At first glance, you might think this is similar to latch hooking, where a special hook is used to wrap a length of yarn around a thread in a large-count canvas. This requires a lot of pre-cut yarn lengths in various colors to create a design usually a rug or a wall hanging. Most of these projects are sold as kits available at craft stores.
Today’s technique, locker hooking, is much more versatile. Using strips of fabric and a large-count canvas you can make rugs, ornaments, book covers, trivets, and much more. You are limited only by the fabrics available. In talking to other stitchers, a good many of us have a fabric stash and we don’t know how we will ever use it without a large investment of time. This is a great way to reduce your stash while creating one-of-a-kind gifts. Let’s get started!
Here are the unique materials and tools needed for locker hooking.
A Locker Hook is necessary to do the hooking and stitching necessary to create the loops and hold them in place. This tool looks like a crochet hook on one end to grab the fabric and pull it through the canvas. The locking medium is threaded through the large eye on the other end of the tool. The hooks are usually made of steel or aluminum.
Rug Canvas is a specially made canvas in a large count, usually 3.75 or 5 threads per inch. The most popular is the 3.75 count and we carry it in two options. Off the bolt it is 61" wide and must be purchased by the yard.. There is also a pre-packaged option with a 30" x 36" piece. The canvas is 50% cotton and 50% polyester, with a blue line woven in every ten threads. This makes it very easy to mark your pattern and keep on track. Burlap can be used for locker hooking, especially if you have a more free-form design.
You need some sort of "string"- to secure the fabric loops to the canvas. This string is called Locking Medium and can be any strong, non-stretchy fiber. One of the best choices is white twine which is available in a 100-yard package. You can use yarn, but be sure to test its strength and stretchiness. If the yarn breaks easily or stretches, your project could be doomed.
Fabric becomes your "fiber" used to "stitch" your design. Cotton fabric is a great choice because it is available in unlimited colors and designs. You can use fabric as it comes off the bolt or in a package, because it will be cut into strips for use. There are pre-cut fabric strips available at some craft stores. This saves you a little time, but can cost more and limit your color choices. Other materials suitable for locker hooking include wool fabric (can pill on the edges), silk fabric (which frays more), yarn (by itself or layered with fabric), ribbon, and even plastic strips cut from plastic bags and tablecloths (great recycling opportunity).
In addition, here are other items to add to your stitching basket.
A large tapestry needle is a time-saver when you are stitching the edge around your piece. You can use your locker hook as a needle, but it is hard to get that crochet hook end through the fabric once the piece is completed. These bent end tapestry needles would be a good choice.
You need a pair of shears for this technique to cut canvas and fabric. Do not use your good embroidery scissors!
You can tear your fabric into strips or use tools such as scissors or a rotary cutter and cutting mat.
A ruler comes in handy to mark your design lines on the canvas.
A permanent marker should be used to mark your design on the canvas rather than a water soluble marker.
Glue comes in handy to secure your edges. A flexible glue can be used on the finished back. Fray Block would be another good choice.
Embellishments can be added to enhance your design, such as buttons, beads, and charms.
Preparing Your Fabric
You will be amazed at how quickly your design comes alive when you begin to stitch. That’s why you need to have your fabrics ready before you start stitching. It is possible to spend more time preparing your fabric(s) than actually stitching.
Before creating any strips, it is important to understand the grain of the fabric. You want to cut your fabric on the grain because it won’t stretch. The lengthwise grain runs the length of the fabric, parallel to the finished edge of the fabric called the selvedge. The crosswise grain runs perpendicular to the selvedge of the fabric or parallel to the cut edge of the fabric.
You do not want to cut on the bias grain which is when you cut diagonally across the lengthwise and crosswise grain. Fabric cut on the bias will stretch, which you can feel when using bias tape for sewing.
