Saturday, July 2, 2011

Remembering Beatrice

Last November, when my husband and I were in the U.K., we had the pleasure of dining with Ronald Green, a professor of religion at Dartmouth who was teaching one of the 'Off-Campus' (Semester Abroad) programs in Scotland. In the course of conversation, I described what I do for a living, and he replied that his mother, now passed on, had been an avid rug hooker in her day. So I asked Ron to send me some information so that I might share her legacy with you. With the help of his sister, Bunny Lawrence, he sent along photos and information to me in short order. Little did I know what charming pictures of her rugs he would send! I share them, and a little bit about Beatrice Green with you now. Something tells me I would have enjoyed knowing her!

Beatrice Green was born in 1911 and died in 2002. She worked for much of her life as a medical secretary. She was of the generation of women back then who were rarely admitted to medical schools, although she always yearned to be a doctor. Her son believes that the care she brought to her crafts would also have made her a great surgeon. Bunny remembers her dyeing the wool and stripping it. She says, "She was so talented and wise, smart beyond her years".

Ten years after the death of her husband, she remarried and took the name of her second husband, Elar. She was an avid craftswoman, doing various forms of painting on wood and glass, and hooking and braiding rugs.

Beatrice and Ron, taken around 1999.


And some of her rugs--this one is my favorite.






The Partridge Lives!

Summer is here again, and with it the end of school activities and the general rushing around that accompanies life with teenagers. This past academic year, we had two exchange students, so keeping up with five teens plus a business and two part-time jobs means something has to give. For me that generally means communications, much to the unhappiness of my long distance relations and friends. But now things have slowed down, and I am working on getting caught up!

I can see I will not be a regular blogger. Ya think? As mentioned a YEAR ago, I will show you the partridge project from start to finish, and so I re-commence now. As you can see from the graphic below, I have ruminated on the design over time, and have changed it, much to my liking.


I have adjusted a few areas of foliage and fruit that I was not satisfied with, and I have moved closer to a final concept for the partridge. Today I am feeling relaxed, looking ahead to the three day weekend, so I think I may tinker with some colors and maybe dye the background. For that, I am thinking about something that will evoke the look of tree foliage as it looks when you stand beneath the tree and see the sunlight and shadows. To do that I'm going to try evenly dyeing the wool a pale warm green, then scrunching the wool in a net bag and doing a resist dye in a darker green, perhaps cooler. I will undoubtedly use colors from the primitive family of colors on my website.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A Change in Technique

Business has been good this summer, surprisingly, and so it has been difficult to take the time to blog, or to work on the project I am currently blogging about! Also, I have been invited by Rug Hooking Magazine to create a pattern for them to sell in the March 2011 issue, which is exciting to say the least! So work on that, to meet an October 1 deadline, is taking precedence at present.

I did want to briefly discuss a change in my dyeing technique, however. As we all know, there are many ways to get dye onto wool, and as many approaches as there are dyers. After reading many, many articles and books on dyeing, I settled, long ago, on adding the vinegar to the dye pot near the end. In theory, I thought this would cause the dye to take up more slowly, creating a more even effect on the wool, which is what I sell in my 'regular rug hooking' line of wool (as opposed to the mottled and otherwise figured colors that I'll begin offering in the future). I was having a terrible time getting an even effect on browns and greys in all values, and on many of the primitive formulas, all made using the three primaries. (I don't know if this is a problem when using preformulated colors, so I can't speak to that.) In particular, I had always noticed that the three colors laid themselves onto the wool in a particular order -- blues and reds first, and then the yellow last. The problem seemed to be that the first two would grab in places, and this would create undesirable blotches in various shades, once the yellow had bonded. This, despite nearly constant stirring. The situation was causing me to pull my hair out. I crave sending out wool with nary a dyelot difference, and some of my colors were all over the map with each batch.

One day, standing in the kitchen and pulling out the remainder of my hair, I had an epiphany. Why not actually follow the directions included with the dyes that I use? Those directions advise adding the acid to the dyebath in the beginning. It's actually a little embarrassing to admit that an otherwise intelligent person like myself would get so far into the process without doing this -- I had dyed hundred of yards of fabric by that time. Well, I felt that my colors couldn't get any worse, so I tried it, and lo! the three colors uniformly bonded with the wool in the pot!

I think the reason is that, because yellow has the least affinity for bonding with the wool (evidenced by the fact that it will tend to bond last), adding the acid in the beginning encourages it to bond more quickly, allowing it to 'compete' with the other two primaries, resulting in a more uniform distribution of the three dyes onto the wool. But this is just a guess. I'm no chemist.

I still have some issues with blotching, but not nearly as much, and faithful stirring minimizes this, as does adding the dye in 2-3 layers for darker colors. I pour 1/3 to 1/2 of the dye into the pot, stir it for several minutes (it feels like several hours) until I see that there is a nice base color, although there will still be plenty of dye in the water. Then, before the water gets too hot (which may also induce 'grabbing' on some colors) I add another 'layer' of dye and stir, and perhaps another. If the water is getting too hot, I add some cold water to the pot. For this reason, I start out with the smallest amount of water that will still allow me to produce an even color, leaving me room to add water. I like to avoid having more water in the pot than is needed, because I am always conscious of the amount of acid I use -- when dyeing as much as I do, cost becomes an issue. The more water in the pot, the more acid needed to bring it to the proper pH. (I also routinely re-use dyebath water that has been completely exhausted to conserve acid.) By the time I am done stirring, there is a nice even base layer, relatively dark, but there is still a lot of dye in the water. From that point, I just stir regularly until the dyebath exhausts. There may still be some darker areas in the finished piece, but I don't mind that, as long as those areas aren't reddish or greenish, but are simply darker values of the base color.

For the lighter values of my problem colors (up to a level 3 in my 'wool universe', or a 'light' value) I use a few sprinkles of salt, perhaps up to 1/2 tsp. in a gallon or so of water. Any more than that, or using salt when dyeing darker values will absolutely prevent all of the dye from being exhausted (especially yellow), which for me is anathema in my quest to provide a consistent result for my customers.

I have also experimented with the temperature of the water that I start with. I have read that some dyers add either the dye or the wool at the end, once the water is near boiling. I have not had success producing an even result this way, although in fairness I must admit that I haven't tried it when using vinegar in the beginning of the process. My results were very blotchy, and for some this may be fine, even desirable. To obtain an even color, I have found it best to start with lukewarm water in the dyebath. Cold water retards the uptake of the dye too much, because in the beginning I want to encourage the dye to bond relatively quickly, while I'm stirring after I've added the wool to the pot. Lukewarm water will encourage uptake, while still discouraging grabbing. With very light shades and my problem colors, I tend to make the water a little cooler, although not cold, just to slow the process down a bit further. With acid in the pot at the beginning, I am often able to exhaust the dyebath almost immediately for pale shades. As soon as it's exhausted I turn up the heat to get to the boil rapidly. In my business, freeing up a burner or a pot is essential! If I am dyeing several light values of the same color, I will often throw them all into one pot of acidified boiling water as they exhaust, freeing up both burner and pot. I call this pot a 'surrogate'.

I hope this will help some who may have questions, or who are just getting started. I have much more information about my dyeing methods in several articles I have written for Visit the link below to view them.

Articles on Wool Dyeing

And to see the results of my methods, represented in the inventory offered at my online store, visit:

Rug Hooking Wool

I welcome your comments.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Meet Paula Driscoll

Not long ago, Paula found Ram in the Thicket and has been using my wool to make some of her lovely primitive items. She has a style that I really like, and it's a true pleasure to see my wool used in her pieces. Paula has her own website, Folk and Formal, and the name describes her style pretty well. I will let her tell you more about herself, though. I have invited her to write a post, by way of introduction. Take it away, Paula!

Good day, wool lovers!

I’m Paula Driscoll — married for 38 years to my high-school sweetheart, mother of three grown daughters, and soon to be a grandmother. I have a new online business with two of my daughters featuring primitive smalls and our hand-crafted folk art ~ Folk and Formal.

Paula and daughters Erin and Barclay

I do almost all of the sewing and hand-stitching for our business. I like to work with many fabrics—cotton, linen, velveteen, upholstery tapestries. And I like to do many kinds of hand stitching—cross stitch, needlepunch, embroidery, sashiko. But I LOVE to appliqué wool!

I love wool! It’s warm and it’s cool. It can be machine washed and dried. Once fulled, its cut edges won’t fray (no edges to turn under while stitching). A needle and thread just glides through it (no sore fingers). It is a joy to work with.

My style is folky primitive, but with my own spin. I call it “modern primitive”. I stitch folk art patterns using a limited color palette that almost always includes one dominant color, plus black and cream and neutrals for variety. My favorite pattern designers include Maggie Bonanomi, Jan Patek, Lori Brechlin, Kindred Spirits, Blackbird Designs, Karen Kahle, and Janet Bolton. As I continue to work with wool, I’ve learned a few things that may be helpful to those of you who stitch wool.

Figure out what works for you and how you want to spend your time. I don’t dye my own wool anymore—too frustrating and time-consuming. That’s how I found Susan at Ram in the Thicket. She has any color I want, in any size I need and is delightful to work with!

Don’t be afraid to re-style or re-size a pattern to suit your project. Or you could design your own pattern--think copy machine for enlarging and reducing, light box (or sunny window) for tracing, or your own motifs sketched out and traced onto quilting template plastic. Or be brave and free-hand cut your wool motifs!

In addition to basic sewing supplies, I could not work without my OTT Light, tailor’s chalk and long-arm stapler. The OTT Light brings everything into focus for my middle-aged eyes. The tailor’s chalk marks the pattern templates (I make my templates out of quilter’s plastic) onto wool easily and safely. The long-arm stapler is for basting. And believe me, staple basting changed everything for me—no more hand-basting, no more pins, no more glue. Just arrange the design on the background fabric and staple away and start stitching. (And don’t forget a staple remover to pull those staples out after your project is all stitched down.)


It’s been my pleasure to talk to you here on Susan’s blog. If anyone wants to discuss wool appliqué, primitive antiques, or decorating in the modern primitive style, please contact me at Happy stitching!

