The History of the Penny Rug – Article 1

The History of the Penny Rug – Article 1

I hope that my own recount of their history may help those curious to know more about penny rugs. My account of them is memories from my learning experiences and stories by my grandmother.

My first encounter with penny rug making was over forty years ago. My great-grandmother taught my grandmother, and gram taught me. It was a labor of love on both our parts. My unskilled fingers and her wonderful patience were a perfect combination for an experience I have not forgotten.

Penny rugs are constructed using three sizes of medallions. The top medallion was the size of an antique penny, which is about three times larger then our penny today.

The fabrics were originally made of the wool from clothing, which had worn to thin to wear. The scraps were washed in hot water and laid out to dry. My grandmother boiled her wool pieces, which was suppose to keep it from further shrinkage. The wool colors were often times black or brown, so colorful threads or yarn stitched in a blanket stitch added brightness to the rugs. The yarn was from sheep’s wool, and dyed using vegetable dyes. Beets, carrots, dandelions and even pulverized green leaves. If it would stain wool yarn, it was an additional coloring agent. The backing was from either old worn horse blankets or the portions of the pants that still had strength. It required stitching those pieces together to form a canvas for the medallions. In later years, damaged heavy canvas used on the farm machinery served as backing.

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