Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Threads: A tribute

Had I known but yesterday what I know today,
I'd have taken out your two gray eyes and put in eyes of clay.
And had I known but yesterday you'd be no more my own,
I'd have taken out your heart of flesh and put in one of stone.
-Tam Lin, from Carolyn Parkhurst's Dogs of Babel

a wee punch-needle snowman, punched by Nova Jean Scott

I do not know how many years ago it was, but the memory is as clear as if it happened yesterday. I showed up at the door of a woman who I was told was a rug hooker. She had invited me over for an afternoon of hooking. She opened the door with a look of surprise. She was wearing a sweatshirt that read “Will Hook for Wool”. “I like this lady!”, I thought to myself. Nova would tell me later how she went to the door expecting to see a French woman and saw me standing there, a girl of undetermined Asian descent. She wondered to herself who I was and whether or not I had the right house. (Oh, the folly of married names and first appearances!) Well, she still let me in and (this should be a warning to you all), I pretty much never left.

Yesterday, in the same room that we spent that first day together, I said good-bye to my Nova. In my grief, I am reminded of how very privileged I was that our paths crossed and that we recognized in each other a kindred soul. We were both born in the year of the Monkey, just 36 years apart. We were happy hookers together. She was my ally. She was my cheerleader. She was my strength. She laughed with me and cried with me. She knew me. And, still, she invited me in and let me stay awhile. 

I came to rug hooking in a circuitous way. An article in Country Living magazine about Liz Alpert Fay led me to sign up for a class at the Arts Center in Orange, Virginia. The class was cancelled due to lack of interest. But that winter, we had temporarily relocated to Florida, so not having the class to attend, I decided to check out books on rug hooking from the local library. One book had a dedication sticker inside: “From the Strawberry Rug Hookers, In Memory of Julianne White”. That little sticker led me to the lovely Joyce Frauenfelder and a great group of hookers who met at the Planteen in Plant City, Florida. Through the Strawberry Rug Hookers, I had a wonderful first rug hooking teacher in Mamie Adair. Mamie showed up with a biscuit tin full of gorgeous hooks turned by her husband Jim and a pattern for a primitive rose with precut strips on burlap. Jim passed away some years ago, but his perfect hooks warm my hands as I work on my current piece. Another teacher, Sarah Paddock, sold me my first Pittsburgh rug frame and guided me through choosing and hooking my first background. The portable rug frame sits at the ready for whenever I want to take my hooking on the road.

When we came back to Virginia later that year, I didn’t have a group to hook with and soon detoured into weaving. Hooking sat on the backburner until that day I walked up the steps at Nova’s house. (I will be forever grateful to Kim Argenzio for the introduction, even though I only met Kim once, on a hot July 4 in downtown Fredericksburg.) I found out that first afternoon with Nova that Julianne had been a dear friend to Nova. How the world shrinks when interests and passions coincide.

Last year, Nova gave me her collection of Threads magazines. She had been a subscriber from the inaugural issue. The inaugural issue’s cover story was about the Scheuer Tapestry studio that operated in New York City from the early 1980s until the mid-1990s. I took a tapestry weaving class from Joan Griffin in Charlottesville in 2004 and, from Joan, learned about the American Tapestry Alliance and Shannock tapestry looms. In 2005, I found a wooden Shannock loom for sale on eBay and later that year purchased the remaining Shannock looms and yarns of the Scheuer Tapestry Studio from Ruth Scheuer (now Rudi Dundas). And so my tapestry journey began.

Whenever I had a project that required wool, Nova would invite me to what she liked to call her “bodega” and we would rummage through her boxes of wool (she told me that a neighbor girl once came to visit, reporting back that Mrs. Scott had 28! boxes of wool in her basement…sorted by color! Don’t we all??). A few years back, Nova gave me a partially-hooked rug that she said she wasn’t going to finish. I recognized the value of something more-than-half-way complete, dyed some wool, pulled some loops and finished it. She would not take the completed rug as a gift, saying that she had “wanted it out of the house then and it’s going to stay out!” I wrote about finishing the rug in a blog post here and the finished rug is here.

As I sat by her bed in the sun room yesterday, the rhythm of the oxygen machine our soundtrack, we got the chance to look back in wonder and awe at our connection. We talked about our car trips to hook in Charlottesville with the Blue Ridge Rug Hookers and our drives to many Virginia Rugfests in recent years. We sure did a lot of driving and talking! We laughed about her asking me to help her get started with a knitted counterpane purse and me agreeing to something I did not really know how to do; the blind leading the blind. But we soldiered through the pattern, mistakes and all. She later admitted how much she hated knitting that purse and eventually turned it into one of the fanciest throw pillows around. As we talked yesterday, I hugged it in both hands, my head on her bed. She even suggested that I talk to a mutual friend to help me get through this time, saying “Florence will know what to say. She understands. I've always admired her so much.” Always Nova, worrying about me rather than herself.

I am now working on a few different projects that have traces of Nova on them; wool from her bodega, a dye formula she passed along to me, suggestions of how to hook certain elements, etc. As my hands puzzle through the work I wish to create, I am consoled by memories of her warm heart, her honest laugh and her generous spirit. It is a salve for these fresh wounds to recognize that my friend lives on in this way. Nova taught me about dignity in the face of grave sorrow, bravery in the face of big challenges and laughter, above all. 
How I thank her for that.

the counterpane pillow, knitted and reimagined by Nova Jean Scott


  1. What an awesome tribute to Nova. I will miss her stories and laughter.

  2. What a beautiful tribute to a beautiful person. I am filled with great sadness that I missed these past few years spending time with Nova. I will always treasure our time together and our wonderful memories.