Below I have added a number of pictures showing Paula's distinctive style. And isn't her description "modern primitive" the best? As you may have read here before, putting a name to your style and otherwise defining it are so important, and Paula has done this in spades. In particular, I love the "Baltimore Album-style" feel to the quilt she has pictured. It inspires me to create my own quilt for my bed, in fact her pieces are the kind that can easily inspire a color scheme or motif for an entire room. The fact that she starts with a neutral background, then adds simple elements using a very limited color palette gives her items a very appealing signature look, and one that I personally appreciate a lot! And I love that she works with many different fabrics, such as velveteen and linen, to put a new twist on primitive. From the looks of the offerings below, I am sensing that it is very, very advantageous to be related to Paula!

Settler's Pride Quilt: 106" x 48" A Maggie Bonamoni pattern. I re-worked this pattern as a "foot-of-the-bed" quilt for our king-sized bed, using 18" squares (and creating the fish weather-vane for the tenth square) and an all-around 6" border. It is all hand-dyed wools and completely hand stitched in creams, greens, tans and grays on blacks.



Brown Vine and Flower Bolster: 36" x 14" Adapted from a Maggie Bonanomi design. This pillow is mixed cream wools (with a little gray and tan for interest) stitched onto hand-dyed nut brown wool. Black threads were used for all applique stitching, but the running stitches outlining the entire design are done in cream crochet thread. Backing is envelope style done in a brown print flannel. The insert is down and feather.

Oh! Happy Day Pillow: 15" square Tiered panel, hand-appliqued wool and free-hand cross-stitched linen panel tied over a pillow sewn from an antique cotton drapery panel filled with buckwheat hulls and lavender.

Cream Roses Pillow: 22" square Adapted from a Karen Kahle hooked rug pattern, mixed cream and green wool on black backgrounds, lots of running stitches for detail and "movement," the backing is envelope style in black and green print flannel with a down and feather pillow insert.

Erin's Pillow: Adapted from a Maggie Bonanomi design. This is a large lumbar pillow done in cream wools on a pine green velveteen panel with grosgrain ties over a satin pillow filled with buckwheat hulls and lavender (and weighs a ton!). It is personalized with a "fancy" E on the urn and the bee (her favorite motif).

Jordan's Bumper Pad (Jordan is my granddaughter-to-be!) Cream and cocoa wools on raspberry pink velveteen.


Mixed Fabric Rust Pillow: 15" pillow Hand-appliqued wool panel sewn with tapestry, velveteen, homespun. This pillow has an envelope back with a separate cotton pillow insert filled with buckwheat hulls and lavender.

Mixed Fabric Gold Pillow: 15" pillow Hand-appliqued wool panel sewn with tapestry, velveteen, homespun. This pillow has an envelope back with a separate cotton pillow insert filled with buckwheat hulls and lavender.

Wedding Pillow: 18" square Adapted from a Blackbird Designs pattern. This pillow was a wedding gift for a special couple. It is chocolate velveteen with wool appliques. Their cream initial is centered on the red heart with green vines and cream flowers. More vining flowers surround the heart and their names and wedding day were back-stitched at the corners. This pillow is filled with buckwheat hulls and lavender and finished with 2 red hearts on the back.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Meet Ted Stickles

This is the first of a series of posts that I will write to introduce my readers to fellow rug hookers, wool quilters, wool applique enthusiasts, and other wool artists of all kinds, who are clients of Ram in the Thicket.

May I start out by saying that I love my particular clientele. Of all the businesses I could have chosen, mine is populated with clients who are generally older, wiser, congenial and just a joy to deal with. No spoiled, whiny, demanding brats among them! Many love to chit-chat (as I do, obviously) and I enjoy them thoroughly. So it seems only natural to introduce them to you, especially when I see the beautiful work they do.

So it is with pleasure that I introduce Ted Stickles, who became a client within my first year of business (brave soul). Ted is originally from San Mateo California, which is just south of San Francisco, and he lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He went to Indiana University on a swimming scholarship where he broke and held several American and World Records for three years in the individual medley. While in high school he had also set a record for swimming across (under) the Golden Gate Bridge. He started at Louisiana State University in 1972 as a swimming coach, and he coached for eight years. For his last 25 years there, he was the Event Management Director, running all athletic events in all sports -- about 140 to 150 a year. He retired in 2003 but has continued to help out at LSU, running football and baseball events.

I even came across an entry for Ted in Wikipedia! A celebrity in our midst.


His daughter, Loree, got him started hooking rugs. She couldn't talk him into it, so she gave him the makings of a small rug for Christmas one year and, of course, he had to at least try it. Since then, he has made 75-100 pieces -- many small ones, just to hang on walls; and some for different seasons to hang up. He doesn't have enough room for them all, so he duplicates some designs and gives them away, which he enjoys. Many of those are about 18" X 18" and he finishes them for hanging on a wall. Most designs are from some kind of pattern, and he designs some through inspiration from other images, generally using burlap, and a number 3 or 4 cut. Ted will say that he doesn't consider what he does 'fancy', he just enjoys doing it.

Ted finds it hard to just sit; so he hooks and reads (about 125 books a year), does some yard work, works a bit at LSU, and he especially enjoys taking care of his grandkids. It all keeps him busy.

So enjoy the gallery below, and give us your comments!














As of July 2011, here is the latest from Ted. I really enjoy his simple straightforward style, and how he creates rugs with meaning for others, often giving them as gifts. A rug truly is a labor of love. Could you ever be repaid 'hourly' for all the time you would put into a rug? Never. When giving them away, you receive payment in the form of gratitude and a closer relationship.

Ted has made two of these, and donated one for a fundraiser to his high school alma mater, whose mascot is the Knights.



Circle is made of Mardi Gras colors.



Thursday, June 3, 2010

Watch a Pattern Happen from Idea to Finished Piece

In the previous post, I told the story of my visit with my aunt Jean. We sat the entire week doing wool crafting, and it was glorious. No housework, no phone calls, nothing but fun. Aaaahhhhh! I can't wait to go back.

While there, my creative juices were flowing. We talked about doing small projects to get her going in the craft of wool applique. My idea for my own 'small' project was to create a coaster in applique, and then from this idea (since one always needs a set of coasters) came the idea to create a set, each with a different subject, for Christmas. From this came the notion of a series based on the 12 days of Christmas. Twelve coasters is nice, right? Well, if you have read about my preferences in motif, you know that trees, birds, fruits, antique motifs, etc. are what I like. Can you guess which image I picked out to start with? Verse one, naturally, a Partridge in a Pear Tree! No mystery there. So I created this coaster in a day or so while sitting and chatting with Auntie.


Along the way, I decided that I didn't want to make a whole series like this, but I really liked the partridge theme, so I decided to make another larger project with that motif, and perhaps one that could be enjoyed year-round--not too Christmas-y, just a bird in a tree, with a medieval flavor.

So that is the genesis of the project you will watch happen now. Nothing very complicated -- a popular idea, one often used, and in many art forms, certainly nothing new or unique, something I knew would work well in applique, with leaves, and animal and fruit -- all simple outlines -- and one that took into account my personal taste. I emphasize this, so that you can imagine allowing the same thought process to guide you in creating your own pattern ideas.

In the beginning, I didn't concern myself with all of the particulars, like size, what I would make, colors, shading, etc. I only thought about the basic idea, so as not to get ahead of myself and overwhelmed. I know from experience that the rest of the plan will come as I inch forward with the pattern, and begin work on the piece. And notice how I was willing to adjust my expectations as the idea evolved. Long ago, I would have stubbornly stuck to my first idea of a set of coasters, feeling that I should see it through. Now I am willing to discard ideas if I'm not 100% enthusiastic, and let my imagination go someplace new. I also used to form an idea immediately of what I wanted the piece to look like, but now I let the images I find guide me a lot more. And before, I would have started by sitting down to try to draw my pattern cold. But no more. I have learned the value of inspiration. Some may have the ability to draw completely out of their own imagination, and I wish I could do that. It's good that I can't though, because you will see that a nice piece can be produced by a person who cannot just sit down and draw something! Just remember, flexibility is key.

Here is what I have ended up with. The design is near completion, although I will undoubtedly tinker with it some more. Compare it to the 'inspirational' images below, and you can follow the evolution.


The very first thing I did when making the coaster was to get online and search images in Google, using 'partridge pear tree'. (Had I been home, I would also have consulted any art books that would help me.) I also tried using those terms along with 'antique' and 'traditional' to see if I got some more antique-looking images, which I prefer to modern style. I then tried to break away from the Christmas motif of many images I saw, by typing 'bird tree medieval' and 'bird woodcut', because I know that woodcuts were a common way of rendering images in medieval times. Here is an example:


Just in case you are not familiar with searching Google images, go to, and type search terms into the box, as you normally would to search the web. Up in the left-hand corner are other search options, and one of them is 'images'. If you click on that once your search terms are in the box, it will show you only images that it finds on the web, and not text websites. You may have to click 'search images' one more time next to the search box to get the full result. I was a long way into my internet career before I knew about this, so that's why I share it with you!

These searches produced a number of helpful images, which I dragged to my desktop to sort through later and pick the ones that would really help me. Here are some of them.


This first one gave me a good overall, medieval-style image to emulate, although my final rendition didn't really resemble it. It just set the mood for me.


After looking at the image above and others like it, I knew I wanted to make the partridge fill the piece, with leaves and pears all around, rather than make a larger piece with a smaller focal point, as in this image. It did give me the idea to make the piece as a medallion, however. I just used a compass to create the circle. I may put a band of wool around the outside edge. We'll see.


I liked the gracefulness of the turned head in the image above, so I borrowed that idea. I also borrowed the attitude (position) of the partridge from this picture. I debated about having him standing up, maybe with his tail in the air, or with his wings back, as in the woodcut, or roosting, as I finally drew him. I also played with putting feet in, but those seemed not quite right in the piece, maybe because it is stylized. In going for the stylized look, I have to discipline myself not to make it look too 'real', which is often my tendency. And as you can see, this stylized bird has no feet.

Even though I wasn't going for realism, I felt I should consult a photo of a real partridge to help me. Good thing, because . . . .


