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History Of The Rag Rug
The first floor coverings made in the American colonies were rag rugs. The people had no new materials to spare for floors and there was no corner store to go to for supplies. They cautiously saved every scrap of worn-out, used-up textile material from all sources. These scraps were usually wool, very seldom silk and in later years cotton. Remnants were cut into strips, sewn together and rolled into big balls to be made into rugs when time allowed. Old stockings, clothing and bed linens which had outlived their original purposes became valuable all over again.
In those early days there was no organized industry for making floor coverings. The thrifty folk of Pennsylvania and Maryland, and to a lesser degree New England, were accustomed to operating hand looms in their small houses and wove these old scraps on them. The loom would be strung with strong linen warps, and the long strips of rags were drawn under and over and tightly pressed together to make a narrow carpet, since the looms were narrow and could do no better. To make a wide carpet one sewed together a number of strips.
Our early rugs consisted of three major forms, identified by their method of construction. The first was made with a strong, firm cloth base to which other material was stitched to make it thick and warm. Rugs of this type included the socalled tongue or button and patchwork rugs, as well as some shaggy or fluff rugs. The second type was made by interlacing one or more threads with the aid of some very simple instrument such as knitting needles, crochet hook or sewing needle. These included braided, crocheted and knitted rugs. The third major type consisted of rugs on a fabric with an open mesh through which yarn or strips of cloth were prodded with a punch, drawn with a hook or embroidered with a needle. These are now spoken of as embroidered, needletufted and hooked. The method used was determined by the materials available, the use to which the rug was to be put and the equipment most congenial to the skill or ability of the worker.
The earliest homemade rugs were not hooked. They were little more than the overlapping of pieces of cloth sewed or woven upon a coarse homespun background, usually linen. This served a basic need but could scarcely be called decorative in any real sense.
Who first had the idea of using worn-out clothing and old blankets to make rugs is not known. Authorities agree, however, that the earliest rag floor coverings were put together by sewing pieces of cast-off clothing onto lengths of homespun and by overlapping the edges of the patches to give the rug greater warmth and durability. Rugs like this were known as tongue rugs because they were made by cutting small tongue-shaped pieces and sewing them onto a backing so that each row overlapped the next. More picturesquely, later on, these were called petal rugs, identical in principle. Button rugs were similar, consisting of concentric small scraps of button size sewed upon the backing.
From such beginnings came the patch rug or appliqued rug. This in due course was followed by the braided rug, and still later by the gayer designs of the hooked rug.