Knotted Shag

by Diana Blake Gray
Master Rugmaker

Whenever anyone asks which rug is a good one to make as a family project, my go-to answer is the knotted shag. Even young children will catch on to the technique fairly quickly and it is perfectly suited for recycling outgrown clothes into a “memory rug.” I gave that recommendation to a California kindergarten teacher some years ago, and her class completed a 2- by 3-foot rug that sold at a school fundraiser for $300. Children really do enjoy watching this type of rug grow.

The technique is ancient and probably of middle eastern origin, since it is very similar to the construction of hand-knotted carpets. Knotted shag rag rugs have been made in North America since the mid-1800s and were a favorite during the depression since they require only the smallest scraps of fabric to make.

There are two basic approaches to making knotted shag rugs. The most common was created by using the fabric scraps over two stout strings (the “two-string” method). The rows of knots are then coiled and sewn into a rug. Alternately shorter sections were made and sewn side-by-side to form the rug.

The two strings were held by a simple tensioning device consisting of a board with four nails or pegs, but during the depression, some elaborate handmade tensioning devices were created. (See the Rugmaker’s Exchange for some examples of these.)

Knotted shag rugs are also made on a pegged rug frame and this is the technique I most often recommend since the rug goes together in a single step and comes off the frame with finished edges.

The knotted shag technique also can make stunning art pieces by varying the length of the scraps.

As seems to happen fairly often, “craft” publications pick up on a small piece of an old idea and put out some very dumb directions. Currently, there are some directions out there where people are instructed to “tie knots” in fabric (on rug canvas) to create a rug. This is not a good idea (the rugs are lumpy and impractical) and is not at all what the real “knotted shag” is.

Detail of a knotted shag rug made on a rug frame with cotton fabrics

Detail of a wool knotted shag rug using the two-string method

Detail of a depression era knotted shag rug from my collection made of cotton scraps, using the two-string method with short sections sewn side-by-side. The top of the photo shows the front of the rug and the lower section shows the lines where the strips of knotting were sewn together on the back of the rug.

At left is an “arty” example showing the knotted shag used in combination with other frame made techniques to create an eye-catching hanging

Elsewhere on the Rugmakers Homestead
See the Rugmakers Exchange for photos of more old knotted shag rugs and clever handmade devices to assist the construction.

Publications in our catalog
Rugmakers Bulletin #10: Knotted Shag Rugs (includes the basic instructions for both the two-string and frame-made variations)
Rugmakers Handbook #2: Fabulous Rag Rugs from Simple Frames (includes the frame-made method only, plus a high speed variation for production work)


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