I found that what I thought was a 'partridge' was actually a quail! The photo above shows a partridge, which isn't nearly as cute as a quail. I like the little bobbly thing on the head of a quail, but I tried putting one on my partridge, even though it didn't really belong, and I didn't like it in this piece. So I will save that for a little piece with quails in it -- maybe a mama quail and her babies marching along in a line. I knew that for a stylized piece I should keep some important elements of the partridge form. I noted how the tail tends to be pointy and turn down, and I reproduced this in the coaster and the medallion. His body is nice and fat, almost humped over on the top, with a smallish round head and fairly stout beak. But beyond this, I let my imagination take over more. Notice, for instance, that I don't have the black stripe going through the eye and down along the side of the head on either piece. I tried several ways to incorporate this on the coaster, but he kept looking like the Hamburglar, so I decided to take some artistic license and leave it out. I think the stripe doesn't translate well into wool -- it may be better for photo and paint, where the line can be softened. I also tried putting it in with embroidery, and I really didn't like that.

On the coaster, I limited the amount of feathers I put on the body, and I will limit the amount of wool feathers and markings I put on the body for the medallion, and rely more on embroidery. See also how I borrowed the bit of striped feathers on the neck of the real partridge and turned them into gold running stitch all the way down the breast of my partridge? I could have done many things there, but that is what I decided in the end. On the wings, I gave a tip of the hat to the real bird's striped feathers in the medallion, but abandoned them altogether on the smaller coaster -- it got too busy. I suggested his wing, and the transition from body color to breast color, using simple lines on the body. I will plan the ornamentation of the body with embroidery when I get there. This is the idea of stylizing something -- picking up a feature on the 'real' thing you are stylizing and play with it a little, keeping it recognizable for the viewer, but taking it someplace new.

For the pears, I had given myself a drawing lesson in pears and other fruit many years back, when painting a fruit garland on the floor at the top of the stairs in our house. So that is an easy thing for me to draw now. I like to make some squatter and some more long and slender. See how putting a little 'X' (as the blossom end of the fruit) near the bottom of the pear gives it more dimension, as if you are looking up at it in the tree? If I remove the 'X' it looks like we are looking at a straight profile of the fruit. I had researched pear leaves also for my previous project. These are somewhat long and tend to curl around a little, so I used that to gracefully frame the pears. Getting the leaves how I liked them was actually the hardest part of the drawing.

I played with two ideas for filling in the leaves and fruit -- I could make them more realistic, as in the image below, with leaves laying over the fruit, and fruit attached to branches, or I could make it more stylized, with less realism in the scene, and therefore less overlap in the leaves and fruit. At first I intended to make the elements more realistic, but as I sketched and worked with the drawing, in the end I picked a happy medium, I think, with just a little overlap to soften the stylized rendering.

This choice between 'realistic' and 'stylized' will often be part of your design process, and you may also want to give it consideration when adopting your 'style'. Do you want to specialize in realistic or stylized pieces? If drawing is not your forte, stylized images may be better, and as you can see they needn't look so stylized as to lose all realism. When drawing stylized images, you can often get away with less detail, mistakes in proportion may be less important, and color choices more flexible. Another option is to specialize in designs rather than images. I plan to do a fair amount of rustic design work as part of my own style, and it is often easier to draw designs. Architectural elements are an excellent source for inspiration.


This image also gave me some inspiration for color and shading, yet to be executed. I am thinking about trying shibori (resist) dyeing for the background, to suggest shadows and leaves, and I will use yellow wool for the pears, and dip-dye it with a whisper of orangey-red on the fat part for the blush on the fruit, and a hint of green elsewhere. I plan to embroider the partridge with gold thread to make him really stand out and look festive, and even more stylized -- maybe like a cloisonne bird. I will heavily embroider the suggested wing, at the top of his back. I also intend to do the leaves and background in several different motifs -- maybe summer and fall color combinations, with more greens in the summer one, and more burnished golds and russets in the fall one. So I'll be making more than one of these.

A Gift Given Back

I spent a week in Las Vegas recently with my 83-year-old aunt, who has been like a mother to me, since my own died 10 years ago. She has been an avid handworker for years, doing all kinds of crafts, and she introduced me to many of them in my early years, and although she is not my mother, she certainly was the mother of my desire to craft! And I was the daughter she didn't have -- she had three boys, so teaching them her crafts wasn't in the cards. Her niece, however, was always anxious to see what she had going while visiting! We spent many enjoyable hours crafting as I grew up, and when I was a young adult. In fact, that has always been a part of our relationship.

Her favorite craft of all has been Brazilian embroidery, and in fact she taught it for quite a while. Her needlework hangs all over her walls, but when you look closely at each piece, the dates on them read '84, '92, '87 etc. She laid her stitchery down about 15 years ago, due to health problems, and just never picked it up again. Then last year, her middle son, and in many ways her favorite, died suddenly at 53. She has been in a depression ever since.

My visit in February was very special. I brought with me all kinds of beautiful hand dyed wool from my huge collection (inventory, really) and I introduced her to penny rugs. Her eyeballs were like two ping pong balls on the end of her nose! She LOVED it and that's all we did the entire week. She worked on a candle mat penny rug, with Brazilian flowers in the middle of each penny. So pretty! I designed and produced a little piece, of a partridge in a pear tree. She couldn't take her eyes off that picture all week, and she just kept saying how lovely it was. So I snuck out with my uncle and got a frame and mat and left it out for her to find in the morning, and keep. She cried. Then she hugged me, and she cried more, telling me how much it meant to her for me to come and bring a spark back into her life. I cried, too!


Since I have returned home, we have been in touch and I've sent her more wool. She called a few weeks ago and said that they have bought her a scooter, so that she can get out more now. She has trouble walking due to diabetes, and has been pretty housebound for a long time. But now she has brightened up so much that she wants to hit the mall! It was wonderful to hear what a chain reaction of joy I had started, simply bringing some wool with me and spending some time with her.

I hope to go back out soon. It means so much to me that I could give back to my aunt something she had given to me long ago, when she showed me her crafts and helped me learn how to do them.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

You CAN Draw Your Own Patterns!

When talking about the wool arts, I often hear from others how they regret that they are not artistic or that they can't draw well enough to make their own patterns. I wonder how often a person who feels this way may not ever try to make a pattern, because they 'know' from past experience that they won't be able to do it. Well, in this entry, I would like to encourage those who see themselves as non-artistic, by helping them form a new definition of 'artistic' or 'creative', and by providing some pointers for making simple patterns that might be used for applique or hooking.

First, here is a definition of 'creative' that I learned some time ago, and I related to it so much that I have always remembered it. Here it is:

"Creativity is the art of not revealing your source."

So simple, yet so profound. Thinking in theoretical terms, it would be very difficult for the human mind to form creative ideas in a vacuum -- with no one else and nothing around him but white walls, ceiling and floor. We draw ideas from everything we see, hear and touch. Yes, we may make them 'unique' by human standards, but in their simplest form, our creative ideas come from external stimuli, often in the natural world, and as art and ideas have developed, from the work of others that we see, touch, or hear, and appreciate. In a sense, today's artists are standing on the shoulders of giants in the arts, those who have gone before us and contributed their tiny part to the giant historical world of the arts.

The earliest human beings developed rudimentary art forms based on what they experienced around them in nature. They might have made small whistles built to emulate the sound of a bird; woven mats from the long fibers or strap-like leaves of plants; cloth dyed using ingredients made from the bright colors seen in plants and other materials. Others coming after them built on those ideas, adding new ideas formed from their own awareness of their surroundings, and so on. As cultures formed, some ideas crossed the barriers between these cultures, out of necessity. All cultures have clothing, drinking and eating vessels, textiles for everyday use, such as bedding and linens. All cultures certainly have buildings and transportation equipment. But beyond that, the ornamentation of all these necessities becomes quite diverse. Historically, cultures have developed collective 'styles' that are identifiable. Asian, Egyptian, Greek, European, and Hispanic art all have their own distinctive style.

And this helps to prove my point -- ideas were built upon, but remained similar, across many artisans in a culture, rather than radically different styles of ornamentation developing from different people in one culture. In any cultural art exhibit, one can see where they were sharing ideas, altering them somewhat, while keeping them similar. There are certainly exceptions to this, to be sure, but in general we see small universes of ideas being shared within cultures, and these ideas might not be present at all in other cultures. Only when there was commerce or other communication between cultures was there an exchange of ideas that might lead to the adoption of a style into one culture from another.

In today's world, there is an ongoing and increasing trend to blend artistic styles from many sources, with the advent of easy transportation around the globe, and the mixing of ideas through modern communications, such as the internet. This is especially true in the U.S., which has been a melting pot of ideas for a couple of centuries. Now we are all borrowing ideas from each other, and adding to them or twisting them to make them our own. This is creating an explosion of styles and ideas that is really pretty amazing, and enjoyable to witness. But we are still taking ideas from others, altering them and making them our own. In many ways, what the great thinker Solomon said is true, way back in the days of the Bible, "There is nothing new under the sun."

So lest you think that 'creativity' means 'creating' something entirely new and unique, I hope you see my first point. This is important, because it puts you in the ballgame. Anyone, to some degree, can look at an idea, change it around a little and produce something new. It's not as hard as you might think, so please start considering yourself able to do this, even to a small degree. This is a skill that you can cultivate, with a little effort.

Personally, I don't consider myself to be particularly creative, although those who know me will tell you that I am very creative. I can't say I have ever produced something truly unique from anything else--something completely new that has never been done before. Some variation of everything I have ever done is already out there. But by simply borrowing ideas from what I have seen, adjusting the color, or the proportions or perhaps the media used, I have made it my own. Others see the results of this, and pronounce me 'Creative'. I just smile and say, 'Thanks', and I don't generally reveal my source! There are some traits and skills, however, that the 'creative' person may have that others don't, and I will discuss how to cultivate those traits now.

Step One The most important thing that 'creative' people have that other less 'creative' people may not have is a passion for the beauty found in art of all kinds, particularly painting and textile art. I have this passion, so I have spent time practicing reproducing the things I enjoy seeing, reading about them, and trying my hand at manipulating ideas I have taken from others. Here is an important principle to keep in mind:

A passion for learning a new skill or acquiring new knowledge is the main requirement for doing so.

