A Destination for Calming Creativity
Say the word “camp” to a native New Englander, and you immediately set the stage for rest and relaxation. Visions of lazy summer afternoons on the lake and cozy nights by the fire spring to mind, and shoulders begin to drop. According to LeAnn Hodgson, owner of Camp Wool in downtown Kennebunk, Maine, this is precisely the effect she and husband Mark were after. “We’re from Minnesota originally,” Hodgson explains, “and everyone there calls their weekend retreats ‘cabins’ rather than camps. Since we’re predominantly a destination business—many of our clients are visitors to the Kennebunk area—and my business is wool, Mark suggested that we marry the two and call our store ‘Camp Wool.’” Judging from Hodgson’s bustling business, the store is turning out many happy campers.
But what, you may wonder, do visitors to Camp Wool do? The answer: they create, or simply soak up the ambience, of this clever, creative environment. At her store, “Camp Director” Hodgson sells supplies and patterns to people who enjoy the arts of rug hooking, punch needle, cross-stitch, wool appliqué, braiding, and needle felting, while encouraging patrons to hang out in the store and hook by providing frames and cutting machines. She also offers classes in these crafts and sponsors an annual “Hook-In” that showcases the many crafting possibilities.
As if that were not enough, the Hodgsons also dabble in antiques, haunting flea markets and antique stores on the weekends and bringing their treasures back to decorate the store and to sell. “Mark and I love antique hunting, and we really like the aesthetic of primitive décors,” Hodgson says. The couple’s finds, which are scattered throughout Camp Wool, comprise a mixture of small antiques—baskets, boxes, and stoneware—and furniture. “People who hook tend to love timeworn objects, and we enjoy decorating with antiques and showing people how to live with them.”
The entire store reflects the Hodgson’s preferred aesthetic, beginning with the building itself, to which the couple recently relocated. The structure dates to the 1840s and is characterized by timeworn hardwood floors and exposed wooden beams (one of the Hodgsons’ first acts after moving into the space was to remove the drop ceilings). “The building feels balanced, and the atmosphere is incredibly comfortable and warm,” Hodgson says. She gives her husband Mark considerable credit for the store’s inviting feel. “Mark has a real gift for arranging a space. He’s got a great eye—he can just see things, and his support is invaluable to me in running the business.”
The couple’s deft touch in decorating is apparent from the moment you step across the threshold of the store. A riot of color and creative expression immediately assaults the senses. “We want to offer visitors a lot of eye candy as soon as they walk in,” Hodgson says happily. “That way we get them thinking, ‘I could do this!’ or ‘I can try something like that!’” Once people are in the store, however, a feeling of peacefulness takes over; Hodgson encourages them to check their troubles at the door and simply indulge their senses.
It is not hard. Stacks of hand-dyed wool yarn in a panoply of colors spill out of boxes and shelves around the store, inviting a caress. Bobbins of silky hand-dyed floss and perle cotton thread are mounded in rough wooden boxes, encouraging you to touch. Completed rugs in all shapes and sizes hang on the walls, and bright, overstuffed pillows vie for space on benches and chairs. A rich array of the supplies needed for practicing the crafts of rug hooking, wool appliqué, punch needle, and more are found throughout the store, from Gingher scissors and Miller rug hooks to needlepoint and embroidery needles, braid aids, and felting tools. Hodgson also carries hundreds of patterns for rug hooking, punch needle, and general needlework projects. She designed some of these herself. “I’ve created a modest collection of patterns, but I rely primarily on established patternmakers such as Tina Payton of Payton Primitives,” she says. “I’ve developed many wonderful friendships with artists who specialize in rug design, so I carry their work.” The Internet has also made it much easier for artists to sell their work online, Hodgson notes, which has expanded the pool of available patterns exponentially.
And of course, Hodgson carries an amazing assortment of wool fabrics by the yard. They are predominantly sheep’s wool and mostly 100 percent pure, imported from suppliers in South America and China since only a few wool producers remain in the United States. Luckily, wool fabric is more readily available now than it was 10 to 15 years ago, when there was a serious wool shortage in the United States. According to Hodgson, two enterprising women recognized the problem and took steps to have wool milled overseas for use in clothing and rugs, thereby prompting renewed interest in having this type of fabric manufactured in quantity once more. As a result, Hodgson has no problem filling Camp Wool with materials for her patrons.
Her store is especially well known for its diverse selection of textured woven wools such as herringbones, heathers, tweeds, and plaids—all desirable for use in primitive designs. The textured wools offer a great deal of color variety, much like an artist’s palette, allowing crafters the artistic flexibility to create a range of looks. “Wool is a very rich, versatile, and tactile material,” Hodgson observes. “The joy and satisfaction I find in working with the fabric are among the primary reasons that I was drawn to rug hooking in the first place. Being from a cold-weather state like Minnesota, I’ve always loved the feel of wool anything—sweaters, blankets, rugs—so hooking was an instant fit for me.”
Nor is Hodgson alone in her enchantment, judging from the current craze for rug hooking and wool appliqué, which are the two main crafts practiced by patrons of Camp Wool. Rug hooking, the primary form of artistic expression for women in the nineteenth century along with painting, has enjoyed a renaissance over the course of the last decade. Wool appliqué has also experienced a renewed rise in popularity, particularly among quilters who are drawn to the portability and relative speed of the appliqué process. “Quilters have really started turning on to wool; it’s very exciting,” Hodgson observes. “Many quilters have started combining cotton fabric with wool, and their creations are generating a lot of interest in wool appliqué.” Crafters find creating a wool appliqué piece rewarding because a project can be completed in a matter of days or weeks, depending on the maker’s experience level, and these handmade items make great gifts. Rug hooking is also popular for many of the same reasons. “I teach a ton of beginners how to hook, and it’s wonderful to see them develop their skills and grow as artists,” Hodgson says.
“My whole goal in establishing Camp Wool was to create a little escape for people. Rug hooking isn’t hard—no one grades you and the craft is very forgiving,” she says. “You don’t follow a chart the way you do in counted cross-stitching, and there’s really no right or wrong way to hook. It is about what you, the maker, envision in terms of color and pattern. And if you make a mistake, it is very easy to make a change—you just tear out the row and start fresh.” Hodgson maintains that hooking is a very low-stress craft and one that allows each maker to introduce his or her personality, making it a very convivial pastime.
“Camp Wool is special because of the sense of camaraderie that hooking fosters and that we encourage among our clients and visitors,” Hodgson says. “Our goal for the store is to create a happy place where people can leave their cares behind and get their creative juices flowing! I love my job—I feel like we’re adding to the quality of people’s lives. It feeds the soul to create. There’s no stress in rug hooking; there’s just a lot of fun and happiness here!”
Sources: Camp Wool, 207-604-4484