Q&A with Rag Rugger Diane Cox

I first came across the rag rug work of Diane Cox when I stumbled across a YouTube video of a “We are not doormats” rag rug exhibition in Cornwall. I absolutely adored many of the gorgeous pieces in the video, so did my research and found out that one of the textile artists featured in the show was Diane Cox. Below is a Q&A and art showcase of her fabulous work…  🙂

Q&A WITH RAG RUGGER, DIANE COX:

Rag rugger Diane Cox in her rag rug studio making a rug

Diane Cox in her rag rug studio.

Hi Diane, would you mind telling us a little about yourself and your background please? 

I am a rag rugger living in Penzance at the far end of Cornwall and l have been making rugs for almost 30 years!  I was a primary school teacher, but after having cancer many years ago, l took early retirement and hooking rugs was part of my recovery. I have always loved textiles, always sewn and knitted, and l could remember women in my family making rugs when l was a child in North Yorkshire.
Diane Cox hippy chick rag rug

“Our group decided to hook ourselves in a very free way, to try to capture the “essence” of ourselves, rather than what we really looked like, and funnily enough we all ended up with our much younger selves. This is me when l was a student floating about in long dresses, going to festivals and dancing a lot! I didn’t plan it, she just emerged as l was hooking!”

And how did you get into rag rugging? 
When I began hooking in earnest, it was because l desperately wanted a bright hearthrug for a Victorian terraced house that l had just moved into. l absolutely loved that rug! It lasted years, through teenagers and several animals, and was washed and washed. Eventually the hessian rotted but l saved the strips of fabric and have reused a lot of them in other projects.
Diane Cox Keeping an eye out rag rug

I made this when my husband lost the sight in one eye overnight. l stitched a lot of it in the eye hospital.

What do you enjoy most about rag rugging? 
What l love most about rag rugging is making something beautiful from discarded clothing, the way you can really lose yourself in it and also the friendships made through hooking together in groups.
Diane Cox Contemplation rag rug

Inspired by all the bits of clay pipe l find in the fields, and imagining an old lady contemplating her long life.

Do you use old clothing for your rag rugs or have to find some other way of sourcing your materials?

I always use recycled fabrics in my rugs. The amount of clothing that goes to landfill is terrible and we should all be reusing what we have as much as possible. Having collected for years l am pretty sure l won’t ever need to source any more! Luckily l have a studio to keep it all in as the fabrics do take up a lot of space.

Diane Cox tumbling cups rag rug

Those moments when you wonder if you can cope with everything you’re doing!

Are there any fabrics that you particularly enjoy working with? Are there any you avoid? 
I love using woollen or woollen mixes in my proddy mats, old blankets, scarves, felted jumpers and coats, because they feel so lovely for bare feet on bedside mats, but will use almost anything in my hooked pieces. Anything with a bit of stretch. I avoid denim and heavier curtaining as they are too hard for me to pull through the hessian. Having said that, l know someone who made a denim stair runner, which was very hard wearing! I also love to use patterned fabrics because you never know how the pattern will hook up, and you can have wonderful surprises.
Diane Cox Proddy rugs rag rug

A couple of proddies. l always make proddies in the winter – so cosy!

Diane Cox Granny Angel Rag rug

I have four grandchildren and three of them arrived in the same year so my life was full of granny-ness!

Where do you get your design inspiration from?

Because l am fascinated by female history, the untold stories, the unsung women, and the way women have knitted society together, their struggles and triumphs over the generations, plus my own family research into the female line, my work is very connected to that. Storytelling is important to me.

Most of my rugs start as an idea in my head, developed on long dog walks, then a few sketches, and then l draw it out quite simply on the hessian. Although l will have a vague idea of colour, I let my hook fill it in and let it flow, so that the rugs take on their own identity.  When l hook, l have to have masses of fabric laid out all around me. l am not neat!

Diane Cox Reading Woman Rag Rug

Inspired by Persephone books and the tapestry cat l found in a charity shop!
I knew l would put her in a rug one day.

Are any of the ladies in your pieces inspired by real people? 
Many of my rugs are inspired by real people, usually women, but the one l am most proud of is the “The Day the Buzzard Came” because it depicts real events from the day my father died, and is incredibly meaningful to me.
Diane Cox The day the buzzard came rag rug

A very personal rug about the day my father died.

