Rugmaker's Homestead

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Below is an assortment of instructions for making rag rugs from my own collection of such things. Rug making was very much a part of everyday life a hundred years ago, and was often a topic in old cookbooks (which were a household reference for women on everything from stain removal to home doctoring). This is really an assorted sampling of the type of minimal instructions from which women of the day had to work. On some of them I've made editorial notes explaining their content.---Diana

Rag Rugs 
In "Household Discoveries" 
by Sidney Morse, 1908 
Very durable and useful rugs may be mad of all sorts of old rags in the same fashion as a rag carpet, or by braiding or they may be knitted or drawn through burlap or canvas as in embroidery. Small pieces may be utilized by commencing at one side and cutting the width of a carpet rug almost to the end, then turning a corner and cutting along the side, and so going around the outside until the piece is cut up. After clipping off the square corners the rag will be found to be of convenient length. Carpet rags should be wound into balls of uniform size. They catch less dust, and do not become tangled. When ready to tack them, have a sewing bee, or run them up on the sewing machine. This will enable you to do them very quickly. Old stocking legs make especially pretty rugs. 

To sew Carpet-rags on a Machine
In "Buckeye Cookery" 1885 
Make the stitch short, run it obliquely across the rags where they are to be joined, and sew a good many before cutting the thread. [This is a description of the "bias joint" which is still the method I recommend for a smoothly finished rug surface.--Diana]

To Make Drawn Rugs
In "Household Discoveries" 
by Sidney Morse, 1908 
First prepare a frame by nailing together four pieces of lathe or other light pine stuff, and stretch on this a piece of strong burlap or coarse canvas. Prepare the rags by cutting them in a uniform width of on half inch or less, and wind each color in a separate ball. Draw the rags through the burlap by means of a hook, that can be extemporized from a piece of wire. Insert the hook from above between the warp and woof of the burlap, and draw the rag up from below so as to form loops projecting at uniform heights above the burlap. This is the principle upon which Axminster carpet is made. A design may be traced on the burlap by means of chalk or charcoal, and the outlines drawn with two or three rows of rags in different colors. A little experience will indicate how closely together to draw the loops, which should project a half inch or less above the burlap. If desired the loops may afterwards be clipped, as is done with the Wilton carpets by means of a sharp pair of scissors. 
["Drawn" rugs are better known today as "hooked" rugs, and the term "woof" is now the "weft".--Diana]

To Make Rag Rugs. 
In "Buckeye Cookery" 1885
Cut rags and sew hit and miss, or fancy striped as you choose; use wooden needles, round, smooth, and pointed at one end of any convenient length. The knitting is done back and forth (like old fashioned suspenders), always take off the first stitch. 
[This is describing what modern knitters know as the "garter stitch", and is still the most often used stitch in modern knitted rugs.---Diana]

Farmer's Door Mat. 
In "Buckeye Cookery" 1885 
Every doorstep should be provided with a foot-scraper and a brush or broom, and every one, as he comes in, should take the time to use them before appearing on the carpet or clean floor. ... A very excellent mat may be made by boring holes in a board, and drawing corn husks through the holes. Careful persons change their foot-gear when they enter the house to remain any length of time --a custom conducive not only to neatness, but so greatly to comfort, that it is to be commended. 
[While this isn't a rag rug, I thought it was marvelous!--Diana]

Needlecraft Magazine, September, 1929 
Here is my way of sewing the braided rugs which are so much in evidence nowadays; it is really a sort of adopted way, since it was given me by a lady who has made many such rugs, and is so great an improvement over the way I learned first that I wish to pass it on. Ball stitch is used, the needle being slipped under a fold at the edge of the braid, first on one side then the other, back and forth, thus lacing the braids together. If the work is done carefully the thread does not show at all, or very little, and practically no wear comes on it. Any heavy thread, like carpet-warp or strong twine, is good; and the edges of the braids are drawn close together so that the rug is reversible, both sides being alike. Others may know of this but I did not, and believe in passing on a good thing when I find it. Mrs. Martha Allen, Vermont. 

