by Diana Blake Gray
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Knitted rag rugs have been made since at least the mid-1800s in a variety of forms. These typically used relatively thin strips of lighter weight fabric (1/2- to 3/4-inch) since that size most closely resembled knitting with yarn. Like so many other varieties of rag rugs, knitted rugs nearly disappeared after WWII.
By far, the garter stitch was the most often used for knitted rugs because of its thickness and flexibility. It was not the only stitch that was used. Stockinette (called “plain stitch” in old sources) was used mostly for strip rugs. Other stitches, many of which no longer appear in knitting guides, include the corn-on-the-cob stitch, the shingle stitch and the woven fabric stitch.
Old fashioned knitting stitches for knitted rag rugs include (left to right) woven fabric stitch, corn-on-the-cob stitch and the shingle stitch.
The easiest type of knitted rug to make (and the most common) consisted of knitting strips of rags and then lacing the strips together.
In these knitted rugs, smaller blocks were knitted separately and then laced together. Most often the blocks were square or rectangular, but hexagonal blocks create a dramatic rug and square and half-round blocks combined to make a heart shaped rug.
Block construction in a heart shape and hexagonal block knitted rug
Round and oval rugs were made by knitting a continuous strip, thin at the beginning, and becoming wider as the rug progressed. The knitted strip was laced in a coil around the center to form the rug. Garter stitch was used for these rugs since it would bend nicely around the curves.
These knitted rugs begin with a small knitted center and rounds of garter stitch are laced sequentially around the center. Garter stitch was preferred because of its flexibility to fit tight curves around small centers. While most bullseye rugs were round, square and heart-shaped rugs also used the bullseye technique.
Knitted rag rug showing coiled construction
At left, two examples of bullseye construction in heart and round shapes.
Wedge Knitted Rugs
These are the showiest of the knitted rugs and were the ones most often preserved because of their artistic merit. The knitting is done in partial rows which create wedges that fit together forming a circle (or the ends of an oval).
The center of round bullseye rugs and hexagonal blocks also used wedge knitting.
At the right are two examples of wedge knitted rugs from 1914 as they appear in Amy Mali Hicks, The Craft of Handmade Rugs.
Rake Knitted Rugs
These were something of a novelty—mostly done as a children’s project—which could be done using the tines of a real rake. Specially constructed wooden peg frames were also used to create thicker rugs.
Idiot Cord and Spool Knitted Rugs
These simple knitted cords—again often children’s projects—were coiled and laced together in the same manner as braided rugs.
Specialty Knitted Rugs and Baskets
These include the knitted fluff mats (shaggy rugs), cross-woven knitting and large rugs knitted in a single piece. With the right materials, knitted rag baskets can also be made.
These rugs combine wedge knitting with strip construction to create a rug where the knitted strip winds back and forth through the rug as shown in the example at the right
Rake knitting on a rake, above and with a rake knitting frame, at left.
Elsewhere on the Rugmakers Homestead
All of these techniques and more about the history of knitted rag rugs are in the Handbook, which can be previewed elsewhere on the website.
Free directions for a knitted heart-shaped potholder
Publications in our catalog
Rugmakers Handbook #1: Knitted Rag Rugs for the Craftsman
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