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In the 1800's, around the time of the Civil War, thrifty homemakers would use scraps of wool from old clothing, blankets and hats to create designs for mats or rugs. Using coins as templates, they created circles and each piece was then stitched in place using a blanket stitch. Thus, the name “penny” rug was adopted for this style of sewing. Sometimes a real coin, often a penny, was stitched inside the mat to add weight and make it lie flat. The mats or rugs were backed with old burlap bags or feed sacks.
Penny rugs are not actual rugs for the floor, but decorative coverings for beds, tables and dressers and mantles.They often used these penny rugs on the tops of fabric covered chairs to protect them. Sometimes they are used as wall hangings or pillows. Most designs include circles and some include images from everyday life such as cats, flowers, birds and shapes such as stars and hearts. Penny rugs are made by selecting good quality 100% wool. It must not be too thick. It may be hand-dyed or over-dyed to give the piece dimension. Circles are cut from the wool in varying sizes and then stitched together creating a pattern using complementary colors. Some rugs have decorative edging, done with elongated pieces. Resembling the shapes of teardrops and tongues. “Tongues” may also be known as “lamb's ears”, “scallops” or “pen wipers”.
Today penny rugs are still used as decorations under candles, over baskets, stitched to a pillows, as a picture or wall hanging, as a hot pad or anything else you can think of. Modern day penny rugs vary widely. Traditionalists, wanting to create authentic looking rugs use wool fabrics in similar colors to those used historically and treat the fabrics with over-dying to create an aged look. Others interpret the designs in a more modern fashion, using modern day felts and bright colors. The most attractive rugs use a large variety of wool in various colors and patterns which can present a challenge for a beginner who does not have a large stash of wool. To simplify this process and diversify your designs, you can purchase small pieces of wool fabrics or wool circles. If you use wool to make your penny rug, they require some special care to preserve the wool. To clean a soiled item, it is best to use a home dry cleaning kit or better yet, take your rug to a professional dry cleaner. If you do use any type of cleaning product at home, be sure to spot-test it on the back of the rug in an inconspicuous spot to be sure it won't stain or otherwise damage the wool. When it comes time to put away your penny rug, be sure to store it safely to protect it from wool-eating critters. Interested in making your own penny rugs? There are numerous free and paid patterns available on the internet. Here is a link to help you get started: http://www.ehow.com/how_5630573_make-felt-penny-rugs.html
Written by Tamara Pearce, owner of Pearce’s Craft Shop. KKL Primitives