The Mountain Handicrafts 
by Antonia J. Stemple (1929) 
No matter how meager or inadequate the materials available, and no matter how laborious the process, women in every age and in every part of the world always have found a way to fashion beautiful things with their hands. It is instinctive in the feminine nature to delight in handicrafts-- to wish to beautify the articles of every-day use in the home o on the person, in some way. For this reason the women of every country have originated and developed some distinctive handicraft or art in which they have attained a very high degree of skill and artistry, and which sometimes may be found nowhere else. ...

Really wonderful creations resulted from the use of the simplest and apparently hopeless materials. But necessity has always been the mother of invention. For this reason, native handicrafts have a special interest and value, and throw much light on the nature of the country or locality where produced, its resources, and on the life and customs of the inhabitants. The native hand crafts vividly reflect the intelligence, the skill and resourcefulness and adaptability of the women, and tell their story in no uncertain language. It is interesting to note, also that the handicrafts and arts developed in primitive and ancient days still remain the most perfect examples of these respective arts and that moderns have been able to improve upon them but very little, even with the inventions and resources of the whole world and a much higher civilization, experience and knowledge to draw upon. Indeed, in these days much of the work of the old artisans is absolutely impossible of duplication, while the best modern handicrafts are merely copied or adapted from those earlier times. All too often modern methods have caused deterioration in these arts and crafts, rather than natural and to-be-expected improvement. In some cases an art has been almost entirely lost. Time and patience were vitally essential in most old-time crafts, and these qualities are less common now among workers. 

The pioneer women of this country turned out needlework which is both the admiration and despair of their descendants, and the blankets and coverlets they wove still bear testimony to their integrity and to their industry, and are now being freely imitated and copied and sold at enormous prices to appreciative buyers. In Canada, the isolated inhabitants of some provinces still turn our remarkable patchwork creations, rag rugs, baskets, moccasins and blankets of a distinctive and highly desirable sort, just as generations of their forebears did before them.....

Naturally, the less the worker has to draw on, the more substantial and utilitarian is the handicraft, and their cruder and more useful, for in such cases a necessary thing is merely made as attractive as possible, instead of mere beauty being the all in all. In fact, some native handicrafts may not be really beautiful at all, according to our more highly developed and refined tastes, but they represent the nearest approach to beauty possible at the time. ...

The North Carolina women are adept in the making of hooked rugs, which have become really fashionable. The mountain rugs are in all sizes, shapes and colorings, and no two are exactly alike, as each worker turns out whatever her individual fancy dictates. They are made by mountain women in their isolated and widely scattered homes, as they have time and opportunity, and when completed are sent to established centers or to collectors for sale. These types of rugs have been made by the ancestors of the present mountaineers for years and consequently much skill has been acquired in their production. ... The hooked rugs are much more attractive than the braided and twisted rag rugs with which we are s familiar. 

Since the vogue for hooked rugs is becoming so pronounced, they are, unfortunately, being quite widely imitated, copied, and turned out on a large scale, but the difference between a genuine individual creation and the others is apparent to the most casual observer. 

Besides these hooked rugs, the North Carolina mountaineers make woven rugs, coverlets, table runners, sofa and chair cushions, and hand bags. They are woven on crude, old-time hand looms, and native dyes are used, the materials being colored before weaving. Sometimes cotton and sometimes wool is used for the filling and a variety of intricate and pleasing patterns, some of which have been used for generations, are produced. ... It seems almost unbelievable that such attractive and beautiful things may be made by such simple and primitive means. The work is all washable, non-shrinkable and non-fadeable. It is very evident that the workers take pride in their creations and pay attention to detail. ...

The Importance of Floors by Lois Palmer (1929) Hand crocheted rag rugs have the double advantage of being inexpensive and obtainable in any color combinations desired, because they're made to order. They may be round, or square with round corners, or oval or oblong; and it is sometimes a good idea to have the center rather light, shading through two or three deeper tones of the same or a harmonizing color, with a few rows of very dark color, or black, at the outer edge. ...Such rugs are also attractive in a breakfast nook. 

Copyright Rafter-four Designs, P O Box 40, Cocolalla, ID 83813