Latch Hooking a 70’s-Style Rug: A Conversation with Melody Deusner

Color Crazy has some super talented, creative customers, and we thought it would be an excellent idea to share their creations and their expert tips with our community. We plan to make this a series, so to start things off, we begin with a conversation about latch hooking and rug design with Melody Deusner. Melody is an art history professor at Indiana University and recently created a beautiful latch hooked rug design with Color Crazy rug canvas. We were inspired to find out more, so we reached out and discovered she had a wealth of information to share…

Do you latch hook rugs routinely? What do you like to do when not creating rugs?

I started latch hooking last year. I remembered having enjoyed working on a latch hook kit when I was a kid and was curious to try it again. I’ve also learned sewing and several other crafts in the last five years or so, with a strong emphasis on 1960s and 1970s-era designs and practices, like macrame, string art, and needlepoint. As someone born in the 1970s, I think some part of me just keeps trying to get back to that aesthetic in my home life. My house is now pretty packed with decorative items, but I can never find rugs that I like and can afford, so I was wondering if latch hooking might be the answer.

I am an art history professor at Indiana University, where I research, write, and teach about the history of American art. And I have learned in the last five years that it really helps to be doing something with my hands in the evenings as a way to manage my anxiety. Latch hook is perfect for this because I can work on different sections in a fairly mindless way while doing other things, like listening to music or watching bad movies with my husband. Sewing kept me at a machine in the other room, and while the results were gratifying, sometimes the process could be stressful, especially at the end of a workday. Macrame and needlepoint were fun but could be surprisingly expensive for a big project. I can work on latch hook anywhere–I can cut yarn while on a road trip or roll or fold the canvas up while sitting on the couch or in bed. For me, it’s the perfect blend of creative, relaxing, forgiving, portable, rewarding, and inexpensive.

What tips would you offer beginning latch hookers? What made you choose Color Crazy rug canvas?

First, I would say do not let your experience with latch hook kits and big box craft stores color your idea of what latch hook is and can be. The kits that are mass manufactured today aren’t to everyone’s taste and are worked with precut acrylic yarn in sometimes jarring colors. But worst of all, they contain a canvas that is so stiff and brittle that it breaks very easily and is very unpleasant to work with. Even the blank canvases that you buy at big box craft stores tend to be like this–they feel more like plastic than cotton.

” … do not let your experience with latch hook kits
and big box craft stores color your idea
of what latch hook is and can be …”

And so, my second piece of advice would be to get a piece of good latch hook canvas like the kind sold by Color Crazy and just try out different yarns in different lengths and patterns to see what you like. (More on yarn below.) Make some sample swatches that are as small as a doormat, say, as a way to see how the canvas feels, and the yarn looks. I was shocked to find out that such great canvas was available at such a low price (the same price I was paying for the bad canvas at a big box store). The Reddit latch hook forum r/latchhook pointed me to Color Crazy and a couple of other stores as places to buy high-quality canvas, but Color Crazy is the only store I’ve found that will custom-cut canvas for me. Theresa and Chris have been so friendly and accommodating. I have not broken a SINGLE THREAD on a canvas since I started using the good stuff! And I would much, much rather spend my money at an independent business than a craft chain.

What brand of yarn do you use and why? Do you use a standard latch hook?

Making my own rugs rather than working with kits means I can use any kind of yarn I want. I don’t crochet or knit, so I don’t have much experience choosing yarns for anything. When I started making little sample pieces of latch hook, I tried out lots of different yarns at various thicknesses and lengths. For 3.75 mesh canvas, I really like a #5 (bulky) weight yarn. The yarn I’ve tried that is made mostly or entirely of wool tends to shed a lot. I loved the look of roving wool, but in a latch hook rug, it never stops shedding! I don’t have any problems with acrylic yarn per se, but I find some acrylic yarn colors and textures too artificial for me. Anecdotally, I’ve heard that acrylic can also start fading pretty quickly.

Making my own rugs rather than working with kits
means I can use any kind of yarn I want.

