Spools of wool are stacked from floor to ceiling on one wall of Nola Heidbreder's studio, located in a small home on The Hill. Heidbreder uses the wool for rug hooking.
Heidbreder and her older sister Linda Pietz, natives of Warson Woods, collaborate on rug designs and projects often. Their most recent project involved 44 16" x 20" rugs, each representing one U.S. president.
"We thought it would be a great project for us to design and hook the presidents, not only their portraits but fun facts about them," Nola Heidbreder said. "To let people know they were not only the leaders of our country but they were just people like us. They had pets and they had food likes and dislikes."
The rug of Ronald Reagan has his dog, a jar of jelly beans and a movie clapper.
The two sisters were inspired to create the rugs a year ago. Pietz has a knitting club in California, where she lives. The knitting club knitted presidential dolls, which incorporated fun facts about the presidents into the doll as an election year project. The sisters decided to use the same concept with rugs.
Heidbreder and Pietz had hoped the rugs could be displayed with the knitted dolls. That opportunity will come Aug. 13-17 when both the dolls and rugs will be on display at Sauder Village in Ohio for its annual Rug Hooking Week.
Pietz designed all of the rugs. She researched fun facts and incorporated them into the visual design.
Heidbreder, who lives in Glendale, hooked the rugs in her studio on The Hill in St. Louis. Her studio is filled with wool, yarn and other materials. Past rug hooking projects are on display throughout the space.
She has a large bin filled with different colored strips of wool left over from making the president rugs.
The colors used in the presidential rugs posed an unexpected challenge for Heidbreder, who has been rug hooking for 18 years.
"Lip color. You would think that wouldn't be that big of a deal, but men don't wear lipstick so you can't put red or pink or coral," Heidbreder said. "Finding the right lip color so it didn't look like it was a president in drag wearing lipstick was difficult."
Pietz started sending her sister the rug designs toward the end of August 2012. Heidbreder started hooking the rugs at the end of October and finished the last rug on July 3.
"I was (rug) hooking pretty much night and day," Heidbreder said.
When her sister sent a design, Heidbreder traced it onto a larger sheet of thin paper to make the pattern. Then she cut strips of wool in the colors she wanted and started looping them through a linen base. She also dyed some of the wool to create a variation of flesh tones for the presidents.
Before hooking the rugs, Heidbreder examined pictures of the presidents to get each one's eye color, hair and other features correct. In one rug, she used yarn to emphasize Chester A. Arthur's mutton chops.
The rugs are completely handmade.
Both sisters teach rug making. Heidbreder said she didn't get into rug hooking expecting that she would teach. When she first had an interest in rug hooking, she couldn't find a rug hooking teacher.
When she finally did find a teacher in St. Louis, it was a woman who was about to retire. Heidbreder took lessons for a few months.
"I decided to start teaching because I didn't want someone else to look for rug hooking and not be able to find it and get help to learn how to do it," Heidbreder said.
In keeping with their desire to teach others, the sisters are also creating a book about the president rugs. It will include the fun facts about each president, black and white patterns for the rugs, dye recipes for flesh tones and the quantity and colors of fabric needed.
Pietz's rug patterns include numbers and lines to differentiate between different colors and values of colors.
"It's almost like paint by number. You know where the values should go," Heidbreder said. "It's going to make it simple for people to do themselves."
Heidbreder finds rug hooking relaxing.
"This is something that has kept my interest. I will do it the rest of my life, I'm sure, whether I teach or don't teach," Heidbreder said.