Story & photos by Gretchen Ammerman
For the TODAY
Every new friendship is faced with an inevitable question; what should we do on our first date? That question recently came up for me and Larayne Higgins; a new friendship forged at TODAY Towers. After kicking a few ideas around, we decided to take advantage of a special opportunity afforded by living in the Lincoln City area — we were going to make rugs.
Elsie Chiavario operates two businesses, Elsie’s Discount Roving and the rug-making venture, out of her home in Lincoln Beach. The rugs are created on looms constructed by her late husband Jack Chiavario.
“Jack wasn’t interested in making rugs but he loved building things,” Elsie said. “Once we realized this was something I really enjoyed doing and would stick with, he made me a whole set of them.”
That was 25 years ago, and she’s still in love with the art.
“It’s pretty addictive,” she said. “I still never get bored by it.”
As the instructions began, Larayne and I were both feeling pretty oafish around the beautiful and seemingly delicate looms, but Elsie assured us the machines are both tougher than they look, and that we were doing fine.
Elsie actually exudes a patient calmness that puts you immediately at ease.
“It doesn’t help yelling at people,” Elsie said. “That just makes them nervous, and then no one would want to come back to make another rug.”
The raw material for the rugs, which end up being about 2.5 by 4.5 feet, comes from Pendleton shirts, blankets, and lap robes. Part of the fun is picking the material, which sits in strips in large bags, offering of options. Luckily Elsie has examples of different types of completed rugs around so you can get an idea of what the finished product might look like.
After running around like foxes in a hen house, Larayne and I finally settled on the raw material for our potential rugs — she used the remnants from a blue and black plaid shirt, and I from a former lap robe of a mix of blues, pumpkin and beige.
Elsie responded to our choices as if finally, after 25 years, through her door had walked two brilliant customers who had made the perfect choices.
Despite the encouragement, it’s hard not to imagine what other colors you should have picked once you’ve committed.
“About 100 rugs per year come out of the studio,” Elsie said, “many made by repeat customers, so you’re not alone.”
One of the things that draws a repeater are Pendleton’s National Parks series blankets, which have a special color theme to honor 10 national treasures like Crater Lake and Yellowstone Park.
“I’ve had people make a rug for every one of the parks in the collection,” Elsie said.
As we chatted, laughed and occasionally called to Elsie to expertly back us out of a screw up, the rugs began to take shape in a pretty thrilling way.
“What’s fun about the process is that they get more beautiful as you go along,” Elsie said, and we had to agree. But for us, the fun was also so much in the making.
“I was so impressed that someone would welcome me into their home and not only let me use their beautiful loom but teach me how to do it,” Larayne said. “And when you’re done you get to go home with something beautiful.”
Though we weren’t trying to compete, our rugs were coming along at about the same rate, which Elsie said usually takes about five hours on average. She recommends people set aside at least six, and that they bring a lunch or snack.
“I’ve had people have to leave and I’m happy to finish the rug for them,” she said. “But that rarely happens. Once people start they generally want to make it to the end so they can say they made the whole thing by themselves.”
Elsie can accommodate up to four people at one time, and appreciates a few days’ notice to make sure she has everything she needs ready, but has been known to accommodate walk-ins.
Women make up the bulk of Elsie’s customers, but she does also get men that want to cut a rug.
“They always pick something complicated,” she said. “But always do a great job in the end.”
When we finished our rugs, Larayne and I agreed we had picked the perfect thing to do for our first date.
“The rug making process is just complicated enough that you feel like you are really accomplishing something.” Larayne said. “I was really proud of us.”
Elsie’s Discount Roving is located at 4210 NE Hwy. 101, three miles north of Depoe Bay. A $60 fee covers all instruction and materials. For reservations, call 541-764-3997.