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  • Michelle Sirois Silver

the secret world of materials

I learned something about myself this past summer. When I was cleaning my wool fabrics, fresh out of the dryer, I caught myself several times stroking the fabric. I would start daydreaming and loose focus on the task.

Harris Tweed clothing label.

I love the tactile quality of fibre, especially tweeds. The weave structure has a feathered translucent quality. I contemplate what it might look like hand hooked.


I am attached to my materials. They are the underpinning that provides support for the narrative of my work.

If you’ve been to my studio you’ve seen the transparent plastic bins filled with wool fabrics stacked high on the 10’ industrial shelving that line the walls.

When I first began rug hooking I wanted to have a large selection of fabrics so that I could work without stopping. After twenty years of collecting I’ve learned to build time into my studio practice for washing, folding, sorting, and storing. It's an action that requires both patience and physical space.


At the opening reception for Means of Production, a guest asked me how many colours had I used in my piece? “Fifty”, I replied. It was the first time someone had ever asked me that question. But when I thought about it later, I estimated that I had handled at least 100 different recycled and new wool fabrics before making that selection.

Working with recycled wool brings an untold story element into the work. Worn and faded from years of wash and wear. When I pick up a fabric strip and hook it, I am very much aware that it has a history that will remain a mystery to me.

As I sort through my materials I pause, contemplating and asking myself a seamless loop of questions. “I’ve had that piece for over fifteen years.” “Wow this is from the 40’s, the 50’s.” “Do I really want to sell that?” You get the picture.


However things have changed. It’s more difficult to find the same quality wool clothing that was once readily available in the thrift stores when I first started collecting. Don’t get me wrong I’m not complaining – I have enough fabric to last several lifetimes. But even more so is ‘how’ I think about materials. There is no doubt that my beliefs are influenced by the time in which I live. When I first began making hand hooked rugs I used recycled wool clothing because I believed it was a practical, thrifty and durable choice. And it was.

But I can’t ignore the conversations about renewable resources and sustainability. If I was learning to rug hook today I would start with my worn clothing and t-shirts, old bed sheets and towels. I would take advantage of discarded fashion that changes from season to season. And use pre-consumer waste which is an unlimited resource of materials for the hand hooking artist today.


Sometimes it’s hard for me to let go of the things I love. I see my rug hooking friends in England and Australia creating innovative and energized hand hooked rugs with whatever materials they have on hand. I suppose I’m coming full circle too – getting back to basics so to speak. I’m not sure where I’m going just yet or what my new work will look like or the materials I might use, but that’s what makes it so exciting. It’s about the journey.

However, there is one thing I do know. If I love it, I will hook it!

Handhooked surface. Detail.

Photo credit:

Handhooked Details. Andrea Sirois

Clothing label. Michelle Sirois Silver


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