some things I learned in matangwe

I learned so much from the rug hookers in Matangwe. I learned about dignity and perseverance certainly, but I also learned about colour and design. I learned that it’s not about materials, having the best wool or the perfect colour, but about how you interpret your world using what you have. These hooked works have brought me to see Matangwe in a new way. Below are some pieces that stood out for me and the stories behind them.hooking 1

hooking 2Esther and Irene were new hookers this year. They walked two hours each way, five days a week, to get to the community centre for their hooking lessons. They were quiet and dignified and we exchanged only a few words. However, their work demonstrates a bold use of colour and shape that belies their shyness. These were their second pieces of hooking, ever. I love the energy in them and am intrigued by the way they see their world.

Tabitha arrived every day with her four month old daughter. A second year hooker, Tabitha produced more pieces than I was expecting anyone to make. She was resourceful, hardworking and creative. During the first week she completed the test assignments quickly, using materials from home. She then went on to make chair seats and table mats of her own design. Everyone loved the first piece below,hooked with wool and t-shirts,  and it sold quickly in Matangwe. Clearly it resonated with the people there. The following two pieces are of her own design as well, begun at home and finished using t-shirts, stockings and wool. The material seems to be a determining factor in the design–the last piece using stockings is finer and more whimsical that the other two which use a combination of wool and t-shirts.tabitha

tabitha 3

tabitha 2

tabitha 1And like Tabitha, Everlyne was on fire producing pieces of her own design. Here is a photo of her on the last day with yet another piece, done entirely with t-shirts. She has incorporated her own version of one of the local birds with design features she saw in Rug Hooking magazine.

everlyne 1I plan to make an inventory of all the pieces before our gallery exhibition in Belleville in September, so I will post more of the pieces here for you to see.


some thoughts on hooking in Matangwe Kenya

sale 1

hooking sale 2Jill commented on the last post that it must be ‘quite an adjustment returning’ to Canada after a month in Kenya. It is. And I will write more about my 5 days in Amsterdam after Kenya, a key part of the adjustment for me. For now, I have been mulling over the achievements of the 14 women who spent three weeks hooking and, in addition, their impact on me.

Above are pictures of our sale on the final day of the course. Employees at the local medical clinic and the local school came to admire and purchase. We sold several pieces. There were more pieces in addition to those pictured, including an order of six chair seats. This is a remarkable achievement for 14 women, half of whom had never hooked before.

A few words on the process:  I brought a large duffle bag full of donated linen, t-shirts and woollen strips. While in Nairobi, I was able to purchase 10 additional yards of burlap and some cotton jersey remnants from a t-shirt factory. After the second week, we went to the local market in Bondo and purchased a large bag of second-hand t-shirts, especially in the colours of sky and grass–we were running out of materials!

There were two classes, morning and afternoon. Everyone began hooking a small mat, either a flower or a heart, to establish standards both for hooking and for finishing. Everyone then went on to hook one of the local birds from a photo, tracing the image on to the backing, using the window as a light box. From there, once the first two pieces were completed to an acceptable standard, the rug hookers designed their own mats and chair cushions.  The experienced rug hookers–those who had hooked last year–took to the challenge quickly and some completed five or six pieces in the three weeks. And there were a few new rug hookers who completed wonderfully creative pieces, while others stayed with the original two pieces.

I loved sitting hooking with these women. Some sang quietly as they hooked, others chatted and laughed, but there was always an atmosphere of cooperation and achievement. As the time went on, they became more daring in their designs, drawing their interpretation of the world around them. I would often be surprised when one of the rug hookers would arrive with an almost completed piece which she had begun at home. Tomorrow I’ll write about what I learned about design and colour from these wonderful rug hookers.

Below, buying t-shirts at the Bondo market. Vendors often have their wares spread on the ground on a tarp. Bondo is a 7 km boda boda (motorcycle) ride on deeply rutted, dusty roads. Three adults and a couple of baskets on a boda boda is commonplace–and I am always relieved when we arrive safely.

bondo market


last days of rug hooking in Matangwe

Today is our ‘exhibition’ and my final day of Matangwe rug hooking. Everyone has been working very hard to get as many pieces as possible completed for today. Things have come together in this third week and I am overwhelmed by the quality of the technique and design. We had an order for 6 chairs seats and below you will see four contenders, plus one of my favourite bird mats, accurately depicting a Cordon Bleu, one of my favourite Matangwe birds. Many of the rug hookers have have progressed from copying a photo using the window as a light box, to designing scenes from their lives.  We went shopping in Bondo for tshirts last week as we had run out of material for sky and grass. Turquoise is a favourite.

