History of the Penny Rug

Penny rugs were traditionally stitched by thrifty Pioneer, Victorian and Civil War era homemakers. Back in the 1800’s most women had to make the best of the resources that they had, especially when it came to things such as “splurging” on decorations for the home. So, they would keep the small bits and pieces of the wool and felt that they collected from their clothing, hats, coats, blankets, etc., and then use these precious bits of fabric to make beautiful decorations for their homes. When they had a nice basket full of little snippets of fabric to work with, they would sort them into piles of similar colors. Then, to form the desirable circular shapes, they would use a coin as the template to cut their fabric pieces. Using something as small as a coin would insure that the smallest of scraps could be used in the project. This is how the term “penny rug” came to describe these little pieces of art.

What’s also interesting is, the penny rug was not normally used as a rug at all, but rather, as a decorative cover for a bed, shelf, wall hanging, or table runner. Although any style of embroidery stitch could be used, the one most commonly used to appliqué the individual pieces of fabric in the penny rug was the blanket stitch. Bright colors of thread, that were different from the piece of fabric being stitched, helped the pattern to stand out even more, and also added another creative layer to the piece. Depending on how intricate the creator wanted to be, the circles might also be stacked in several layers, each smaller and a different color than the one below it. Sometimes the rugs were backed with a piece of an old burlap bag or feed sack, and on special pieces, an actual penny was stitched under one of the circles to help weigh it down.

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