Notice that I say passion, not talent. Talent is very overrated in my opinion. Even great artists, like Rembrandt or da Vinci, became accomplished in their art because they worked at it. Granted, having some natural ability is certainly a help, but it is not that ability that makes someone accomplished, nor is it the only criteria for becoming accomplished. The passion that fuels the effort to learn and grow is far more important, and it is passion that can make a person with mediocre natural ability able to excel beyond the person with great natural ability. The passion I have makes me work hard at learning the thing I have a passion for, and that work will make me better at it, regardless of my natural ability.

Naturally, there are some limitations to this. For instance, at my current age, it is unlikely that any amount of passion is going to make me a brilliant gymnast. (Can I get an 'amen' to that, all you 50-somethings?) Just getting out of bed some days can be dangerous business for me. Likewise, we all have our mental limitations that may prevent us from being the brilliant scientist that would find the cure for cancer. So I'm not going to tell you that 'you can do anything if you put your mind to it', because that's not strictly true. But we aren't talking about gymnastics or medical science here. All we want to do is manage some simple sketches that will make our particular art even more enjoyable. Honestly, this is well within the mental and physical grasp of most women, with effort and persistence drawn from a keen interest in making it happen.

Now, there is nothing wrong with saying that you just aren't interested enough in something, even drawing patterns for your wool art, to learn how to do it. So the first decision you must make is whether or not you care enough to learn. If the answer is 'no', then there is no harm in that, and it is perfectly fine to continue as you have, perhaps feeling better for having said, 'I just don't care enough about it to learn', rather than, 'I'm really not very creative.' Do you see the difference? The first statement puts you more in control of what goes on with your creative endeavors, while the second attitude may leave you feeling intimidated and unable to accomplish what you want because of a 'lack of talent'. And the first statement, in the end, is probably truer than the second statement. So if you just aren't 'feelin' the love', carry on as before, but by all means, change the conversation that goes on in your own head, and that you have with others about yourself. Don't continue to believe that you just don't have talent.

If you feel that you do have enough interest to try to learn, focus on cultivating your passion, and don't worry about this nebulous thing called 'talent'. Get the passion! It is difficult to say sometimes what creates a passion for something in a person's heart. Something will just grab you, and you can't understand it -- all you know is that you love it. And it's probably true that it's hard to generate passion where none of this 'natural, unexplainable' passion exists. But I do believe with the proper stimulation, it's possible for some to develop a passion, by just trying something new. I never would have guessed that dyeing wool would become my passion, had I not tried it. Who knows? If you try some of the things I suggest below, and have some success, the drawing part of your wool art may become your passion! You will never know unless you give it a try.

So begin by telling yourself that you can draw something that would turn into a lovely piece, a rug, or wall hanging, or chair cushion. Try to imagine what you could do with a new-found skill, that would allow you to create your very own one-of-a-kind works -- anything you want -- rather than having to rely on what you can find in patterns. Let me tell you, that is a very empowering attitude and one that can really change your whole art career. Let yourself dream big, but agree with yourself to start heading toward your dream with little steps, designed to encourage you along the way -- small achievable projects, one at a time. If you truly can internalize the things I'm suggesting, that will also help you get the passion. And above all, stop telling yourself that you can't.

Step Two It's a huge world out there, with an infinite number of ideas, and it can be overwhelming. Bring it into proportion for yourself by learning to identify those themes and motifs that you like and finding sources to borrow ideas -- fantastically easy in this modern age. This step will also help you build your passion, as you take ownership of 'your own style'. After all, if you are going to become an artist of sorts, it would be a good idea to know in what direction you would like to head. We've all seen works by more renowned artists, and they generally have a particular style, or preferred subject matter, even if they do dabble in other styles as well. It's the very rare person who excels in many disciplines. Most specialize in one, or at most, a few things. Think of Thomas Kincaid, or Anne Geddes, or Taylor Swift (for Pete's sake, if I hear one more song about being a teenager in love, I'll have to kill someone). These and many others found a style and worked it until it was very good. For me, (as you will read elsewhere on this blog) medieval or other antique and rustic motifs, animals and birds, simple human figures, soft, heathery primitive colors, leaves and trees, fruit, and textures of all kinds are a few of the motifs and styles that have always grabbed my attention and caused me to surreptitiously rip out a page from a magazine in the doctor's office, or confiscate one of my kids' cameras to snap a picture. (They hate it when I do that.) I am in the beginning stages myself of formalizing these preferences into a style that I plan to work at, develop, refine, and make my personal style. You will see it emerge in the next few years in my own work.

It's also overwhelming to think of having to learn to become 'an artist' in order to draw the things you want to draw. You may imagine having to take a lot of classes, or having to learn a whole new art form to feed your wool arts. But if you narrow down your style, then you might be able to imagine just focusing on learning to draw barnyard animals, or trees, or human faces, or buildings, etc. This might seem much more manageable to you. Developing your own style will help you to narrow down the options in the big world of the arts to those that you can actually fathom being able to do, and specialize in.

So spend some thoughtful time to develop ideas of what your own style is. Perhaps start by making a list of those themes and motifs that you like. Think about your own style and color preference. Do you like modern, with bright colors and abstract motif? Or do you prefer cute country teddy bears, pumpkins, and frogs in primitive style and color? Landscapes? Human figures? Personal themes that have meaning for you? Dark, brooding colors? Identify a small universe of colors that you like to use, perhaps 100 or so colors, light and dark. You could go to your local sewing store, and collect all the colors in embroidery floss that you like. There are so many thousands of colors out there. Narrowing your choices down to those that you really love will help you in the early stages. Keep the colors simple the first few small projects you do -- give yourself every chance for success by using colors that you love. To choose some subject matter that you like, look through all kinds of media -- books, magazines, architectural elements on your tour of that old estate, snap photos of real life objects, and the web is the most amazing resource imaginable. Maybe you could build a scrapbook of color swatches, pictures, textures and lists of things that you like, to keep you grounded in developing your style. Something you can return to when you find yourself wandering or drifting in your design process. Naturally you can depart from it whenever you want, but if you concentrate on this more narrow definition of your style in the early stages, it will sharpen your focus, and nurture your passion for what you do. And in repeating the use of similar themes and color combinations, you will become more practiced, more quickly. You can always branch out later, but for now, I would suggest keeping things as simple as you can, while you learn.

Step Three
is to become better at looking at something and deciding whether it would make good subject matter for the media in which you work. For instance, in wool applique, one can only put in so much detail without it looking too busy, so I force myself to look for simpler forms and less detail, because I do appreciate a certain amount of detail put into a work -- it signifies time and care spent. I start with simple, and then I find ways, here and there to add a little detail, often with embroidery. Other subjects may look better rendered as a rug. I have learned over time what subjects will look good in my particular art form.

If you have an idea of the motifs that you like, when you see something that rings the bell for you, try to get a photo, or other rendering. I have even taken rubbings from objects when I was without a camera, just to get the shape and general idea to work from. Or, better yet, if you have a teenager with you, they will inevitably have their cellphone and can take a picture for you, and email it to you, all of which can be accomplished in about 10 seconds for a 16-year-old!

Collect your ideas in a folder or in your scrapbook, and ruminate on them, letting ideas form in your mind of how best to use them. You may like the shape of a tree in a picture, but would need to simplify it for your rug or wall hanging. Rendering a face may be more effective in a rug, than in applique, if you like to shade and provide a lot of detail. Or maybe you have a technique to make a face look good in applique, in which case a face may work well. A detailed landscape might be better done as a rug. I simple medallion design with few colors might be more interesting as an applique project, or part of a quilt. When looking at a photo that you have taken, work on your skill in deciding whether it might make good subject matter - you may have found the subject beautiful in person, but it may lose something in the translation to art. Often the real thing is so much better to you than a photo, because you recall the mood and atmosphere that you were experiencing when viewing the subject, and that may not carry over into a photo. Is there a focal point to the photo, or is it a landscape with little detail, albeit pretty? Do you have a photo of a beautiful sunset? Maybe you can add a black silhouette or two from somewhere else to create the focal point. Or your subject matter may have personal meaning to you -- in that case you have more latitude in making it work, in my opinion, and if it might not be the best subject for your piece, that is less important than the significance it has for you.

Talk with other experienced wool artists that you may know and get their input. Consult some books and magazines to see what subjects are generally used in particular arts, and which are used across many, and if so, are they altered? Perhaps given more detail in some forms? In particular, look for examples of motifs that you are considering for inclusion in your 'style'. Rug Hooking Magazine and other fiber magazines are also a great source of ideas for motifs that you can be certain will work. You may never, in fact, do anything with your ideas, so don't feel pressured to make everything happen. You are just giving yourself options. Occasionally, I go through my folder and discard those ideas that are no longer interesting.

Yes, this is a skill that can be cultivated, but I'm sorry to say that it is one that is often cultivated by making mistakes -- by getting most, or all, of the way through a project, only to see that it doesn't look as good rendered in paint or wool as it did in real life, or in a picture. If you are working on subject matter that has personal significance, again, this may not be an issue, but it is true that some things will make better subject matter than others, depending upon your media. Over time, your eye will become better, perhaps from having learned a hard lesson on a previous project. You will learn to pass over those images or models that you know will not work, and narrow your focus even further to those that you like and know will work.

Step Four is to develop your awareness of proportion. For instance, if you are preparing a photo to be used in a project, knowing where to crop it is important, to take best advantage of the subject matter, and create balance in the picture. Or perhaps it might be better to move the elements in the photo around to improve it for your purposes. When sketching a figure, it is important to be able to see that the head is too big relative to the body, or that the slope of the roof on the house in your sketch is much steeper than the one in the picture, and that is what is throwing it all off. Often just measuring the elements will help. If the head is 1" and the body is 4" long in the photo, then recognize that this proportion must be the same in your pattern -- the head should be 3" if the body is going to be 12". Or if the roof is too tall, measure its height at the peak as that relates to the width of the house in your model. When you bring that into alignment in your sketch, then everything else will work. Simple geometry is a wonderful tool that will help you to accurately mimic in your medium what you are seeing in your model, or photo. It's simple math, and it all comes into play when dealing with proportion. The good news is that if you had any geometry in school, you can, pretty easily, resurrect those skills. I use a lot of math in my own drawing. Learning how to position elements in a picture may be more difficult, but trust me, it's not beyond you! There are good books out there, and a book and a little practice may be all you need to get you on your way.

