monk’s cloth, and rug warp) are specialty, woven backings. I often rug hook INTO latch hook backing, and cut my material (old scarves, clothing, t-shirts) with scissors as I go. It’s not supple, and it is a bit rough on the hands – but it’s sturdy, fast, easy to find, and incredibly durable.
How often do you start a new project? Do you work actively on more than one project at a time?
I probably have a dozen projects going at any time. I probably have the same number of books on my bedtime table at any given time. I’m a big advocate of working on something that makes your heart sing. If one project starts to trigger me or trip me up, I put it down and grab for something else. Because this is my job too, I have a lot of projects with different themes or upcoming seasons brewing because I need to constantly think about what will sell.
Can you tell us about the inspiration and process of one of your works? How does a new work come about?
I usually sketch a rug idea on a bar napkin or a post-it note. With rug hooking, if your design is too fussy there’s a good chance it won’t ‘read’ well. Working small helps me stay streamlined. You know how artists always say – simple is the hardest. Well, it’s true, so I force myself to keep it simple by starting small. I often blow up my original, tiny sketch and trace it many times with tracing paper until I’ve resolved the lines and built interest and symmetry. I try to make patterns with room for each maker to layer on his or her own style, so I try to stop before the pattern is too busy, and too much about me.
Which part of the design process is your favorite? Which part is a challenge for you?
Keeping it simple is the hardest part for me. My inclination is always to make a ‘kitchen sink’ pizza out of everything I touch.
My favorite part is choosing the materials and colors (color planning) once the design is done and it’s time to start hooking it. Laying out colors is lush and tactile, and I haven’t made any mistakes yet, so it’s an exciting moment in the process.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?
The best advice I’ve received was a remark from my good friend, Kirsten Gay. I talk to her every day, and her designs are in the shop too. She knows me really well (even the dark stuff I hide) and she sees me working at breakneck speed and leapfrogging over breakdowns.
When I went away for a couple of weeks to Cape Cod this summer, I brought a project for myself that had nothing to do with writing books or making kits or thinking about selling anything. It was a big gathering basket that was colored like a complicated color wheel, and there were a bunch of crazy flowers sticking out with all different expressions on their faces.
I started hooking it in the early morning light when the rest of the family was asleep. I brewed blueberry coffee and hooked in a lot of hot pinks and moody purples. I sent her the photo and she wrote back ‘You should keep going—this really looks like you’.
I realized I’d been working on designs to sell for the last few years, and I hadn’t really been working on pieces that I necessarily loved. I knew this piece was busy, and the colors were loud, but I loved it from the start, and it was a great wake-up call to realize that she could tell there was more love in this project than with others, and that it had a special glow to it because of that love. I’m much more inclined since then to do patterns I LOVE because I realize they reflect my design aesthetic, and the brand better than trying to tap into popular markets I don’t feel anything about.
When was the first time that you remember realizing that you are a creative person?
Without sounding conceited, it’s constantly. Whenever I try to do anything on the computer I fail and think: well, at least I’m good at art. I had that thought when I cooked tofu tonight (it was awful), and when I tried to unzip a file, and when I tried to set an alarm on my phone. I’m just awful at everything that isn’t 100% creative and it’s apparent when I try to pass myself off as a normal, functioning adult, because everything else comes really hard to me.
Do you think that creativity is part of human nature or is it something that must be nurtured and learned?
I think expressing creativity is hard-wired, and we all have it. Somehow between childhood to adulthood we all evolve to become different degrees of creative vs. technical. It’s like levels on an old stereo where you push up the bass a little, and the treble down a notch. All our stereo mixing boards are a little different.
Some people, like me, are almost ALL creative and don’t enjoy technical anything. Other people love the technical part of any craft and want to be told where to put each color—paint-by-number style. Technical people like rules and like to perfect the technique itself. Neither way is wrong.
It’s important to realize with any craft you do that if you like the technical part the most, you should dig in and compete with yourself to do something that’s a technical masterpiece – and it’ll be beautiful. And if you’re a totally creative person and you’re hooking your loops all uneven and wild – you should embrace that and forget about the idea that your pile needs it be even.
When you’re working on art projects it’s supposed to be fun – it’s supposed to be you. People work differently and are comfortable working very creatively, or very technically. You can make extraordinary rugs no matter what kind of person you are – just never work against yourself. You never win when you try to work against yourself. Accept your nature and have fun. The amount of creativity you are comfortable with letting loose is the right amount for you, and luckily rugmaking is a craft wherein every personality type can flourish and excel.
What is on your “someday” creative wish list?
I am hell bent on creating a colony made up of antique houses and little businesses that are brought in from other places – like a living history museum moved to one piece of land and reassembled. I want to use these different buildings to create an all-crafts town where people can come and do rugmaking, painting, music, spinning—anything.
It’d be a busy hive of many arts and crafts where people can come and learn new things by taking classes with inspirational, encouraging teachers. It’d be a four-season destination with B&Bs on site, and different little places where you can grab a bite. In the Summer there could be band concerts or outdoor movies. In the Autumn people could knit outside or collect mushrooms and plants and learn to dye wool with them. In the Winter there would be craft bazaars and project classes in all the little houses where you might make learn to bake gingerbread or weave on a loom.
I’m always thinking about this ‘colony’ where there are endless types of classes and year-round events to keep everyone inspired, alert, and invested in life and learning. It’d be like going to Sturbridge Village or Mystic Seaport, but instead of just admiring the livestock and architecture, the buildings would be in use, loved, and you could pop in and out taking different classes every time you visit.
Where can people find Ribbon Candy Hooking and what can they expect?
You can find my shop at ribboncandyhooking.com and you can find me on the YouTube Ribbon Candy Hooking channel where you’ll find hundreds of inspirational and instructional videos. You can chat live with me three times a week when I run fun shows where you can interact with me and the lively group of viewers who always tune in and are always ready to encourage and bolster new friends.
My facebook group is called ‘Rug Hooking & Punch Needle Club’ and there you’ll find all the brand news, and more friends – maybe even in your local area. It’s the largest rugging group in the country and the vibe is welcoming and supportive. People are forthcoming with help and advice. I watch all of my media like a hawk so no one is left behind and everyone—no matter how quickly the brand grows—everyone can get the help they need to feel confident and do their best work.
My brand is not about competition and excellence. It’s about making folk art that represents the person making it. Everything I do is pointed toward helping you make fiber art that you’re proud of and that represents your unique story. If you make something creative that tells your story, then I’ve done my job right.
Interview posted July 2023
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