Jolyn Burt once called her doctor’s office complaining of a sore shoulder. “Is it work related? What do you do?” the nurse asked. “I’m a hooker,” Jolyn replied without thinking. There was a long silence. “A RUG hooker,” Jolyn added quickly. “Oh, thank you for telling me that,” the nurse laughed.
Rug hooking is a very popular pastime in The Villages and hookers like Jolyn often belong to several clubs at once. They learn techniques, trade patterns and discuss fabrics.
Hooked rugs started with rural housewives who recycled burlap bags used for livestock feed into the base material and hooked in cut-up, worn-out clothing and left-over yarn, making practical and colorful floor rugs for their homes. Today’s rug hookers buy specially made and dyed wool cloth, cut it up into narrow strips known as “noodles,” and hook intricate patterns using a burlap base.
The basic technique is simple. A rug hook is inserted through the burlap and the wool noodle strip is pulled up through the material to make a loop. The hooker continues to the next hole and the loop is repeated. Different wool colors and looping directions are used to complete the pattern.
A native of nearby Lakeland, Jolyn and her brother grew up in a family of “solid, good Southern Baptist people.” Her mother worked in a school cafeteria and a canning plant; her father at Royal Crown soda and at a filling station. She had ambitions to become a missionary, but that was changed by a nearby neighbor.
On the short walk between her home and that of her grandmother, Jolyn often talked with a woman who asked about her future plans.
“I told her that maybe I could be a teacher and the lady said that I’d have to go to college, but I knew my parents didn’t have the money for that.” The neighbor encouraged Jolyn to take AP classes and apply for scholarships.
“It was a hard year,” she recalls.
With a partial scholarship and help from her parents and church, Jolyn attended college and began a teaching career in Nashville, Tenn.
“But after five years I was bored and when I had a fight with my boyfriend I decided to move.”
That decision took her to Okinawa, Japan with the Defense Department as a teacher where she met six other teachers and her future husband.
The teachers group still hold an annual reunion – scheduled for Phoenix and Sedona, AZ in February 2018. Jolyn’s marriage, to an attorney whose family had practiced in the same Vermont town for seven generations, failed after their two children were grown. She moved to Providence, R.I. where their daughter lived. It was an amicable parting. “We’re still close friends,” she says.
Steve Burt, a pastor, writer and friend, helped her move. They married in 2012.
Seeking a way to involve their grandchildren in their marriage – Jolyn has three and Steve has two – a friend suggested a “Cat in the Hat” wedding. Steve wrote a play in Dr. Seuss rhyme, Jolyn rounded up costumes and the families held a joyous celebration on a Cape Cod beach to bring everyone together.
“Steve and I are a good combo,” Jolyn says. “He’s a word person and I support him in that. He supports my many projects.” Steve is an award-winning author of young adult and inspirational books and the couple spend part of the year traveling to craft fairs, the southeast in winter and Maine in the summer, where they sell his books. They will be exhibiting at the Book Fair on Jan. 27 at Eisenhower Recreation Center.
After their marriage they began the search for a place to live. After looking for months, at her brother’s insistence, they came to The Villages and found their place. For Steve the Florida summers were uncomfortably hot, so they also have a place in Maine where they are close to their grandchildren.
Jolyn admits that she’s “kind of obsessive compulsive” and keeps her rug hooking wool fabric in a tall bookcase sorted by color. “I love my fabric,” she says touching the soft material. “I can see in my mind what a spot colored piece will look like when hooked into the rug.” She shows a piece of wool that is spot dyed to look like clouds in a blue sky and a brown striped square that will make a great variegated color roof for a summer cottage on a rug.
One of Jolyn’s other passions is volunteering with Tutors for Kids, an organization that provides extra help in reading, math, writing and sciences for K through 5th Grade students in areas surrounding The Villages. The organization also distributes books – 70,000 of them so far – to the students. “For some of them, it’s their first book,” she says.
Jolyn looks forward to the group’s annual trip to the Orlando Science Center. She takes photos of each of the 20+ children in her group along with activity pictures and creates a book, asking each child to write a page about their special day. Using publishing software she creates and prints a full color book. Each child personally autographs their page and everyone in the group receives a copy. Jolyn’s Village of Woodbury neighbors contribute to pay for the printing.
“I’m always busy,” Jolyn says, “But I don’t enjoy games,” she notes quickly. She does play golf, gardens, reads and enjoys discussion groups. Helping Steve with his teaching and writing is always on the agenda and she plays the ukulele. “Steve and I cook at home almost every night. We love the fresh produce from the Markets of Marion.” They are also active participants in the Unitarian Universalist Church where Steve sometimes speaks.
“I like organizing and putting things together,” Jolyn says. “And I always like to have a project.”
John W Prince is a writer and Villages resident. Learn more at www.GoMyStory.com.