Step Five is to develop your sense of color and contrast. Narrowing your color universe will certainly help you in this, and there are other resources and books available to help you, as well as many magazine articles in RHM and others. But again, practice will ultimately be your greatest help. I also offer a tool on my hand dyed wool website that helps many of my customers. I have many, many colors, and I divide them up into primitive, country, modern, and vibrant colors. Selecting colors from one or two of those color families will help you in creating a project containing colors that are compatible with each other. I find that most customers do this, selecting from only one or two color families.


At some point in this process, you'll have to finally put your pencil on the paper and give 'being creative' a try. I won't go into a full-blown sketching lesson here. My intent is just to give you a push in the right direction. If you would truly like to cultivate some of these skills, start with some practice sketching, without the intent of turning the results into textile art. Just sketch. Or take one or two beginner's drawing classes, get a couple of good art books on sketching, or there may be some workshop on the subject at a rug camp--honestly, that is all you would need to give you the skills to make patterns for projects that you could really enjoy. There is no need to become Rembrandt. Learning to draw simple shapes and outlines, and learning how to place objects in your pattern are enough to get you going. Start with some small projects that will be easier, and will give you some success to encourage you. Honestly, giving yourself a little 'sketching class' may only take a few weeks of concentration, in between your other activities--in the evening, or during your lunch break, or on the weekends. This is not a big commitment, and one that will give you so much freedom in your art -- a big payback for a relatively small outlay of time and effort.

Here are some techniques that I use to make myself look 'creative'.

When borrowing ideas, shapes or proportion from images, one valuable tool I use is the photocopier, and I also have a 'Photoshop-type' program that I can scan images into and then manipulate. An all-in-one printer is ideal for both of these tasks. I find many images in catalogs, magazines and books that I know I can borrow from, and I drop them in my 'Creative Ideas in Wool' file. There are always one or two projects in that file calling out to me at an given time, until I relent, pull them out and do something with them. When the time comes to use one or two, I decide the size of my project, then the size of the objects I will put in it. I may make a very simple outline of the overall plan, just to get proportion. Then I will start to manipulate the images that I'm planning to use. First of all, the picture I am borrowing from is almost never the size I need it to be. So I will enlarge or reduce it on the photocopier. Simple math is all you need here. I just measure one dimension of the picture, say, the height. If the picture is 2 1/2" tall and I need it to be more like 3 1/2", I just divide 3 1/2 by 2 1/2 and get 1.4. I translate this for my printer into an enlargement of 140% and I have the size I need. Likewise, if I want to go from 3 1/2" to 2 1/2", I do the opposite -- divide 2 1/2 by 3 1/2, giving me .71 -- this translates into 71% for the printer.

Once I have an object the required size, I go to a window, (or a lightbox if you have one), and literally trace the parts of the object that I intend to emulate. It may be the general outline, or just the head that I am going to stick onto another body from somewhere else, etc. I use light sketchy strokes so that erasing the inevitable mistakes is easy. I always plan to do a lot of erasing and redrawing. I may want to adjust the actual shape a bit, so I experiment, sketching and erasing as needed. Sometimes I will trace several copies so that I can experiment as much as I want while still retaining clean copies of those that I liked. Do you see how much of what I do is measuring, copying and experimenting? I never sit down and draw a nice sketch out of the air, and you don't need to, either.

When I was younger, I expected to get it right the first time, and I would become frustrated if that didn't happen. Now I understand that it is a longer process for me, and one that often involves laying down the work for a time -- an afternoon, a day, a week, or even a month -- and coming back to it with fresh eyes. I find this invaluable, and some of my best changes come after having put it down for awhile. I even enjoy this process now -- working, stopping, ruminating and working again. I smile to myself sometimes while I am taking a break because I have come to understand that this period of doing nothing may, ironically, be the most productive part of the development process. (In fact, even the writing of this entry has been done using this technique, and the best editing that I do comes after I have left it for awhile, then returned and reread the whole thing to get the big picture. I move a lot of text around then. I rarely write a piece in one sitting.)

I keep my sketching light until I am seeing lines that I like, so that all my experimental lines can be easily erased if needed. As I get closer to seeing a finished product, I will darken the lines, and maybe even add a little shading to see what it would look like. So in this way I slowly finish my pattern. Then I put it down again and come back to it. If I still like it, then I know it's ready for use. If not, then I keep working. Now understand, at this point all I have are simple outlines of the elements in my designs. That's all I need to worry about for now. All the shading, color planning, and addition of those details that will give dimension, are in the future. Some may want to add shading or even color to further develop the idea, and you can, but it's not necessary at this stage if you are already working hard to get to this point. Remember that the outline, or a simple rendering of the pattern or motif is all you need to accomplish for now.

For those who have always used a pattern, it's the drawing that daunts them. For others who have relied on kits, the color selection may also be intimidating. So if this is true for you, take it a step at a time. Perhaps you could develop the pattern yourself, then get help with the color planning for your first few projects. Try to participate in that process as much as possible, and soon you will have the extra confidence needed to try the color planning yourself. And remember that working with colors that you have pre-selected as favorites in Step One, will greatly narrow down the options, making deciding easier for now. You can branch out later as you become more experienced.

Leonardo da Vinci said,

"Art is never finished, only abandoned."

I believe this is true. From one germ of an idea, through your pencil, and later, through your hook or needle, an infinite number of results are possible. At some point, you have to look at your work, be satisfied, and stop. This may sound strange to some, but I had to learn this. I always felt in my heart, when working on any project, that there was one perfect result that I was looking for, but I never knew what it was -- I only had a general idea. I found this very frustrating, and I would have a hard time feeling satisfied with the finished product. This quote helped me, seeing a great artist like da Vinci saying this about his own work. Now I can look at a finished piece and see it as one of many ways I could have done it, and enjoy the one option that I chose. (Da Vinci was, incidentally, one of those few who excelled in many disciplines. He truly was a genius.)

What if you hate the results of your first efforts? Excellent! Give them to that sister-in-law that bugs you. Or better yet, keep it, and the others that come after, so that you can track your progress as you improve. Or at least take pictures and put them in your scrapbook. The only way to truly appreciate where you end up as an artist is to compare your later works to the pieces you did at the beginning. Wouldn't it be fun to have a historical record of your journey from 'helpless non-artist' to 'accomplished artisan'? If nothing else, your children may enjoy having it someday.

And I would love to have your pictures, too, so please feel free to share any results you get, after reading this post. It would encourage me!

In the next few days, I'll write a post that will bring you along with me as I develop a pattern from idea to sketch, ready to transfer to wool. This is the project that has been calling out to me from my 'Wool' file for the past few months. You'll get to see all the cheating I do! Hooray!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Confessions of a Wool Dyer

When I was young, I hated my last name. I was the butt of many jokes and mean nicknames by the boys in school. In fact, one boy, William, was so mean to me in the fourth grade that my teacher stood us facing each other, and told me to slap him! (Can you imagine this happening today?) Being the mild-mannered (but obedient) girl that I was, I gently slapped him. The teasing never did stop until, perhaps, high school, but by then I was a confirmed last name hater.

My last name? Dyer.

This seemingly innocuous last name was transformed, by the imaginations of many young boys, into all kinds of interesting epithets. "Dyer-EE-ah" was very popular over the years, as was "Diaper Dyer", "Clothes Dryer", etc. These nicknames were all somehow figured out by the local boys, no matter what school I went to, and I went to many, while growing up. Over time I really came to hate my name and wished many times that it were a simple last name, like Anderson or Taylor. Or, better yet, a name that evoked the idea of Old Money, like Hastings or Windsor or Chamberlain. Anything but Dyer, please.

When I was in my 20's, I lived in Mexico for a year, and my last name was, legally, Dyer-Dupuis, according to the tradition in many countries of using the father's surname, followed by the mother's maiden name. I liked this, because at the time I identified more with my mother's side of the family, and I liked her pretty French name. And I also liked the fact that Dupuis (doo-pwee) was the last name of the two in this format, and was more often remembered than Dyer. So when I returned to the States, I kept the name. When I got married I took my husband's last name Sylvia, although I have missed my hyphenated last name over the years, especially when people accidently use 'Sylvia' as my first name.

The name Dyer is of English origin, and most likely the first 'Dyer' was literally a dyer in his community, and so would have become known as 'John the dyer' or, as time went on, simply, 'John Dyer'. And he was, most likely, a wool dyer, because in those parts wool would have been a mainstay in the wardrobe of most people. So the name is of entirely respectable origin, and it's a shame that a few mean boys would have ruined it for me.

My profession today? Dyer.

When I first began dyeing wool, the irony of my maiden name was lost on me, because it had been a long while, by that time, since I had been a Dyer. It wasn't until fairly recently that I realized that I had come full circle in the history of my own family name, and I have finally come to appreciate it in the end. My father has passed on now, which I regret because he always felt bad that I hated our family name, and it would be nice to tell him that I am now proud of the name his family passed down, and that I have returned to its roots, carrying out a craft that is almost as old as time, really (although I hear there is one profession that is older . . . ).

I enjoy the fact that what I do is, with a few modern changes, essentially the same craft that others have developed, perfected and carried out as a trade for generations, and I like it for the same reason that I love singing old hymns from the 16th century--there is a connection with generations before us which in many other ways has been lost in our modern society. With the whirlwind of our technological advances surrounding us everywhere, I find it comforting to walk into my kitchen, put a big pot on the stove and stir The Wool from white into a lovely grey-green, just as my very first ancestor did so long ago.

Woolin Rouge

While I'm on the subject of wool quilting (in the post below) and giving a tip of the hat to my customers, I must include a mention of Sylvia Gauthier, who has embarked on a venture with two other women, called Woolin Rouge, to provide kits for quilting and applique. Their designs are very whimsical and she has bought a number of bright colors to include in their kits. Feel free to visit her excessive-compulsive sewing blog! Their designs incorporate both cotton and wool, and I think they are taking the craft to a new place, which is exciting! Her writing is entertaining, as well!

Since I first started doing wool applique 10 years ago, there has been an explosion in this craft. It started with penny rugs, and I remember that my friend Marcia and I lamented that there was no good book out on the subject of penny rugs, and we even dreamed of doing one ourselves -- definitely a dream for two women with six little kids between them. Well, that era is gone. Since then, several books have come out, and many, as we did, saw the potential to applique nearly anything in wool, beyond circles, especially because it does not ravel, so the edge does not have to be turned under. So now there are many wool applique artists out there, and a number of books.

