Amish Knot Rugs
by Diana Blake Gray
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I first wrote about Amish Knot Rugs in 1985 in the Rugmaker’s Sampler Booklet (now long out of print). It was such a simple, basic technique that I really didn’t think it needed much elaboration, but like so many rugs there is more to the Amish Knot than meets the eye.
First, about the name…when we had our first rug shop in the early 1980s I’d had many varieties of rugs on display which yielded a lot of oral history as interested folks browsed around. One gal from Ohio recognized the rug immediately and said that it was called the Amish knot. About six months later, a gal from California identified the same rug as the Navajo knot. In the latter part of the 1980s, Aunt Philly’s toothbrush rugs started business and called the same construction “toothbrush” rugs. In a 1987 Weaver’s Journal article, Lila Nelson referred to the technique as the “coil” method. To add to the confusion, ropes were occasionally used as a fill strand leading to another common name: “rope rugs.” Since the term toothbrush rugs was traditionally applied strictly to naalbinding, and the terms “coil rugs” and “rope rugs” had been applied commonly to many other constructions, for the sake of clarity I adopted the original identification and have continued to call them “Amish Knot” rugs.
The basic construction of Amish Knot rugs is a blanket stitch. The rug can be made with a single strand of fabric strip, with multiple working strands to create a pattern or with one working strip and a wider “fill” strip to give the rug more thickness. Because these variables create rugs differing widely in appearance, identifying an Amish Knot rug can be tricky. The key is to examine the outer edge carefully for the characteristic blanket stitch and identify the radiating lines of the interior blanket stitch. See the photo at the top of the page.
An abundance of craft patterns using wide fill strips in recent years has made that variety fairly common, but the other styles (especially patterned rugs) remain rare. The blue and ivory diamond pattern Amish Knot rug shown front and back is one that I made in about 1983 and it found its way into Constance Stapleton’s book, Crafts of America (Harper and Row, 1987).
While the radial type of Amish Knot rugs is the best known, Amish Knot rugs can also be made on rug canvas with a very different raised texture than the radial construction. The appearance of the rug will also vary somewhat depending on the fabric used (see photo at left). Other variations in appearance will depend on whether the stitches are worked back and forth in rows, all in one direction, or a combination of the two. The canvas based Amish Knot rugs are heavier and stiffer with more thickness and body but are not reversible. The canvas technique is easier for beginners to master since there is no ‘increasing’ necessary to make the rug lie flat.
Amish Knot on a Rug Frame
The Amish Knot can also be used over fabric warp strung on a pegged rug frame. The Padula Duck shown is one I made for the second in the Rugmaker’s Handbooks series: Fabulous Rag Rugs from Simple Frames
Tools for Amish Knot Rugs
Wooden toothbrush handles were modified to make needles for these rugs, and modern plastic variations are also available. There are a few makers of wooden and bone needles (try esty.com for sources), but a special tool is really not needed for the Amish Knot. A large-eye bulky yarn needle or bodkin is the easiest to work with, though the rugs can be made using just a large safety pin on the end of the rag strip.
Problems Beginners Encounter with the Amish Knot
Like all radial construction rugs, it is necessary to increase the number of stitches in each round to keep the rug laying flat (see my article on the “Sombrero Syndrome”). Because fairly short strips of fabric are used for the stitching, having a sewing machine handy to add length is ideal. The bias joint is by far the best method of joining strips since slit and loop (no-sew) methods will create lumps in the rug (see my article on methods of joining fabric strips).
Related Rug Techniques
The Amish Knot is most closely related to the Flat Wrap which is traceable to antiquity using natural fibers. The Amish Knot is a very basic method of rug construction and has been used to help disadvantaged and women in crisis as well as the visually impaired to be able to make rugs.
Publications in our catalog
Rugmakers Bulletin #2: Amish Knot Rugs (radial construction and patterned rugs)
Rugmakers Handbook #2: Fabulous Rag Rugs from Simple Frames (Amish knot on rug frames)