Hooking With Yarn and T-Shirt Strips

Note: if you're reading this article on your phone, the step-by-step instructions are much easier to read on your pc or laptop!

The craft of hooking with yarn has been around for hundreds of years, although it may seem like a “lost art” today. It is a very easy craft for the young and not quite so young! Wit  very simple materials, anyone can create beautiful heirloom rugs that will last generations.
Before I talk you through the process in writing, I want to direct you to my Youtube videos. If a picture says a thousand words, then a video says a million? There are two videos, one on hooking with yarn and one on hooking with T-shirt strips. 

Even if you are primarily interested in learning to hook with yarn, you still want to check out the T-shirt video. The techniques are almost exactly the same, but with the T-shirt lesson, we really tried to video what's happening under the backing. This is the biggest challenge for people starting out, because you can't actually see what your left hand is doing under the backing.

Getting Started

To begin hooking with yarn: Sit with your knees comfortably apart (about 9”) with the backing across your lap (design side up). Tuck the backing snugly under the outside of your thighs (1). Your lap becomes your “frame” (you can also use frames that are specially designed for hooking with yarn, more about that later).

Hold the hook in your right hand (if you are right-handed) and have the ball of yarn that you are working with between your legs under the backing. Hold the yarn with your left hand underneath. Your left hand should come in on the inside of the backing (your elbow next to your body), rather than trying to reach around the outside to hold your yarn. If you are starting with a small kit, you might be able to get away with reaching around the outside (although to me it seems uncomfortable) but when you get to hooking larger projects like floor rugs, you won’t be able to reach around at all. Think of it like holding a plate in front of you, with one hand above and one hand underneath.

Push in the hook where you want to begin. For your very first try at rug hooking, I recommend starting with a solid-colored area so you can get the “hang” of it before you attempt to do the detail areas. Later, when you understand the hooking process better, you will always want to begin with the details, because the lines tend to get obscured when you hook around them. But for now, just start hooking in the background area until you get an idea of how far apart to place your loops.

With your hook, connect with the yarn below and pull the end up to the top. Leave about 1” of yarn sticking up for now (2). You will cut this off later, but you need to leave it in place for the time being. 

Next choose a hole near the tail (usually right next to the tail, or skipping one thread in the backing depending on how thick the yarn is) and put your hook in again (3). Your left hand can hold up the backing initially (so you have something to push against), until you get your hook through, but then “slide” down the yarn with your left hand for a couple of inches. Lift that part of the yarn up, and connect it onto your hook (4). 

It really helps if you hold the yarn on the hook with your left hand until you pull the loop through to the top. Think about folding the yarn over the hook and gently pulling down on it as you pull up with your hook. This keeps the yarn connected to the hook, so you avoid “splitting the yarn” (5). 

Once you have pulled the yarn through to the top, let go with your left hand and feel the slack in the yarn pulling up (6). As soon as you feel with your left hand that you have pulled up all the yarn, stop pulling from above. Having that slack in the yarn prevents you from pulling out the previous loop.

Next, with your left hand, pull the loop down to the desired height (usually about 1/8 of an inch. In general, the loop should be about as tall as the yarn is wide, think circle) (7). If you are making a floor rug, where durability is the goal, short, densely packed loops wear the best. However, if you are making a wall-hanging, you can make your loops a little higher. 












When you come to the end of a section and you want to switch to a different yarn or a different area of the rug, bring up the last loop, just as if you were going to make another loop, but this time cut the yarn on the top and pull the remaining yarn out the back with your left hand (8). Now you have two tails sticking up, one when you began and one when you finished. These tails need to remain in place until they are surrounded by loops, which time you can cut them from above, even with the loops around them (9). They are held in place by the pressure of the loops around them, and they seem to disappear. 

It may seem precarious to leave the tails like that without tying a knot or anything, but in fact, this is one of the keys to the longevity of these hooked rugs. Sometime during the life of this rug, ten, twenty, fifty years from now, that rug may need to be repaired. Because we do not tie knots, we can always pull out yarn in the damaged areas and re-hook them. The loops should not pull out with normal wear and tear (walking on them, vacuuming or washing), but occasionally a bit of yarn can get snagged (kitties are often the culprit!), stained or worn, and what is so great about these rugs is that they can always be repaired.




More on how far apart to place your loops: The goal when hooking with yarn is that you want your loops close enough together so that you cannot see the backing from the front, but not so close that the rug won’t lay flat (10). You need to hook for a little while to really get this concept, but remember that the loops needs room to spread out (this is what keeps them in place, they spread out above the backing). If you are over-packing, you will notice after you’ve hooked a section that the edges tend to curl when you let go of the rug. A little curling is OK while the yarn “settles,” but too much over-packing will prevent your rug from lying flat when you lay it on the floor or hang it on the wall.  If a section is badly over packed, it’s best to pull out the yarn and start again. Take a look at the back of the rug. You should be able to see some gaps between rows if your loops are far enough apart. Those gaps don't show on top because the yarn is filling the space (11)

If you notice gaps in your rug after you’ve hooked a section (under-packing), you can bring in more yarn. Just push in your hook in the bare section, bring up the tail, and hook a loop or two so you can’t see the backing anymore. Then bring up the finishing tail and cut the tails off even with the loops around them (they will already be surrounded).

How high should your loops be? They should look round from the side, like a little ball on top of the backing (see the black loop in step 12). If your loops are too high (13), you could push them over. It's very difficult to pack in the loops correctly if they're too high, so they're easier to snag later. If your loops are too short (14) they don't "blossom out" above the backing. They just sit like a wart on the backing, without spreading out. With a little practice, you'll find the balance of how high and how far apart the loops need to be. Just take the process slow at first, speeding up only when your fingers get the hang of it.

Hooking with T-shirts: they're almost exactly the same as hooking with
yarn, with a couple of differences. Every once in a while, I'll pick up a
T-shirt that's more "textured," so when I have pulled the strip nice and
tight in the back, and begin to pull down on the strip from below, the
strip will drag itself down a little bit, leaving a loop in the back. To prevent
this happening, I leave my hook in the loop while I'm pulling down on the
strip. Mind you, I'm not pulling up with the hook at this point, just providing
enough resistance that the strip won't drag itself down.

The other way in which T-shirt rugs are different is that they are machine washable! As long as you pre-wash your linen backing before you draw your pattern (and prewash the cotton cording for the edge binding), you should be able to wash your T-shirt rug on gentle cycle, cold water. Then just lay it to dry. (Oh, and T-shirts are much cheaper than yarn or wool fabric!)

If you find you like rug hooking, but don't like wrapping the backing around your legs, or looking down at your lap for long periods, you should try the Delovely Frame. It can be used as a lap frame or a floor frame. And if you add a set of longer legs, you can even hook standing up!