There are not the prints available in wool as there are in cotton, but wool has an earthy feel and texture that cotton just doesn't have. So each has its advantage. Sylvia tells me that wool quilting is growing rapidly, and I have seen this myself. As I cruise around the web, I see quilt artists that have begun to include wool in their work, or they have decided to switch entirely from cotton to wool. At Woolin Rouge, they use a really cute mix of both cotton and wool. There is no end to the variety out there. As for me, I am a 'Wool Forever' girl.

I still hope one day to create a book on wool applique with my friend Marcia. We have both been through breast cancer since she first introduced me to The Wool, and for me that is a real bonding factor. She is also a wonderful artist and an amazing wife and mother, who somehow finds the time to do it all with grace and aplomb, while still having time left over to be a good friend. Yes, there is still a book out there for us to write, and trust me--if we do one, it will be good!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Mardi Gras in May

This week was an extraordinarily busy week wool-wise, and by far my biggest 'sales' week to-date (although I hesitate to say 'selling' when it comes to my little darlings, the wool strips. I prefer to think of it as sending them off to their adoptive homes and retaining a fee for my services!).

I find that many rug hookers who are planning their first original project, rather than doing a kit, are a bit nervous about it, and I often help them with color and quantity planning, which I enjoy a lot. In particular, I had a new customer this week who is preparing to go to a rug camp, and she is planning a very bright Mardi Gras themed rug, with vibrant elements. It sounds so fun! She wanted the brightest, most primary colors she could get, so we looked through the inventory and picked out what we thought was best. She ordered very large pieces, so I dyed-to-order for her. Boy, the bright colors on large pieces were amazing, especially the red going into the pot -- I literally had to squint putting in the wool -- it was highly reflective! Such a beautiful red -- the name of it is 'RED Red', named by a friend of the family who loves red.

Hand Dyed Wool,Rug Hooking,quilting

The pots above are sitting on Big Bertha, the new commercial stove we had installed for cooking wool. Oh, and I'll probably make dinner on it sometimes, too! (Cooking "dinner"? What's that??)

Yes, it was a busy week. For another customer I dyed a color called 'Gina' which is a lovely red-orange. I worked up a medium value, and it was just beautiful. Had not done that color before. I also did many primitive colors for a large order from a woman who does wool quilting in an antique or vintage style. I mottled those pieces a bit more, and the dull greens she ordered seemed just perfect for her style. To see some of her really nice things, please visit:

Folk and Formal

Click on 'slideshow' at the top to see what she does. I will enjoy seeing my wool in her work.

Now we relax in Virginia for a few days, staying in a beautiful highrise apartment that is part of the 'Semester Abroad' program that my husband administers at Dartmouth College. We'll be spending a lot of time at the Smithsonian this trip.

Friday, May 21, 2010

My Dyeing Articles

I have three articles on now, on the subject of dyeing, using primary colors, liquid dyestock, metric equivalent and percentage-based formulas. I have one more to write. These thoughts will ultimately be turned into a book, but for now I am covering some of the basics with these articles.

Article I - An Overview of My Methods

Article II - Equipment Needed

Article III - Carrying Out the Methods

And I found a kindred spirit, who is as exacting as I am when it comes to dyeing, maybe even more so! I have not met her, but I like her already! Here is an entry on similar methods on her blog, with some great photos.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

'How to Get on Page One of a Google Search' for Beginners

Last year I went merrily along dyeing wool, planning my new business and making some sales, too. Great, right? The problem is, though, that I have very big plans for my business, because we have three teens to put through college soon. Around Christmas (business was completely dead, and we were all home on vacation, with a little extra time on our hands) I decided to do some analysis on where I was in a Google search. The harsh reality was that for my three major search terms, 'hand dyed wool', 'penny rug wool', and 'rug hooking wool', I was on page six or LOWER! Only the most desperate rug hooker was going to find me there! So I made a firm decision to rectify that little situation ASAP. I concluded that it was no good dyeing all that wool and waiting for word of mouth to take hold. The kids will be graduated by then, for Pete's sake!

So the next morning I got up extra early, all psyched to 'ramp up my web presence'. I got an extra big cup of tea, and industriously sat down to take care of the problem. And . . . . . there I sat, scratching my head, wondering 'Where do I go? What do I do?" I really had no clue whatsoever. The community board at my site, eCrater, didn't help much, other than to give me a little terminology, and a few sellers had other sites where they would allow eCrater businesses to post a link back to their site. I knew that links were somehow important to the search engines, but, honestly, that was about all. So I started from scratch, finding a word here or there that seemed to be important, and googling it to learn what it meant. Then I would go from there, googling other terms that I learned along the way. Pretty soon I was finding some helpful information, albeit scattered all over the web. In the end I spent about six weeks on my virtual odyssey, and today I am pleased to say that I am on Page 1 for two of my search terms, and page 1 or 2 for another, and all are climbing. Not bad for a clueless wool dyer. So I will share with you, one website owner to another, what I have learned.

One important thing to know first is that the ease with which you will be able to get on Page One is determined in large part by how popular your items are, and how many other sites sell them. For instance, things like clothing, health products, games, electronics, and beauty items are highly competitive, and so it may take a longer term commitment to get towards the front of a search. My item is pretty specialized, so there were only about 20 other businesses to leapfrog over to get to page one. So you may need to prepare yourself for working on this consistently for a long time. That's OK--every business that you will own requires marketing effort on your part, and for the website owner, this is it. If you are faced with a lot of work to get to Page One, just commit to working on it for 1/2 hour each day, and eventually you will improve your ranking.

First, some terminology.

Keywords/Search Terms Step one is taking some time to evaluate your most important 'search terms', or 'keywords'. These are the important words that describe your goods or your topics and they are the terms that consumers will type in when searching the web for info or things to buy. The ones listed in the first paragraph are, for me, my most important keywords or search terms, particularly 'hand dyed wool'. So spend some time making a list of the top dozen or so terms you know are the most important to your site and focus on using those terms. You will use these a lot, and it can make your efforts pay off, or hamper you if you are not using the right terms. You might ask others what they would type in if they were looking for what you offer -- you may be surprised at the different terms they would use in a search.

Here is a great suggestion: If you don't already use it, go to the Google Analytics site, and sign up. It's a handy and free tool that is pretty easy to figure out. Once you sign your site up, the Google site will track all the traffic coming to your site, and spit out tons of information about it in report and graph format, right down to which search engine your visitors use, what city they live in, and whether they have dial-up or broadband, along with much more info. Included in this is a report on which keywords they have typed in when they found your site and visited -- this will help you to adjust your keywords properly over time.

Content is King. This means that there is no substitute for a good quality website, that has a lot of content, whether you are promoting your blog, or, if you are selling, many good products for sale that are of interest to consumers. For a commercial site, a big selection with keyword-rich descriptions, a blog on-site, FAQs, video feed from YouTube (which gives you more exposure), articles for customers to read (these can be found and used on your site for free at many sites like Ezinearticles) etc., all help. Use the search terms that you know customers will type in, and use them regularly on your site. But don't overdo this, because it is theorized that the search engines actually measure the amount of search terms in your text, and they know if you are stuffing your site with terms to increase your pagerank. They say that to have about 3% of your total text as keywords should be about right. This looks like regular, informative, on-topic conversation to the search engines, rather than keyword stuffing. If you are trying to improve the ranking of a blog, keep it interesting, with many keywords, and you may even want to import writing from others to keep it relevant and newsy. Use some of the widgets and other features and applications that the blog site offers to provide variety and lot of places to look around for info.

Use the most important words at the top of your homepage, which are the first words that the search engines see when they 'crawl' your site, or if there is a place for Title Tag and Meta Description on your site, put them there, in some logical arrangement. For me, my Title Tag is "Hand Dyed Wool, 1,100 colors for rug hooking, penny rugs, wool crafts" and my Meta Description is "Hand dyed wool fabric in every imaginable color -- primitive, country, modern, vibrant colors, for rug hooking, penny rugs, quilting, and other wool arts." See how I have strung together a lot of keywords, but in a logical, sentence or phase format, which is important. And I have used the most important words at the beginning of the phrases, (hand dyed wool) rather than in the middle, using a descriptive phrase to follow up those first words. These little things do matter, and most website owners don't pay attention to it, so you can capitalize on that, by paying attention to it yourself.

So when Google produces my site in a search, this is the information the consumer sees on the listing for my site, and more importantly, it is the information that Google sees when it responds to the consumer's search; it views me as relevant for a search for 'hand dyed wool' because of my initial phrase, and so it places me higher. And, very importantly, my description is phrased to make potential customers want to visit my site to see that many colors in one place, something I know they will not find anywhere else.

Try not to hype this information -- forget the exclamation points, for instance -- keep it professional, but with some kind of hook in your keywords to pull customers in. Once you have set up these phrases on your site, wait a week or two and do a search on your keywords and find your site in the result, to see what phrases the search engines use in your site description. Then adjust the words on your site until it looks good on a search. I adjusted my meta tag and meta description phrases until they didn't get cut off in the middle of a sentence on my search results. Sometimes the fine tuning takes a few weeks, because you have to wait until the search engines crawl your site again (every couple of weeks) to pick up the changes you've made.

Backlinks are links on other sites that send people to your site, and they are the criteria that search engines use to determine how important you are, and therefore where to list you in a search. Imagine if someone likes your site, and puts a link on their blog to let others know about it. This is like a 'vote' for your site to the search engines, and the more backlinks all over the web you have, the more the search engines will like you.

The equivalent in the 'real world' would be the business owner who is deeply involved in his industry. Perhaps he has several offices, he belongs to the relevant associations in his industry, and he advertises regionally on TV, radio and print. He speaks at conferences on the subject, holds seminars, writes articles in trade magazines, or maybe he has written a book. As a result, he is often referenced in articles as an expert, or quoted on radio, etc. His name is out there. Compare this to the business owner who hangs out a shingle in his little town and does nothing else. Who is going to do better in his business? No business owner can expect to do well by just opening up shop. It takes regular effort on your part to get things moving. But don't feel discouraged. Doing all this on the web is pretty easy, and can be done from your living room -- comfort yourself with the knowledge that at least you don't have to make a lot of cold calls, or pound the pavement looking for prospects. Certainly you may have to do some off-line marketing, as I do, but the online work is relatively straightforward once you understand it.