Uploading photos is a tedious business but I will try to do another post later today. We have over 30 pieces for the exhibiton and sale.







rug hooking in Matangwe 2015 update

Hello again from Kenya. I am in Kisumu with a great view of Lake Victoria from my balcony so I plan to sketch it soon. I hope to post some of my sketches of Matangwe and Kisumu later this week. But first rug hooking news.

We have now finished our second week of rug hooking. The pile of woollen worms has really shrunk and we have been to Bondo to shop for T shirts. We were expecially looking for the colours of grass and sky. I am thrilled with the work especially the larger mats and chair seats which they have drawn of local scenes.  I love the way they combine tshirts, wool and the occasional nylon stocing. Here are some samples of the work so far.





I’ve been hooking along with the women, using this piece to demonstrate technique.  But as you can see from the work above, they are very fast learners and have a wonderful sense of colour and design. They have been inspired by Rug Hooking magazine and the slides I’ve shown them, but these pieces all have a Matangwe lens.  It’s magic to watch these wonderful women translate their environment into hooking. image


rug hooking in Matangwe Kenya 2015

I am in Kisumu with a wifi connection, so can now do a blog post. But even with wifi, it is a long and tedious process. This post took over an hour to load. But I am not complaining–it is so much better than my first year here when I had to find a functional cyber cafe in Bondo (not at all easy)  to send an email.  Even in remote Matangwe now  I have 3G and can connect to home every day. It makes such a difference.

We have finished our first week of rug hooking in Matangwe. There are about 16 women in the classes, some who have returned from last year and some new.  We started with a small piece and then moved on to a trivet with a local bird. As I escplained last year, we hook without frames. We are hooking with a big bag of woollen strips which I brought–left over pieces from years of rug hooking. The pile has lasted us all week. Here is the group hard at work.image

I brought several issues of Rug Hooking magazine and they are serving as a great source of inspiration. My hope this year is that each rug hooker will create a piece of her own design. Already some of the women have finished the first two pieces and begun an original design. image








getting ready for Kenya 1

I am going to Kenya for a month to work with the local women on rug hooking. This is my fourth year in the village and my third year working with the women. I have a suitcase crammed with woollen worms and dyed pantihose and a few pieces of backing but hope to buy a bolt of backing in Nairobi as well as more clothing and jersey which can be cut in strips. If the project is going to be self-sustaining, it will be important to source the materials there.

I’ve been doing a little hooking in preparation. Some of the women became very proficient last year, and will be ready to go on to their own projects and designs. Others will be joining the group for the first time and will work through the practice pieces. Both both groups will produce small pieces which we will hope to sell.jan 15 hooking

Kenya is also a wonderful place for sketching and I intend to do as much as I can. I am paring down my kit into something that I can carry with me at all times in a small backpack. Since I will be away for a month, I need to take enough to last–so I have stocked up on Staedtler permanent and non-permanent markers–I have grown to like these very much –as well as the trusty Micron 05′s. I’ll take a couple of my favourite Lamy pens as well.kit jan 15And a final cup and saucer sketch. We were at my favourite café and the server heard my cough and raspy voice. Knowing I was going on a plane this weekend, she brought over her special ‘tea for colds’–lemon, cloves and honey. We were sitting in the window table, my favourite, and the tea was delicious and soothing so I celebrated the moment with a quick sketch. Yes I do love those yellow cups, but note for next time–include more of the surroundings in the sketch…btw the sketch below is done in my current sketchbook, Stillman and Birn Delta Series. Although I love the 7″x10′ size and the coil binding, I am not fond of the ivory colour. Seen compared to the while of the one above, my Kenya sketchbook, the hand.book 8.25×8.25, I realize how much I prefer the white paper.l'aub cup jan 2015


I am a retired educator and recovered administrator. I have always been interested in fibre, first as a weaver, now as a rug hooker and screen printer. Over the last few years I have become passionate about giving a new life to cast-off wool and leather. This is my journal where I muse about my creative life.

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