Etta Ortwein did much to ensure that the tradition of rug hooking was not forgotten. Her talent is preserved in the pieces themselves and in the wisdom and skill she passed on to others.
Hooking rugs had been on the periphery of Etta’s experience since childhood, as her mother hooked rugs using her father’s old clothes. She virtually stopped hooking rugs when she left her childhood home near Harmony Corners, just outside of Gravenhurst. The decades that followed were filled with work on a farm and the raising of her family. In 1945, she and her husband moved into Gravenhurst where she became actively involved in the Women’s Institute, the Silver Moon Rebecca Lodge and the Horticultural Society. It was with the Women’s institute that she attended a demonstration, in the late 1950s, of a clothing-cutting machine. When she learned that there were weekend classes held at a farm in Vineland, Etta began attending them regularly. From these beginnings, the Ontario Hooking Craft Guild was formed and Etta was a member of the Guild since its inception in the 1960s. Having decided to make rug hooking a full-time occupation, Etta joined the newly formed Muskoka Arts & Crafts.
Etta’s concession to her octogenarian years has been to switch from teaching rug hooking courses in the schools to giving private lessons in her home on a one-to-one basis. “There’s so much you can do with rug hooking skills,” Etta once remarked. “It’s not just making rugs. With sculpturing and shading techniques, you can create three-dimensional pictures of flowers and birds. There’s so much scope for creativity.”