Crystal Ross’s rugs are a modern spin on Nova Scotian folk art tradition. SUBMITTED

Hooked on a feeling

Crystal Ross did a pandemic pivot to hooking rugs, putting a new spin on the NS folk art.

When The Coast phones Crystal Ross—the artist behind the hand-hooked, hand-dyed-wool rug shop Crystal Rugs—she’s happy to take a break from working on her latest project, a handmade oval piece sporting a pattern of strewn-about wildflowers. “I’m trying to vary my movements so I don’t give myself carpal tunnel,” she says, cracking an audible smile over the labour all the same. “Even today, I feel it in my right hand especially.”

Rug hooking isn’t just felt in Ross’s hands, though. The historical handcraft with deep Maritime roots also echoes in her veins. “So, my grandparents are from Cheticamp,” she says, “the rug hooking capital of—I wanna say North America, but of Nova Scotia for sure.” She recalls watching them “advocate for the handcraft,” helping exalt the practice into the realm of folk art. “It was just kind of this thing that was always there in my history, and I watched them produce their incredible pieces, and I was just always aware of it but I never really had the appreciation of course as a young person, that you eventually develop as an adult.”

Those memories were left to gather dust on the shelves of Ross’s mind until the pandemic, as her artisanal cake business, Gateaux Rose, had to hit pause when wedding season went “kind of up in flames.”

“And it was funny, it took my husband to look at me and just go, ‘Why don't you just start hooking rugs’ and I was like ‘Why *don’t* I just start hooking rugs?’” she says. “And it was ridiculous because it was so obvious and it is such a good fit for me and who I am. It's just me.”

But don’t go mistaking Ross’s work for some twee throwback that’s also a throw rug. They're an altogether different aesthetic from the intricate, agriculturally focused designs you’d find at Chester’s Hooked Rug Museum of North America (an unvetted yet enthusiastic claim of Nova Scotia as the world’s rug hooking capital)—or even from the detail-focused scenes Ross’s own grandparents favoured while partaking in Cheticamp’s 100-year-strong rug hooking tradition.

Instead, Ross is bringing a clean-lined, millennial-minded Memphis design to the humble medium: Muted pastels and earth tones, squiggly lines and scenes of flowers and animals that Ross describes as "chunky and clunky and fun and silly.”

Made from a durable, water-repellant wool that Ross explains “isn’t for sweaters,” in a range of sizes and shapes that are priced from $65 to $600 at her online store, her rugs are art for real life, made from real life. “My intention was 100 percent for these to be stomped on, trampled on. I love the idea of artwork on your floor.”

About The Author

Morgan Mullin

Morgan is the Arts & Entertainment Editor at The Coast, where she writes about everything from what to see and do around Halifax to profiles of the city’s creative class to larger cultural pieces. She’s been with The Coast since 2016.

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