Q&A with Textile Artist Sue Dove

Hi Sue Dove, would you mind telling us a little about yourself and how you got into making rag rugs?
I’ve always been a maker and I loved creating things from a very young age.  Doing a Textile degree in the 1970s at Liverpool School of Art was a natural progression and I specialised in woven tapestry. I moved to the Barbican workshops in Penzance after finishing my degree. It was marvellous to be in Cornwall and to become immersed in the art environment in St Ives and Penzance.  I soon moved from weaving to embroidery and painting, both easier to achieve living in a VW camper and then having a growing family! I am also a member of The Makers Emporium, a cooperative gallery in St Just in West Penwith.  We have quite a few textile artists in the gallery.
Rag rug maker Sue Dove

Textile artist, Sue Dove

What first inspired you to make rag rugs?
I had dabbled a little from time to time with rug hooking alongside my other art work, but it was about twenty years ago that my very good friend and extraordinary rug hooker, Diane Cox, decided to take up the craft, that l revisited it again with her.  She started off using my studio to teach people but she now has a studio of her own and is still encouraging people to take up rug hooking.
Sue Dove - Self portrait rag rug

Sue Dove – Self portrait rag rug

What’s your biggest design inspiration?
The inspiration for my rugs is a continuation of my artwork, painting, collage and embroidery.  I am drawn to colourists, Matisse, Picasso and the German expressionists, especially work that has a narrative running through it.
I particularly like Naive and Outsider art, Child art, art that tells a story, that the viewer can engage with and even reinterpret however they personally respond to the work.
Sue Dove art work

Some examples of Sue Doves’ colourful creations

Have your designs changed over the years/ are you inspired by new things?
Recently, our rug group ‘the Myrtles’ decided to try something new and make rugs based on angels.  We have also created a book called ‘Doing What We Can’. It’s about our homes, gardens, things that we love to do or that inspire us and of course our rug hooking and stitch work. It’s a celebration of the simple, but beautiful things in life that we as a group love to share and celebrate.

Sue Dove – fabric collage

Is there one particular method of rag rugging you stick to and if so why do you choose that one?

I use the hooky (loopy) method of rag rugging. l have made a couple of proddy (shaggy) rugs but l prefer hooky as l can get more definition of the image l’m using.  My hooky rugs are predominantly wall hung and the proddies l use on the floor.

Sue Dove – Suffragette Rug

In general how long would you say it takes to finish one of your more intricate designs (on a rug)?

It’s hard to say how long a piece takes me to make as l tend to have a lot of different work on the go at one time, stitch work and painting as well as rugs.  It also really depends on the size of the rug and if l’m in the ‘mood’ to hook. l cannot take it out and about with me as easily as my stitch work, which l take everywhere – so it’s confined to evenings at home!

I never think to calculate how long they take me, especially if l sell them!.. best not to know I think, as it would definitely be a long time!

Sue Dove – Stitched brooches

What keeps you motivated to finish a rug, as it is so time-consuming?

What keeps me motivated is a good question, I’m a bit obsessed with making and I always have been.  I never stop really and I love to finish things, even if it’s a long time coming.  I make constantly, so everything is always finished.

Sue Dove rag rug Birdlife

Sue Dove Embroidery Called Birdlife

Which is your favourite rag rug and why?

One of my favourite rugs is ‘Dove and Dog Angel’. It’s an image based on the idea of myself and my dog as angels.

Sue Dove rag rug Dog and Dove Angel

Sue Dove, Dove & Dog Angel Rag Rug

For you, what’s the best thing about rag rugging?

I just love the idea of creating beauty out of recycled t-shirts and I love making a rug from the same imagery that I paint and stitch… they all translate differently, with their own character and joy.

Experimenting with abstract squares

Do you use old clothing for your rag rugs or have to find some other way of sourcing your materials? (I’m guessing you need quite a lot of fabric!)

I like to use recycled fabrics in my rugs, especially t-shirts because you can find such a good range of colours and tones. I’ll use anything that appeals to me or gives me the effect I want!

Sue Dove – ‘Reading Woman’. Inspired by Picasso.

What do you do when you’re stuck for subject ideas and/or motivation to start a new piece? How do you become inspired again?

I’m not usually stuck for ideas as I constantly paint, collage and fill sketchbooks so I just go through those and see what jumps out at me. Sometimes I’m inspired by seeing other artists work and exhibitions, usually painters.

Sue Dove artwork

How do you go about starting a new rug? As your designs are so intricate, do you have a specific method/ area to start with?

I always do some collage/ oil pastel art works, large pieces and smaller ones in my sketchbooks, playing with ideas before I embark on a Rag Rug or Embroidery so that I have imagery to base my textiles on. The resulting textiles are really just paintings, but made in thread or fabrics.

Sue sketches her designed before translating them into rugs

Do you have favourite colours to use in a rag rug or do you try and stick to realistic colours for your subject?

It’s hard to say as I love all colours but not all tones. I think most of us have our own unique colour palette, which we use without realising. I do love reds, yellows, autumn colours set off by black… but overall I just love colour!

Sue Dove – Knitting with the Dog

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

Painters are always my first inspiration, semi-abstract work with a narrative, especially figures and animals. I love Matisse and Picasso. I’m not keen on highly realistic or highly stylised work, I prefer raw, more primitive stuff that has the heart and soul of the artist.

Sue Dove – The Dog Walk

Other than rag rugging, are there any other crafts you love?

I am an embroiderer.  I love embroidering images that I develop in my paintings and collages.

Sue Dove embroidery – ‘a day in the life of a dog’

Any tips to newbie rag ruggers?

The only tip l would give anyone is to just do it!  It is so addictive and you become immersed in the joy of colour and fabric.  It’s very mindful and meditative, it doesn’t have to be neat, there are few rules and once you have had basic instruction you can interpret it in your own style.

So, that was Sue Dove’s superb work 🙂 If you’d like to be the first to see future Q&As with rag ruggers or textile art inspiration, 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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