The art of rug hooking can be traced back to at least the early 19th century, when creating rugs wasn’t a hobby, but a necessity.
But for Labadie resident Phyllis Eisenberg, it was the historical aspect that drew her to the art of rug hooking about 15 years ago.
“They didn’t have rugs (in the 1800s), and they didn’t have heat, so women would take a piece of burlap and draw a design on it, and take rags or anything they could (to make the rugs),” Eisenberg explained.
And though the actual beginning of rug hooking remains a mystery, Eisenberg said she enjoys studying and reading about the craft, as well as the process of creating the intricate rugs.
“For many years, I was very much interested in seeing these old rugs,” Eisenberg said. She began reading about the art and then started taking classes and joined Naomi Miller’s St. Louis Guild of Rug Hookcrafters. She has been a member of the guild for 12 years.
“The more I got into it the more I liked it,” she said. “It’s very relaxing.”
Eisenberg said she hasn’t been to a guild meeting lately, but stays in touch with guild members and has made many friends over the years.
Eisenberg has traveled to take classes from prominent rug hookers around the country and the guild brings the artisans to the area for various classes.
Rug hookers also have come to her home to visit and work on projects.
“We learn from each other. We’re always learning something new,” she said, adding that the group is always seeking younger members to help keep the craft alive.
“Take time and do something for yourself,” she advised. “I waited a whole lifetime because I had other things to do.”
There are hooking groups all over the United States, started by a woman named Pearl McGown, Eisenberg said.
Eisenberg also belongs to The National Guild of Pearl K. McGown Hookrafters.
Today, rug hooking is done primarily with yarn or 100 percent wool.
Eisenberg uses a pattern for her projects, but many hookers draw their own patterns.
The artists often use old wool skirts torn into strips for rug hooking. Eisenberg has a special machine to cut her wool.
She prefers the look of primitive rugs, but also creates traditional rugs, which use a smaller strip of material. A hook tool pulls the wool through small holes in a backing, typically linen.
Originally from Boston, Mass., Eisenberg moved to Kirkwood when she was 15.
She lived in St. Louis for some time before she moved to a farm in Hopewell, located just outside of Warrenton, in 1972.
In Hopewell, Eisenberg opened A Touch of Country, an antiques and collectibles shop she now operates in her Labadie home, the Historical James North House.
Located at 2733 Highway T, between Labadie Elementary School and the Boles Fire Station, the home is listed on the Franklin County Civil War Sites and Historic Structures map.
The Virginian-style home was built by James North as a log cabin in 1820 and enlarged in 1840.
During the Civil War, Flavius North lived in the home, having previously served as a state congressman. The Norths moved to Missouri from Virginia with six slaves in 1818 and the home, along with other buildings on the property, was constructed by the slaves, according to the Franklin County Civil War Sites and Historic Structures map.
Eisenberg and her son found the home by accident. The two visited Hawthorne Inn and asked where The Tin Rabbit was. The shop formerly occupied the James North home where her shop now is. The home was empty and for sale.
“I just love historical things,” she said. “I feel it was meant to be.”
The shop contents are from a variety of time periods and feature paintings, needlework, candles, handmade lamp shades, china and pottery, tea sets, primitives, jellies and many other items.
Eisenberg has a soft spot for primitives.
“They made something from nothing,” she said. “That’s what I love about it.”
In the future, Eisenberg wants to offer rug-hooking classes. She also can repair some older quilts and rugs.
Store hours are Wednesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 4 p.m.
Eisenberg and her late husband, Hyman, raised five children.