So on the web, putting many backlinks to your site, (and following the suggestions I make below) are the equivalent of that first businessman, both to customers and search engines. References to your site all over the web show that you are paying attention to your business. When you are backlinking using the methods below, you will look like that first businessman, in the 'virtual world'.

The bottom line is that you need backlinks to your site to get you higher in a search. To get backlinks, you have two options - let the backlinks occur naturally over time as people find you and tell others about you, (these are called 'organic links', and we are talking eons for that to happen) or you can produce the backlinks yourself in a shorter amount of time. Some people feel that this is a little dishonest, but from all my research, I know that it is absolutely ethical and certainly not illegal, so don't give it a second thought.

Backlinks from more important websites carry more weight than links from little sites. But don't worry about that. They all add up, whether they are counted for a little or a lot. And the websites that link to you don't need to be relevant to your goods, services or topics. For instance, I really tried at first to get my links on wool and craft sites, but there are not very many out there. Then I learned that it doesn't matter that much, ultimately. Just get all the links you can, anywhere!

Anchor Text If links are important, links using anchor text are even better. Anchor text is that little underlined phrase that you click on to get to the site it points to. So while I could put my 'URL' (the web address of my site -- as my link, it is better for me to put 'Hand Dyed Wool', so that when someone clicks on that phrase they will jump to my site. I don't understand why anchor text is important, but any SEO guru will tell you to use anchor text. I show you below how to format anchor text several ways. (Why can't sites all use one format?)

SEO This stands for Search Engine Optimization, and it simply means the process of getting your links and your name out there on the web to the point that when someone types in your major search terms, like 'Knitted Caps' you will come up early enough in the search to be found.

Reciprocal Links This is when two sites agree to link with each other, and apparently in the past this was abused. There were sites that were stuffed with links to other sites, which all had links back to the first site - with an obvious agreement between them to get links. All of this looks suspicious to the search engines, so too much of this is frowned upon. There seem to be mixed opinions about the value of reciprocal links, but I don't think a few will hurt, as long as the majority of your backlinks are 'one-way' - coming from another site to yours, without your site linking back to theirs.

Pagerank This is a measurement from 1 to 10 of how relevant, established, and quality your site is, based in large part on how well-linked it is. (By the way, Page does not stand for web 'page', but for Larry Page, who developed the algorithm.) For instance, sites like CNN and Facebook are rated 10. My site was a '0' when I started, and now I am a 2! Not bad. I would love to be a 4 or 5 eventually, if that is even possible with a small site.

The Google Sandbox About three weeks into my journey towards Page One, I suddenly found myself back on page four! I had read about this phenomenon, called the Google Sandbox. The theory is that this is a test to see if you will stick with the program, or just fade away and give up. I have heard that Google denies doing this, but I certainly did spend about three long weeks on page four for no apparent reason, before leaping back up two pages, to page two. I just kept at it, and eventually found my way to page one. So prepare yourself for this possibility.

So how do you get links all over the web? I have found a few effective ways to do this with relative ease. Before starting, though, I suggest that you set up an email account that just collects the emails from all the sites you will be visiting, and use that when you join sites. Then you can avoid having your business email clogged with spam and marketing. Use gmail or some other more reputable email platform. A few sites will only allow a proprietary email address, like one linked to your web business, or Outlook, etc. but most will take any email address, as long as you respond to the email they send you once you sign up, confirming your desire to join.

Next, set up some bookmark folders to keep track of the websites you will be joining or putting links on. For instance, I have folders for the social sites I belong to, like Facebook and MySpace, and for the forums and blogs I like to visit and participate in (often leaving a link), a folder for helpful information related to SEO, and one for possible link places in the future -- this is where I put bookmarks of sites that I find but don't have time to set up a link for right then, or online lists of directories or sites that I might work through when I have time. In my bookmark titles, I also include my login info, to remind me what I used -- for various reasons, you may use different login info for different sites. Sometimes a site will request your email address as your username, others will ask you to set up special name, for instance 'raminthethicket' is what I use in those cases. Some sites want a password that is at least eight characters, with at least one number and one capital letter. So I suggest creating a password at the very beginning that will meet this most stringent criteria, and just always use that one (maybe omit the capital letter -- most don't require this). I didn't know this at first, so I have several different passwords that I use now, only because I'm too lazy to go back and change everything. And some sites have a limit of 10 characters for a special username, which I didn't realize at first, so for those I use 'ramthicket'. Had I known of this limitation for some sites at the beginning of my odyssey, I would have just used that everywhere to begin with. So you see, it can get confusing, so deciding these things up front is helpful, and putting your login info as part of your bookmark title is helpful when your 'cookie' file accidently gets cleared.

OK, so you've set up a special email account to use for creating profiles, you've decided upon a password and username that will satisfy most sites, and you've set up some bookmark folders in your browser to keep things organized. Now you are set to get going. Go get a cup of coffee!

Obviously, start by asking your friends with blogs and websites to give you a link, especially without asking for one in return.

You should submit your site to Google, Yahoo, MSN/bing and a few other larger search engines -- this is critical. 'Submitting' is simply letting them know you exist, so that they will put you in their list of sites to scan when they do a search. They will probably find you eventually anyway, but speed things up by submitting. Type in 'submit google', 'submit yahoo', etc. go to those sites, and they will walk you through the steps to submit -- it's easy. There are hundreds of search engines, and lots of online submission services that will submit your site to many of them, but the general consensus is that the ones you really need are these three, and maybe a few more if you like, like AOL search, and Altavista. The rest are probably not worth your time. When I look at the search engines my customers use (on Google Analytics) these top three account for nearly all of my search engine traffic. Another thing to know is that it is probably only necessary to submit once -- there are those who say to submit regularly, but I have read in many places that this is not necessary.

Look for business directories that give free links
. If the directory is relevant to your site, it's even better. Type in 'free directories' or 'directories __________' and fill in the blank with something related to your industry. These searches will also turn up other sites that offer links or listings in their directories, just follow the rabbit hole a bit, and you will find a few places to put your link right away. There are many directories that require payment to list you, and it will be up to you whether you want to do this. If the directory is important in your industry, you may want to consider paying to get on, at least for a while.

A great place to start finding some basic free directories to list your site in is:

Top 100 Free Directories

Join Facebook, MySpace, Linkedin, Friendster, Netlog, Propeller, and a few other big name sites, set up a basic profile for yourself, and put a link to your website where it allows you to add one. There are many other sites, but I have found these to be among the best and most user friendly. When I first started, I did a search on 'largest social networking sites', and I turned up this review list. I visited every site on the list, and set up a profile, but the ones listed above are the only ones I ever visit and add info to. Be sure in the 'settings' sections of these sites to enable searchability of your profile by search engines. You can always specify separately who can contact you, to avoid unwanted approaches by strangers, especially those pesky suitors from Dubai!

RSS 'RSS' stands for 'Real Simple Syndication'. Wikipedia has some good basic information about this. In a nutshell, there are several programs, like Google Reader and Bloglines, that you can use to gather all the information that you want from the web in one place for you to visit and see everything. For instance, if you enjoy looking at CNN, and follow several blogs, you can use Google Reader to 'feed' updates from these places all to one place. Then you just visit there to get all the info, rather than having to find and visit all the sites individually. I have heard it said that this is a great way to market your site, but I have yet to see a good explanation of it, and I have not felt the need to venture into that area, since my other efforts have gotten me where I want to be. If it interests you, here is a list of the best 'feed readers' in addition to the ones above.

'Social Bookmaking' sites are relatively new in popularity, and I don't have as much experience with them either, but, again, Wikipedia has some great history on the subject. Basically, these are sites that allow people to share bookmarks of web addresses where they have found interesting information, making these sites hubs for information from all over the web. Again, this is a venue to use judiciously and conscientiously -- participating in the community as you go, and placing links sparingly -- some of these sites resent overt marketing of commercial sites, and so these may be better places to promote a blog instead. I innocently blundered into and put a link to my site, and was immediately blacklisted on that site. I couldn't even go in and put in my blog URL! They knew who I was and what I was up to! But if you were to only put in your blog, or an article you have written, that would be fine. and are two of the bigger and more well-known sites, and here is a more complete list.

Now for some more suggestions.

1. I hate to pay for advertising, but I did subscribe to this link business, and I have been happy with it. With this company my site started to gain some momentum up the pagerank ladder. It is owned and run by Angela Edwards, and she is a small businesswoman, just like me, not some nameless internet corporate giant. For $5 a month, she sends you a list of 30 quality websites that have a 'membership' format, allowing you to set up a very basic profile and include a link to your site as part of the info that you provide about yourself. She gives screenshots that show you how to do it on each site, and she sends plenty of info about her program, so I won't go into it here. She selects sites that have a pagerank of 6 or higher. If you use this service, please don't abuse it by stuffing in a lot of links, or keywords. It hurts everyone. You can cancel this service anytime. I think she offers a great product for the money, although you should plan to spend 6-8 hours each month putting in your links.

There are many other link services out there, and many which will do more of the work for you, although those will, of course, cost more. So you should weigh your money vs. your time. There is another software program offered through Angela's service that promises to cut your time spent linking dramatically. I have not tried this, because I am too cheap, but it's not too expensive and may be a happy medium for you. One thing I like about putting in my own links is that I can see the content of the site, giving me some control over where I put my link, and it allows me to see some sites that I actually like. I have kept up with a few of the sites I have joined -- they were worth visiting again!

2. is a free service that I have been overall happy with, although it is a little harder to learn and you have to be willing to write short articles. This is owned by a man named Dim (short for Dimitri?) and while it has its glitches and I had some complaints in the beginning, I did move further up in the ranks after using it. Here is how that works. There are lot of members, and many of those who join set up an article site for the sole reason of accepting articles by other FTS members. (You don't have to create an article site, but they offer greater benefits if you do.) So you write a short article on any subject and within the article you can place up to two links to your site, and more if you set up an article site. Then you look through their large list of article sites owned by other members, and submit your article to any relevant site, up to 30 sites, which would give you 60 backlinks. Personally, I can say that my articles only made it onto about 18 sites each, but I still got over 100 links from this. They may reject an article if you don't take care in finding relevant sites from their list, and communications once this happens is nil, so be aware of this, if you decide to join. I can't vouch for how they might treat you, but it is worth trying -- I have written three articles with good results.