I have finally settled on wool/acrylic blends as my favorite. I had been working exclusively with Lion Brand Two of Wands’ Hue and Me yarn (which is what I used on this rug) until my current project. It’s fairly inexpensive, the color is consistent across dye lots, and the shedding is pretty minimal. It’s designed for knitting and crocheting projects that are going to be machine washed and dried, so I don’t have be gentle with it–if I spill something on one of these rugs, I can really get down there with some soap and scrub it clean. I can buy it at my local big box store and order it from several places online (including independent retailers like Herrschner’s. The downsides are that the colors are pretty muted, and sometimes I want the option of making more vibrant designs. Occasionally a color I want can be hard to find, and shipping from the manufacturer takes forever for some reason.

And remember I said I’m not that interested in continually funneling my craft money into big stores and chains? So I recently used Yarn Substitution to see what else was out there. And I landed on Kraemer Yarns Perfection Chunky acrylic/wool blend, which I’m using in a project for the first time right now. And so far, I LOVE it. It gives me a completely different range of colors, shipped for free and within days of my order. It cost about the same if not slightly LESS than the product I was buying. And Kraemer Yarns are spun in Nazareth, Pennsylvania. I just give my business directly to them.

I use a $12 wooden latch hook cutter tool I ordered from Amazon to cut the yarn myself. The yarn length is perfect for my rugs, approximately 6 cm or 2 3/8 inches. This tool is just a wooden dowel with a slit cut in it, so I’m trying to find a woodworker who can help me make dowels in other diameters in case I want to play with longer lengths/textures a bit more. Any woodworkers reading this should get in touch! But I wouldn’t advise cutting yarn much shorter than this.

I use a standard latch hook to make my rugs.

How did you choose the design and colors for your rug? Is this your own design? What more can you add about the making of this rug?

I’ve been looking at interior decorating and rug books from the 1960s and 1970s to get ideas for my rugs, and this one came from a special source. My husband’s dear uncle, Maloy Love, passed away in 2021. He was a professional florist in Birmingham, Alabama, and approached everything in his life with an eye for design and beauty. Read more about him on the Mountain Brook site and in his obituary.

He was a truly inspiring person, and we still feel his absence very deeply. He left behind a home filled with his own unique furniture arrangements, DIY architectural accents, and a massive library of books of all kinds. A big part of this library was his collection of books and magazines on interior decoration. I was looking through one stack of Interior Design magazines, and in the June 1978 issue, I found a black and white illustration of a broadloom wool carpet by the Dylan Co. of New York that caught my eye. It’s called the Chicane.

Do you mark your design on the canvas before latch hooking?

I took a photograph of the image in the magazine and used Adobe Illustrator to lay a grid over it that matches the 3.75 Color Crazy canvas, using grid lines every 0.26 inches. I then played around with “painting” some of the squares in the grid with different colors based on those offered by Hue & Me. I really loved the combination of Juniper, Agave, Arrowwood, and Toast. (If you don’t have Adobe Illustrator, Color Crazy recommends using LeftSource where you’ll find a free application to create your own pattern. Just upload a photo in jpeg format and the application will create your pattern.)

I’ve learned the hard way that I have to include this extra step of “painting” the grid so that I can count the squares and translate that photo in a consistent way. I don’t mark the design on the canvas itself, but I go ahead and latch hook some yarn in the right colors as placeholders for the key section I’m working on. For this rug, I wanted to make sure the design was centered in a certain way, so I counted out the squares and latch hooked some placeholder yarn for the center first.

As I completed one part of the pattern, I flipped the rug over and used the back of the completed section as my guide to the parts I still had to work on.I find that it’s a lot easier to work from photos of the back of the rug than to keep counting squares on the computer screen. For most designs, it won’t matter whether what you are doing exactly matches the original photo or the screen as long as it’s internally consistent within the project.

I’ve also done some rugs of my own design and am trying to keep a record of these various projects on my public Instagram account (@MelodyDeusner). I guess you can take the teacher out of the classroom, but not the classroom out of the teacher. I’m happy to answer questions from any aspiring rugmakers because I really do think latch hook is a near-perfect craft!

One comment
  1. This is amazing! I also made some latch hook rugs from kits as a kid (clown face, American eagle from the US presidential seal, a bear in the wilderness). Now I’m feeling fired up to design my own!

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