ELK RAPIDS — Michele Mueller is dyeing to please her customers. She dyes at least a couple of days a week.

But Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays she doesn't dye. Instead, she teaches people how to create rugs that frequently end up hanging on the wall.

Mueller teaches the art of punch needle rug making.

Artists stretch a square or rectangle of monks cloth -- a loosely woven fabric that has a very consistent spacing between fibers -- over a wooden frame. The artist then transfers or draws a pattern directly on the fabric. Since the artist will be working from what will become the back of the finished piece, the pattern must be a mirror image of the final design. 

A tight stretch is essential for punch needle work, because the next step is to use a large-handled needle to force a loop of yarn straight through the fabric. Once all the yarn is in place, removing the piece from the frame allows the monks cloth to contract, trapping the yarn in the weave.

The artistry comes into play with the choice of yarn color.

And that's where Mueller's dyeing enters the picture. In a home studio, she dyes yarn into spectacular colors to help her customers create sensual pieces of textile art.

The last half of Mueller's work week moves her from home studio to her retail location at 204 River St. at the western end of Elk Rapids' main business district. There, she teaches the nuances of the craft and sells the fabric, stretchers, needles and yarn needed. She can provide patterns or customers can provide their own.

"We do a lot of sailboats. We do a lot of fish," she said of the summer months, when seasonal residents and tourists keep her shop hopping. "Now we're into snowman season."

Many people drop in on a whim to create a vacation memento, she said, and become hooked on the craft that combines fiber, color and texture.

"They get addicted to the feel of fiber," Mueller said.

Creating a punch needle rug takes time. Mueller recently finished a 2-foot-by-3-foot rug that took her 30 days to complete. 

She sells materials and tools both in her shop and online at www.wildharerugstudios.com.

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