Patched & Penny Rugs

by Diana Blake Gray
Master Rugmaker

This family of rag rugs dates back hundreds of years in Scandanavia, though most likely they were originally made as bed coverings (essentially wool patchwork quilts). Brought to North America with settlers, the earliest examples are just overlapping layers of smallish wool patches. By the mid-1800s formal patch patterns evolved with the round patches being called “penny rugs” and half-oval patches being referred to as “tongue” or “scallop” rugs. These patterns were also used to border other types of rugs as is described in the 1871 article on rugmaking elsewhere on the Rugmakers Homestead.

Through the early 20th century, patched rugs were typically constructed in layers for durability, but by the 1920s more elaborate designs (geometrics and florals) often left large areas of the backing cloth exposed. The latter rugs also used commercial wool felts rather than scrap wool. Not particularly practical as rugs, these usually ended up as wall hangings and table runners.

Also in this family of rugs are the “woven strip” rugs where wool strips were woven flat to form a mat, and then stitched together with decorative stitches, eliminating the backing fabric entirely.

Traditionally, the blanket stitch or buttonhole stitch was used with linen thread to secure the pieces of wool for patched rugs. More recently made patched rugs show a wide variety of embroidery stitches and threads, blurring the line between these rugs and some wool crazy quilts.

Not all patched rugs had flat surfaces. In particular the “waterlilly” pattern allowed for unstitched edges of some pieces to be raised above the level of the rug.

Modern versions of patched rugs take advantage of the speed of sewing machines and are being made of everything from recycled felted sweaters to worn out jeans.

1914 “tongue” rug from Amy Mali Hicks’ “The Craft of Hand-Made Rugs”

Detail of a “waterlily” patched rug

Layered blocks Patched Rug

“Pennies” on penny rugs were variously arranged and layered (above).A tongue rug laid out prior to stitching (left).

Elsewhere on the Rugmakers Homestead:
1871 Rag Rug Article

Publications in our catalog:
13-017 Introduction to patched rugs (This 1987 booklet has been out of print for several years after the print masters were damaged).

Recommended publications:
Twenty Easy Machine-Made Rugs, by Jackie Dodson, 1990 (out of print but still available on amazon etc.) Covers sewing machine variants of patched and sewn shag rugs.

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