You can create strips by tearing them. You can use cotton fabrics, which easily tear on the lengthwise or crosswise grain. Did you know that a piece will fray less if it is torn rather than cut? You can iron your fabric and then spread it on a table or cutting board. For the 3.75 count canvas, a recommended width is 1" wide. Tear it with the lengthwise or crosswise grain in the direction that gives the longest lengths. Using a ruler, cut a notch every inch about a half-inch long into the edge of the fabric. Notch the fabric for up to a yard’s length. Discard the first and last torn strip because usually they aren’t the same width the entire length of the strip. One tip to help with frayed edges is to run the torn strip through your fingers and remove the stray threads.
Strips can be cut with a pair of shears or with a rotary cutter. Trim the edge first so it is straight and then start cutting your strips. Discard the end strip unless you are certain it is 1" wide the entire length.
Now, what do you do with your strips? Find a way to store them where they don’t get tangled up. Some people like to roll them into a fabric ball which can double as decoration in a bowl or basket. You can also wind your strips around a sturdy piece of cardboard and use a straight pin to secure it. This method keeps the fraying down a bit, but can take more time.
Preparing Your Canvas
If your canvas has any creases or wrinkles the first thing you will do is to steam press it. It won’t remove the sizing and will make your finished project lie correctly.
Use a permanent marker to mark the edge of your design. Normally you add 3 to 4 squares on each side of your finished design for finishing the edge. Using heavy-duty scissors cut your canvas leaving neat edges with no nubs. You can mark your design directly on the canvas if you would like.
The edges need to be folded under prior to starting to stitch. For a small project you would have 3 extra squares on each edge. For a larger piece you want 4 squares and a very large piece you want 6 squares. To create the edge, finger press the canvas over, folding the square next to your design line in half. What that means is if you had 4 extra squares, when you fold the canvas back and line up the holes, there will only be three squares now. If you are creating a large rug, you may wish to stitch your edge with a sewing machine to give it extra strength. This photo shows the bound edge of my design. You can see the squares that were folded to the backside.
Now you are ready to start stitching. The first thing you do is to frame your canvas. This means doing a whip stitch along the edge with a strip of fabric. Thread the eye of the locker hook or a large tapestry needle with no more than a yard or yard-and-a-half strip. Leave a 2" end which you will whip stitch over to secure the fabric. Continue around the edge. Leave a 2" tail and whip stitch over it with your next strip or stitch it into the finished rows after you have stitched the design completely. Here is the design after completing the edge binding and the first row of loops.
Start the Design
There are two steps to the locker hooking stitch. First you need to pull up a series of loops and then pull the locking medium through the loops to lock them in place.
- Cut a 2-yard length of twine or yarn, thread one end through the eye of your locker hook, and tie the other end to the canvas at the starting point. The fabric strip you are going to be stitching with can be any length, the longer the better.
- Hold the fabric to the backside of the canvas, leaving about a 2" length of fabric which will be sewn in when you are finished stitching the project. It is not necessary to fold the fabric or hold it a special way, other than the printed side needs to be what shows when you pull the loop through the canvas.
- Insert your hook down through the canvas and catch the fabric.
- Pull a loop through making sure your loop is at least a quarter inch tall, otherwise the fabric might not cover well and your twine and canvas will show through the finished design. Keeping the loop on your hook go to the next block and insert your hook to retrieve another loop of fabric.
- Keep doing this until you have about five loops on your hook.
- Gently pull the hook sliding the loops off, bringing the locking medium through the loops. Pull through so the locking medium is taut, then pick up another five loops and repeat the process. You may need to go back and pick at the loops with your tapestry needle to get them to a uniform size. Keeping your tension even is something you learn only through practice.
- When the strip runs out or you want to change colors, leave a 2" tail which will be sewn in when your project is completely done. Leave a 2" tail when you start a new strip also.
This project has a ceramic tile glued into the center, but it could have been completely stitched or have used a button to change the look. The first photo shows just a few rounds while the second one shows it completed.
A great resource to learn more about locker hooking including finishing techniques and joining strips is Hook, Loop and Lock. This is an excellent resource with over 25 projects for fun and funky gifts and home decor. The projects are trendy and would be perfect projects older children. Another book is Kathleen’s Fabric and Locker Hooking. A great project for locker hooking is to recreate your children’s art by drawing their design on the canvas.
We hope this guide makes your stitching easier and more enjoyable!
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