Monday, May 2, 2011

Something New

I finished my first penny rug today. Penny rugs are an American folk art that originated during the 1880s, when cloth was often scarce and home makers reused old wool clothes to make decorative items. Typically a penny rug features graduated circles stacked on each other and sewn together using a blanket stitch. Coins were used as the templates for the smaller circles, thus the name penny rug. Geometric patterns were a common motive, along with hearts, flowers, stars, and animals. Despite the name, penny rugs weren't used on the floor. They were used to cover chair seats, decorate table tops, or hung on the wall.

I think traditionally the circles were sewn on a larger foundation piece and backed with something like burlap or a feed sack. Modern penny rugs are often made out of individual circles that are sewn along the edges to form the piece, as I've done here. I used a simple stab stitch to attach the hearts and circles to the foundation circles, and a blanket stitch to attach the tops to the bottom circles.


I've signed this piece "TAD 2011," although the embroidery is a little hard to see in this photo.


I used a plaid tweed with light blue, gray, and caramel stripes, along with a solid light blue and a nubbier gray. The light blue came from a felted sweater that featured a solid weave and sections of ribbing, both of which I've used in this piece. The plaid was probably from a wool skirt or jacket.


Each circle is sewn to a backing circle of cream felt that I cut from an old wool blanket.


Many people use penny rugs as a candle mat, but I think I'd be more likely to use this as a decorative trivet on the table. The thick layers of wool are perfect for protecting the table surface from heat and steam.


I've always like penny rugs with their combinations of colors and patterns and it's a perfect project for using up those little scraps of leftover wool felt, so it was only a matter of time that I tried sewing one myself. I enjoyed the simple applique embroidery and the circles came together quicker than I expected. 
This rug will be added to my shop soon and I've already started several others. I plan to make a few in a patriotic theme for the summer and then do some pumpkin motifs for the fall.

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