“Everywhere I look I see a rug,” says Carol Petillo of Vinalhaven, “I am obsessed.” Her obsession is evident in her small house that has been overrun by piles of wool fabric in every corner, waiting to be cut and hooked.
Petillo began hooking rugs five years ago after retiring from a 25-year teaching career at Boston College. Since then she has proven to be a very talented artist. Upon her retirement, Petillo’s friends asked her “what’s next?”
“I can’t say I was looking for something to do,” she admits. “I had knitted for years and I knew that wasn’t going to be `the thing.’ Knitting is too complex.”
She knew she would spend more time on volunteer activities and with her dogs, but aside from that, Petillo decided to “just drift for a while and see what might arise.” In the fall of 2002, Petillo and her husband, Wayne Cooper, took a trip to Newfoundland that proved to be life changing.
“We were in Grand Banks,” she said, “and my husband wanted to visit the seamen’s museum there. I had had enough of seamen’s museums, so I stayed outside with the dogs. Wayne came out and said there was something inside I wanted to see. He knows me very well, so if he said it was something I wanted to see, I knew he was right.”
What she found inside was a display illustrating the difficulty of life in the Canadian outports of the 19th and 20th centuries. “My eyes fell on a partially finished `mat’ (as hooked rugs are called in the Canadian Maritimes),” she says. “It was rolled up on its frame, unfinished, and actually quite dreary.”
According to Petillo, women of that era needed to make mats to cover their drafty floors. They used what they had — worn-out clothing — to make the mats. However, peeking out the sides of this unfinished mat was a large red flower. “I was deeply moved,” says Petillo. “Tears came to my eyes as I thought about the harshness of the anonymous hooker’s life, living in an isolated village. And yet, this woman tried to make beauty with that big red rose.”
At that moment, a seed was planted in Petillo’s head and in her heart that took root during the remainder of her trip. She and her husband continued to St. Johns, where she saw a woman hooking a mat outside on the sidewalk. Petillo struck up a conversation with the woman, who showed her a little about how it is done. The woman also told Petillo about a rug-hooking book in a nearby bookstore.
Petillo went straight to the store, bought the book and read it that night. In Avalon, Petillo came upon a woman hooking with yarn, which interested her. She also found a rug-hooking museum where she fell in love with a “hit or miss” rug, a design based on random use of color rather than predetermined designs. When she saw the hit or miss rug she thought, “now that’s the kind of thing I want to do.”
Petillo returned from Canada with all the things she would need to begin learning the craft of rug hooking. She taught herself, using what she read in books and what other crafters could tell her. “The technique is very easy,” she says. “The more you do it the more you develop your own style. It is a very forgiving craft.”
“I felt amazed when I completed my first rug,” she continues. “I was surprised that I could do it at all, never having thought of myself as an artist of any kind. Now I don’t feel so surprised, but by trying lots of new ideas (some that work, some that don’t) I’m still delighted when the new rug really works.”
Success as a fiber artist came quickly to Petillo. “The first landscape I did Elaine wanted to show, and it sold!” she exclaims, referring to Elaine Crossman, owner and operator of New Era Gallery on Vinalhaven. Since then, she has come to be a regular at New Era, as well as The FOG Gallery on Vinalhaven, Archipelago in Rockland and the Green Mountain Rug Hooking Guild Show in Shelburne, Vermont. In addition, Petillo’s rugs have been included in “Work of the Hand,” an annual juried show at the Center for Maine Contemporary Art in Rockport.
This fall she will participate in a three-day workshop in Amherst, Nova Scotia, led by Deane Fitzpatrick, who, according to Petillo, is “an inspiration. She uses all kinds of crazy wools. She’s got an amazing eye.” q
Petillo’s work can be found at the previously mentioned venues, as well as online at