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Crafting a career out of woven rugs (slideshow)


Cross Village in northern Michigan is like a lot of small, rural towns in the state, where money is tight and jobs are scarce. And when winter comes around and all the tourists are gone, the outlook is even bleaker. So a group of women started up a cottage industry of rug making to help locals sustain themselves through the lean months.

23-year old Jasmine Petrie wears her hair in pigtails and has tattoos on her back and arms; she looks more like a rock star than a rug weaver.

"If you would've asked me a year ago if I'd was going to have a loom and weave rugs, I would have thought you were crazy," says Petrie.

But today, she has her own rug weaving studio in Petoskey where she dyes her own locally produced wool and weaves rugs on a giant Cranbrook loom. She took her first rug weaving class last winter at the newly opened Rug Works, a nonprofit in Cross Village.

That's exactly what the folks behind the Rug Works were banking on. Their mission was to teach unemployed and underemployed locals a trade, like weaving, in the hopes that they'd then use that trade to create goods and earn a living. The Rug Works also paid for the artisans to take classes at the local college and earn a certificate in textiles.

But in the end, it didn't work out. The Rug Works closed after being open for little over a year.

I wasn't able to get a straight answer on why Rug Works had to shut its doors. One gentleman I talked to said the looms were too expensive, although at least half of them seem to have been donated. Another said the major funder pulled out. Shanna Robinson, who was on the board for Rug Works, says they didn't secure enough funding before the nonprofit opened:

"We were so anxious to put people to work, but perhaps we should have done the fundraising first."

Once the folks behind Rug Works knew it was closing, they sold the looms to any of the artisans that wanted them at drastically reduced prices in the hopes that the artisans could continue to try and earn a living through rug making.

Someone donated Jasmine Petrie the loom of her dreams, and today she's busy churning out new rugs. She even helped create a Weavers Guild with other former Rug Workers.

"Rug Works ended too quickly, I think," says Petrie, "but they really succeeded in inspiring a lot of people to continue with this."

And perhaps that's not all she got out of Rug Works. Petrie is taking an art business class this semester to come up with a marketing plan for her new career in the arts. The Rug Works may not have planned for its future well, but Petrie is trying to.

Jennifer is a reporter for Michigan Radio's State of Opportunity project, which looks at kids from low-income families and what it takes to get them ahead. She previously covered arts and culture for the station, and was one of the lead reporters on the award-winning education series Rebuilding Detroit Schools. Prior to working at Michigan Radio, Jennifer lived in New York where she was a producer at WFUV, an NPR station in the Bronx.