by Diana Blake Gray
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Wagon Wheel rugs are a variety of frame-made rugs. The popular name has led some people to believe that they were woven on the actual wooden wagon wheel. Instead, the name refers to the “spokes” that show in the round design—and a round frame is not even needed. A round wagon wheel rug can be woven just as on a square frame, which is a lot easier to come by.
Originating in the Scandanavian countries, wagon wheel rugs appeared in North America in the 1800s. These rugs are most often woven of heavier fabrics (wool, flannel, etc) so that the tension on the weaving “spokes” does not become overwhelming. Note that wagon wheel rugs are not to be confused with the “bicycle wheel” rugs which did use bicycle wheels as a frame, but were made with twining (a non-tensioning method).
Wagon wheel rugs can also be made in an oval shape on a rectangular frame and lend themselves to modern fabrics including denim and fleece.
These rugs are made on a wrapped flat frame also, and are essentially one giant plait. The technique requires fastidious fabric preparation for a neat result. Most often made of light to medium weight woolens, frame braids also can be made with heavy cotton fabrics, such as denim. These rugs require patience, for though the process is straightforward, precise even tension on the strands is critical for a good edge. The frame braid rug shown in the photograph is at the stage where the weaving is complete, but the ends have not been bound for the finishing touch.
I haven’t been able to track a solid line to a region of origin of the frame braids, and it wouldn’t surprise me to find that they were widespread in northern Europe and brought to North America during the 1800s. The rugs were not uncommon in the northern tier states of the US and in western Canada, though it is rare to find a surviving example in good condition.
A wagon wheel rug made of heavy wool
A flannel wagon wheel rug, shown in process using a large quilting hoop as a frame for the construction.
A frame braid rug shown with the weaving complete but the ends are not bound as a final finish.