Which is your favourite rag rug piece and why?

My favourite rug at the moment is “Waiting”.  It hangs next to my bed and l see different emotions in it.

Diane Cox Waiting Hooked rag rug woman

Waiting by Diane Cox. I feel that women DO wait a lot… this could be a woman at any time waiting for anything… l love paintings of women staring into space, lost in thought, and l think this is what inspired this rug.

Are there any artists/ designers/ other rag ruggers who you love or are inspired by?

I love Vanessa Bell, Laura Knight, Evelyn Dunbar, Jenny Jones, Richard Adams, Dee Nickerson, Shane Rhys James to name but a few.

Diane Cox Puss Crosby rag rug

We all made our hooking alter egos.  You take the name of the first pet you ever owned, then the name of the street or road you first lived on, and there is your hooking alter ego name!
It was fun putting her together in my head during long dog walks, it’s actually very personal and means a lot to me even though it was initially just a fun thing to do.

Any tips to newbie rag ruggers?
My tips would be… just do it! Make sure you have a good hook that feels perfect in your hand, l prefer a pencil hook.  If you have a problem with your wrist, try out a bent hook as this puts less pressure on it.  Have LOTS of fabric, lots of colours and textures. You are painting with fabric and so need to have an enormous palette from which to choose.
Invest in a very good, sharp pair of scissors, not necessarily expensive ones, try the ones with a spring if you have wrist problems as they’re so much easier to use.
Get together in groups and try out group projects, it’s very bonding and fun.  We’ve made communal rugs to raffle for charity, passing them round the group, hooked pieces with particular themes – the hooking alter ego one being particularly good!  Pass the word around, hold “hook-ins” to demonstrate and encourage new hookers. I am always delighted when l see young women taking it up as it’s so environmentally friendly and vital with the state of our world at the moment.
Diane Cox Contentment Rag rug

So glad l hooked this rug ( which is enormous) because all my lovely companions on it have now gone, such a precious memory.

What are you working on at the moment? Can you share any work in progress photos? 
At the moment l actually don’t have ANY rug on the go! I have hooked so many rugs in the last 3 years that l’ve had a painful wrist, so I’m stitching and knitting instead for a while and working on using up my stash of fabric making all sorts.  Here are some tea cosies in progress:
Diane Cox Textile Art Tea Cosies

What’s your dream rag rug project? 

My dream projects are both for the bed; a quilt made up of stitched squares and a hooked bed rug! I would love to make one as they did in the past specifically for the bed, but whether l could manage the weight of it whilst hooking, l don’t know!

Our small hooking group have just published a book which we did all ourselves (except the computer bits!) and you can see my work and others in this.  It isn’t just about rugs though, it is homes, gardens, pets, stitch, stories, recipes and more, but with the premise of doing what you can with what you have, where you are.
"Doing What We Can" Book
And finally, you may have heard about our 2019 Eco Challenge to be less wasteful in 2019, do you have any tips or tricks to be more environmentally friendly in our day to day lives? 
I am not buying any new clothes this year, l’m allowing myself to buy from a charity shop only if l really love the garment.  l’m also making my own cleaning products from old recipes, l have sourced toothpaste in a tin which is easily recyclable, got a bamboo toothbrush and a soda stream with glass bottles so far!  So a good start, more to go…
Here are some more beautiful examples of Diane’s work:
Diane Cox Holding On rag rug

How l felt after going through a divorce. l carried all my important things in my handbag all the time!

Keeper of secrets Diane Cox hooked rag rug piece woman

Keeper of Secrets rag rug by Diane Cox.

Diane Cox Stitching the rayburn rag rug

“Stitching by the Rayburn“ My favourite place!

Diane Cox Chair 1 rag rug

I had fun altering 2 charity shop chairs. They represent a mother and a daughter. The mother having finally found herself and her confidence in older age, the daughter yet to get there despite her youth and beauty.

Diane Cox Chair 2 rag rugging

Diane Cox Admiring the rug rag rag

Two friends chatting over a cup of tea and admiring the rug just made!

So, that was Diane Cox’s beautiful work 🙂 If you’d like to be the first to see future Q&As with rag ruggers, why not join our Rag Rug Community on Facebook or join our fortnightly newsletter here.

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As always, happy rag rugging!

Elspeth x

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