The hard part with this is learning how to 'spin' your article. Spinning is formatting your article so that the words are changed a little each time it is submitted to one of the sites. This prevents it from looking like a spammy duplicate article that you are just writing to get links. With a little time and patience, it is relatively easy to learn, and there are video tutorials to help you. This method is looked down upon by sites like Wordpress, Blogger (sorry, Blogger) and Ezinearticles, who prefer 'original content', and some consider this "blackhat" or shady backlinking. But even the articles I write for FTS are informative and quality, so if I arrange to have the words changed slightly, I see nothing wrong with that. You will have to assess for yourself if you feel comfortable using this service.

If you do use it, don't write complete garbage -- participate in the web community. You can keep your articles short, but I suggest you try to make an honest contribution. Yes, you are writing so that ultimately the search engines will see your links, but don't forget that human eyeballs will also come across these, and your reputation should remain intact after they are done reading! I spent about three days total, a few hours here and there at a time, to give you an idea of the time commitment, although as you can see, my articles tend to get long. It's free, so I think I got a lot out of it, considering. If you don't write, have one of your teens write something, or a friend. Even three or four articles will help.

3. Try blogging if you don't already. The best blog platforms that are free are this one, ( and As mentioned above, I maintain several blogs here at Blogger. I blog on topics that are important to me, and that I feel I have a lot to say about, and that makes it easy and fun. I sometimes include a backlink to my site, using anchor text, which I vary to hit the three major search terms for me. I place backlinks judiciously, so that it doesn't look like I am just using the blog to advertise, because I'm not. It's a good idea to also include links to other sites, as well, so things stay balanced. Writing on topic is good, because it will provide keywords in your blog that match up to your backlinks that lead back to your site with the same keywords. But you can write about anything, really, if you have a more general info blog. You can do more blogs, but it might become harder to maintain, and regular entries are optimal. Blogging has become its own industry, and some people actually make a living at it! I won't go into much detail about that, but if you are interested in making some extra money blogging, check out This guy has an outstanding article that talks in simple terms about SEO and blogging in particular, and how to make some money at it. And if you prefer to have your own blog website, rather than using one of the free ones like Blogger, he explains to you in simple terms how to get a domain name, establish your site, and load the blogging software on it.

Blogging has limited value in adding backlinks, because it is always preferable to have backlinks in many different places rather than all on one site. It will, however, give you some credibility in your own community in a way that backlinks won't, whether it be the world of sports gear, or theater, or whatever your topic, services or goods are. If you are blogging to help promote your commercial site, you may also want to do SEO for your blog, as well, which will help people find it more readily, and read more about your commercial site there. If you are using a backlink service like Angela's, you could also add a link for your blog to your profile, where appropriate, while you are at it. So if you decide to establish a blog, do that first, then you can put links for that as well, as you go around the web backlinking for your commercial site.

The web is ever-changing, and linking your information among sites is a revolution that is going on right now. Honestly, I am very new at it, and I find it a little confusing and overwhelming, but you will find a few basic ways to do this, and it can be a valuable tool. For instance, on my commercial site, I suggest that my customers visit my blog, and I send them to a link that shows all three of my blogs, just to get some traffic at the others that also contain links back to my commercial site. In the articles that I write, of course I mention my commercial site, but I also mention my blog. I find ways on my blog to point readers to my website, like suggesting that they might like to see all the colors I produce in wool, etc. In one forum I frequent, they allow you to put a listing in for your blog, which I have done, and I suggest on my site that readers visit that forum. I get a lot of readers for my blog from that forum now, and I have several followers. Over time, this will seed word-of-mouth, which will bring me more customers.

You can also promote your site on your profile page at the social networking sites, using the different applications they provide. For instance, I created a profile for myself, and one for my wool site on Facebook, and then I added the 'Networked Blogs' application to both profiles, and linked it to this blog. After a few weeks, I looked at my wool site profile and I had some fans -- people that I didn't know that just FOUND me. And now when I add an entry to my blog (for instance, this very article) a link for it will appear on my Facebook profile automatically! I also added the 'links' application on Facebook and put my link as one of my favorites, on my personal profile page. You can also ask your 'friends' on Facebook to add your link to their pages too. I get traffic regularly from Facebook.

Blogging also makes you more personal to your customers, in a virtual world that contains no voices or faces. I know my customers really enjoy reading about what I'm doing, seeing pictures, and reading about other customers that I ask to share information on my blog. It makes us into sort of a community, rather than my being an invisible merchant that they buy wool from. And I know I enjoy it very much!

4. Article Sites If you don't mind writing, consider writing articles for the best article sites. Here is a good list of the best articles sites to consider. Choose 2-3 that interest you. The ones I have settled on are: Ezinearticles, Searchwarp, and GoArticles. There is more information on these at this site. There are a few others highly regarded as well, such as ArticleCity, and ArticleDashboard, but I never did hear back from them on two articles, and I can't find my articles anywhere, so I have stuck with these three.

Submit to Ezinearticles first, because they don't like receiving articles that they can see have been submitted elsewhere. Each site has its own rules of engagement, so to speak, so adhere to those, or you risk having your article rejected. Some sites allow you one link in the body of your article, others want you to put your link into the 'resource box' that you will set up and which will appear at the end of each article that you write. That's the little box that says, "Susan Sylvia lives in New Hampshire with her family, selling wool at her website. Please visit!, etc., etc." This info, once you set it up, will appear at the end of all your articles automatically, including your link. The article sites will give you some limited reports for free about who clicks on your links, and Google Analytics will also pick up when someone clicks on the link and visits your site.

The article sites allow anyone to come and take your article to use as they like, so understand that you have no recourse about how the article is used, and I have seen my articles used elsewhere with the links removed. Bummer. (That's what's good about Free Traffic System--this doesn't happen.) But regardless, you will get some additional links if the article is used elsewhere intact, and you get your name out there, as well. It all helps to increase your presence on the web, and it gives you some credibility.

There is a school of thought that says not to submit to too many article sites -- it's time-consuming, and theoretically, your articles will be distributed over time to other article sites without your help, because the articles that you write for article sites can be taken and used by anybody. Personally, I just don't have time to submit to more than two or three. They all have their own formatting rules, which means reformatting your article each time you submit to a site, and this is a real time drainer.

You can keep your articles short, but keep it informative and good quality, and consider your links as payment. If you don't write well, have someone help you, or ask them to edit your work. There are minimum requirements for quality by the article sites that you will have to meet.

5. Commenting Many of us love to tool around the web, looking for others who are like-minded. If you enjoy this, be sure to include a link to your website when you comment. It's not good to get into the habit of just leaving a tiny comment and then putting your link in. Make a genuine contribution to the conversation. If you decide to make a more organized effort in doing this, Google has a great tool to help you. This tool allows you to generate a list of blogs on any topic that you type in, which you can then visit and comment, if appropriate. You will notice that this tool generates a list of 'dofollow' links. This is a desirable type of link, vs. many sites that turn your links into 'nofollow' links that are of little use when backlinking. Look especially for those blogs that have a format that allows you to include a website URL as part of your comment. These have been invaluable to me in my backlinking efforts.

There are about a million open forums and message boards out there. One approach is to seek out forums using Google to search on various forum topics, find one or two each day that may be on-topic for you, or that simply interest you, and visit them, making thoughtful comments. For my own purposes, I will search for 'needlework forum' or 'quilting forum' or 'craft forum'. Most forums today are moderated, and if you don't contribute something meaningful, your comments may be removed by moderators. Many of the more organized forums that require membership allow you to set up a 'signature' to include in your posts, and/or a profile for yourself, both of which can include a link. A signature (including any link you include) will appear with any comment you make. Or you may be able to simply place a backlink at the very bottom of your comments. Personally, I have found several forums that I just like to participate in, and I visit regularly, putting backlinks here and there as I go, but not always. I want to be a participant, not a visitor there to place backlinks. Think of it that way.

Now for some help in formatting your backlinks and anchor text. It took me HOURS to ferret this information out when I was learning all this, so I give it to you to save the headaches that I had! Much later I saw it in one of Angela's packets, but here it is, easy to find. I suggest that you copy and paste the formats below into a document that you keep on your desktop. Replace my URL and keywords with your own, then anytime you need to use them, you can just paste them in to the box you are filling in, without having to remember the formatting.

The most used format out there is html, which you surely have seen before, and it is the traditional language that programmers have used to, well, program! To use html to put a link to your site, with anchor text, it will look like this:

[a href=""]Hand Dyed Wool[/a]

(You will need to use the 'greater than' and 'less than' characters in place of the brackets above, though. These are the characters at the top of the 'comma' and 'period' keys. Blogger formats backlinks with html, and I couldn't figure out how to display the formatting above as plain ole text, rather than generating a backlink like the one below! As you can see, my html skills are, shall we say, very specialized!)

The result will look like this:

Hand Dyed Wool

Plug in your URL (web address) where mine is, after the two slashes. The anchor text part is the 'hand dyed wool' phrase, and this is what the reader will see and click on to go to your site. The URL part will operate in the background and will only be seen in the search bar at the top of your browser. Be careful to copy this exactly -- don't forget the little 'a' at the beginning, and don't accidently erase the quotes -- any change will screw it up.

Some sites have to be different and they use 'BB Code'. I have no clue what that is, but here is how you format your link that way, and this time you can keep the formatting as-is, just plugging in your web address and anchor text:

[url=]Hand Dyed Wool[/url]

You'll get the same result as the html example above.

As if that weren't enough, occasionally a site will use Textile, whatever that is.

Textile Set Up:

"Hand Dyed Wool":

Again, you can keep the formatting exactly as you see it here, with the quotes and colon.

I have spent hours upon hours (probably several hundred) researching all this, and those who know me will tell you that I am a rabid web researcher. So trust me when I say that the suggestions and sites I have mentioned are among the best of those that will cost little to no money. So I have done most of the homework for you, and if you follow these few ideas, you will gain some pagerank. Remember to keep at it regularly, and consider it an investment in your business.

Good luck!

Rug Hooking Wool