Shirred Rugs

by Diana Blake Gray
Master Rugmaker

Shirred rag rugs are made by gathering strips of wool or other heavy fabrics and securing the shirring in coils or rows with the thread. Shirred rugs are reversible with rich, deep textures. (True shirred rugs should not be confused with a sewn shag rug where gathered fabric strips are sewn to a base fabric.) Shirred rugs appear around 1870, but few examples survive since most relied on sewing thread to hold the rugs together. By the 1890s, elaborate examples of shirred rugs were made and specialized tools began to be marketed, but most rugs continued to be made with needle and thread or carpet warp.

From the early 1900s forward a “bent hook” for crocheted shirring was marketed and housewives encouraged, not just to make rugs, but also to sell the hooks to make pocket money. These hooks went by a number of trade names, but all were of the same basic design: a small diameter afghan hook with a bend near the tip and a pointed end to shir fabric strip. Somewhat later, the Graftex company marketed a special awl for creating awl shirred rugs. These gadgets kept those two types of shirred rugs in the public eye while the simpler forms virtually disappeared by 1950. (See the introductory chapter of the Rugmakers Handbook #4 for a fuller discussion of the history.)

While traditional shirred rugs were made almost exclusively with wool scraps, many modern materials and fabrics lend themselves to the construction. From sweatshirts and worn blue jeans to fleece and acrylic sweaters, the same rich texture can be created.

Shirred rugs can be made using several methods and the resulting rugs are hard to tell apart without close examination. In true shirring, the folds of fabric will radiate from a center or line up in rows. Faux shirring can be distinguished in that the folds of fabric will lay around the rug in a series of ‘s’ shapes rather than radiating from the center.

Sewn Center Shirring

Center shirred rugs are the oldest of the shirred rugs, and have a simple construction. Strips of fabric are worked onto a thread, going in and out with a needle to create folds along the thread. Then these shirred sections are coiled and stitched together forming the rug.

Classic needle shirred rug of multi-color wool

Shirred rugs can be constructed in planned designs such as this rug called “Autumn Hills” c.1988

With faux shirring, the folds lay along the edge of the rug

Tools for crocheted shirring including a classic bent hook

Crocheted Center Shirring
With crocheted center shirring the fabric strips are shirred onto a long thin afghan type crochet hook. There are two variations of these rugs:
1. Hump-back hook or “bent” hook method. The fabric is shirred onto a specially bent, long thin crochet hook, then each fold of fabric is worked off along with a double crochet stitch or a combination of a single crochet and a chain stitch. The fold is attached to the rug as it is worked. This is the most complex of the crocheted shirring techniques. (Over the years various hump-back crochet hooks have been marked, which go under such names as the “Schirren” hook, the “Shirret” hook, or ” Art Rug Needle”.)
2. Afghan hook method. Fabric strips are shirred onto an afghan hook (or bent hook), and the folds of the fabric are worked off, securing them with a chain stitch. A long strip of shirred fabric results. This long strip is then coiled to form the rugs and secured either by sewing or by crocheting with a steel crochet hook. This is by far the easiest method of crocheted shirring for a beginner.

Edge Shirring
Edge shirring is done along one edge of a strip of fabric instead of in the center. These rugs were usually thicker and included a spacing strip to allow the rug to lie flat.

Mono-shirring
A single large piece of wool fabric (traditionally a worn blanket) was gathered along many threads to form a thick mat.

Faux Shirring
Wool strips were stitched together with a fold at each stitch. These rugs have the same deep, reversible texture as regular shirring, but the construction methods are generally simpler. Faux shirred rugs can be distinguished from shirred rugs in that the folds of fabric lay around the outside of the rug. In true shirred rugs the folds radiate from the center.

There are three distinct methods of making faux shirred rugs:
1. Needle and thread. These are made with a long sewing needle and are very similar to standing wool rugs in their construction, except that each stitch secured a folded section of fabric.
2. Awl stitched. These were made with an awl, and have a loop of thread securing each fold of fabric. (There have been various gadgets marketed to make these rugs over the years, including the Graftex “texing” needle.)
3. Crocheted. These were made with a small steel crochet hook with one crochet stitch securing each fold. This method is also ideal for creating patterns in the rug since it is so simple to handle.

A crocheted shirred rug worked with two fabrics simultaneously and shown on edge below to illustrate the thickness and reversibility

A beat up cotton bedspread takes on new life as a luxurious shirred rug

A crocheted shirred rug worked with two fabrics simultaneously and shown on edge below to illustrate the thickness and reversibility

Elsewhere on the Rugmakers Homestead
Preview the Handbook with the table of contents and an introductory chapter

Publications in our catalog:
Rugmakers Handbook #4: Traditional Shirred & Standing Wool Rugs

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Standing Wool Rugs

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