Shelagh Lindley moved to PEI as a builder but soon fell in love with rug-hooking and set up Plum Tree Studio in Rustico. “Plum Tree Studio started that it was going to be antiques and collectibles,” Shelagh says, “then I was introduced to rug hooking and began to bring in wool and linens and a few supplies.” Six years later, supplies that were not readily available locally are now available, including beautiful, vibrant wool yardage that Shelagh dyes by hand and rugs and quilts she and others have made.
What brought Shelagh into rug-hooking was desire for community “I was working in construction, and I wasn’t meeting people,” Shelagh states practically. She was living bi-coastally, in BC and PEI, having only discovered her calling to construction work at sixty. “My dad taught me to build,” she says.
She was “brought up Navy” and as their family moved from one coast to another, her father built houses. “I was at his elbow helping out,” Shelagh says.
She also learned needlework at her father’s elbow. She recalled on the grey Remembrance Day that we met, “During the war, when they (in the Navy) were sitting out protecting, they were handed these kits: rug punching and needlework. They got satin and a pattern… If they weren’t fighting, then they were dying of boredom.”
Shelagh and her husband had actually lived on a boat for ten years before buying a small farmhouse on PEI. The boat was her husband’s dream; the farm was hers. At the time, she says, “I was already quilting and stitching. I had a girlfriend visiting PEI from out west, and she was seventeen years younger.” She laughs, “I thought, what the heck am I going to do with this girl?”
Lois Summerfield Nelson in Rustico was giving a rug-hooking course, and Shelagh signed up with her friend. “I pulled a half-dozen loops, and I knew that’s what I wanted to do… You could make it do what you wanted. You could stick to really traditional, or you could really push it.”
Back in BC later that year, they found a group of rug-hookers up the street – a group 65 women strong. When back on PEI, Shelagh joined Island Matters rug-hooking group. She says, “The membership had taken a dip, so I took some ideas from the West Coast group I had been part of.
“All of us together got to make it grow,” she says proudly. Rug-hooking now brings together many small groups across the Island and is growing again. “People are enthusiastic about being together,” she says. “Once a month, it’s like your personal little art show and teaching venue.
“It’s definitely a craft, but it’s an art too,” Shelagh says. “A few mindsets won’t deal with it because it’s ‘just’ a craft, but that’s a silly mindset. We just ignore those people and carry on and do our own shows and surprise people.” A small group show Shelagh was part of at the Watermark Theatre this past summer brought in five new rug-hookers. She expects the recent Stories in Stitches exhibit at St. Paul’s Church in Charlottetown will inspire others.
Like curating exhibits, Shelagh says, “My idea of putting rug-hooking in a shop and selling is that you’ll see it and want to do it.
She admits many rug-hookers have a lot of work “under the bed or in the cupboard…” but, she says, “Almost everything I do gets sold, so it’s in my head to start with that it’s not mine. It has kind of been my bent here to tell the girls, you can sell it. You can allow someone else to enjoy the art.” Of course, she admits, “Any craft, you don’t get your dollar.”
But the labour is love. “If you do any craft,” SHelagh says, “you’re probably leaning towards a lot of other things that come along… We see something, and we think, ‘Oh, I need to try that!’” she laughs.
The craft and community of rug-hooking are in a good place. “I think now is pretty much swinging with its own momentum now, on the Island and elsewhere,” Shelagh says. “We just want to keep the momentum going.”