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The Needle Woven Rug

( Originally Published 1914 )

The needle-woven rug is one of the most interesting examples of craft work, be-cause it stands between the rugs of the needle and the loom. The rugs of the needle are the hooked, the knitted, crocheted and braided rugs, made with one single tool. It bridges the gap between these strictly hand-made rugs and the fabric which though hand-made is still mechanically produced on a primitive machine. The needle-woven rug is a combination of the needle and the loom. The needle corresponds to the shuttle, the comb to the reeds and the metal eyelets to the heddles. The loom of Colonial days grew logic-ally from this primitive one.

The process used in making this rug is there-fore the simplest form of weaving. It is quite identical with the earliest work of primitive man, and is still practised among undeveloped people. Our own Navajo Indians of Arizona, for instance, weave in this way the beautiful rugs known and sold commercially as Navajo blankets, using the most primitive kind of a loom and a needle made of bone.

The rude frame which is used to make this rug is really the forerunner of all looms and undoubtedly represents one of the earliest efforts on man's part to construct an implement to aid him in a peaceful occupation. It is absolutely the simplest contrivance on which woven textiles can be made.

The rugs which are woven on this primitive loom are exceedingly strong and serviceable. Not only because of the kind of thread used in them, but because of the manner in which the thread is packed and pushed together. The Navajos use their own loosely spun wool but this the handicrafter cannot of course get. There are, however, materials which are similar in effect, and which when woven, will give a surface to the rug as characteristic as that of the Navajo. Indeed it is quite similar to it.

The materials for this rug must be therefore one of those loosely spun yarns which give the finished rug texture by the felting or the matting together of the soft fiber of the threads. Cotton candle wicking such as our grand-mothers used to knit scrub- and wash-cloths, is the most easily obtainable soft cotton yarn and when well packed together it makes a surface almost identical with the felted surface of the wool Navajo rug. Candle wicking is easily dyed too and this recommends it. blue gray, light gray green and very dark navy blue.

Another very satisfactory and convenient material is the well-known cotton cloth torn into very fine strips and these strips used as yarn. This is what we shall use for the model rug. This material will be found very effective for the raveled edges of the torn strips make a delightful and varied surface because they felt and mat together in the same way as the loosely spun woolen or cotton thread. This rug will be serviceable as either a bath mat or a bedroom rug.'

The model is made in three colors, the natural color of the unbleached cotton cloth, a brown called manganese brown in dyers' terms, and the iron buff. This latter color which is familiar to all farmers' wives the length and breadth of our United States, is made by them with copperas and soft-soap. These three colors harmonize perfectly and are very simply and easily produced. The design is characteristic of this type of weaving.


The unbleached cotton cloth should be of the very coarsest kind, costing not more than four or five cents a yard. The size of the rug is twenty-four by forty-five inches finished and the number of yards of cotton muslin required is sixteen. Divide into the following amounts: six yards must be kept in the original color of the unbleached cloth. This is used for the lightest tone in the rug which we shall call tone No. 1. Six yards must be reserved for tone No. 2 or the next lightest color, the manganese brown, and the remainder of four yards for tone No. 3 the very dark huffish yellow called iron buff. These strips of cotton cloth will form the woof or surface threads of the rug. For the warp or the threads which make the foundation, hammock twine No. 24 is used. Warp thread must always be strong to hold the rug together for the warp may well be called the framework of the rug. Hammock twine is a very firmly twisted cord and is suit-able to use as warp. The cotton and the twine are the only materials needed in making the needle-woven rug.


The tools are three in number: the loom, which is a simple wooden frame; a large wooden needle such as is used in netting ham-mocks; a very coarse comb of wood if possible, if not, of bone or horn.


The chemical needed for making manganese brown is permanganate of potash. Re-member that this is poison and must not be taken internally. Its external use is harmless. With the permanganate tone No. 2 of the color scheme is produced. Tone No. 3 is dyed with copperas or green vitriol known chemically as ferrous sulphate. It is the red sulphate of iron, or iron rust. To produce iron buff a strong alkali is required in connection with the copperas. This is introduced in the form of a strong washing powder or powdered soap.

Two wooden washtubs for vats and two wooden sticks the kind used to stir clothes when boiling, and which are convenient to handle the goods in the vat are needed. It is not wise to use metal vessels unless one knows that they have no chemical effect on the dye. Porcelain is absolutely safe to use being to all intents and purposes not a metal at all but rather a china surface. In any process of dyeing remember that it is necessary to follow closely to the directions and to use only the things which are ordered in the recipe. Nothing else will do just as well.


The first step in this instance is tearing the unbleached cloth after the manner recommended. First tear the goods into lengths of two yards each. This will make eight pieces. Then each two-yard piece must be torn into strips, one-half inch wide. Tear the goods carefully for the narrower the strip the more difficult it is to tear.

Divide the width of the goods by the desired width of each strip, onc-half inch in this in-stance. This means that if the unbleached cot-ton cloth is thirty inches wide, sixty strips will be torn from it and sixty strips necessitate fifty-nine cuts in the end of each piece of goods. The width of the unbleached cotton cloth varies however, and the count might not therefore come out exactly in accordance with these numbers. Therefore begin at one selvage and follow each cut consecutively at one-half inch intervals until the other selvage is reached, unless of course the goods is thirty inches wide. Then this precaution is not needed. The cuts, therefore, will be exactly parallel to the selvage of the cloth. Make them about three inches deep.

Each set of these strips made from a two yard length of cloth must be tied together loosely in a bunch by itself. The sixteen yards of unbleached muslin therefore, will make eight bunches.

Put the eight bunches of strips into a tub of boiling water and let them stay until the water is cold. This is done to remove the oil from the unbleached cotton, as all unbleached materials have a certain amount of cotton-seed oil in their threads. In the bleached material this oil has been removed by the strong alkali of the bleaching powders. These bleaching powders of course weaken the fabric. Partly for this reason, but more especially because the bleaching alkali may linger in the goods and seriously interfere with the process of dyeing, it is always wiser for the handicrafter to use unbleached cloth for all purposes.

After the eight bunches of cotton strips have been steeped in hot water, three of them must be dried and set aside for the lightest color in the rug, tone No. 1. The others may be hung to drip. They need not be dried for all materials must be dipped in the vat while moist be-cause the wet cloth takes up the dye much more readily and easily.

The next step is to dissolve two ounces of permanganate of potash in two gallons of warm water. The permanganate is a bronzy looking powder which turns a brilliant crimson when put into water and when the three bunches of cotton strips are dipped into the dye, they will also take on the same crimson tone. When removed from the dye bath and hung in the air, however, they will gradually turn the soft color referred to as manganese brown. For this color, tone No. 2, the strips must be dipped three times, and after each dip must be hung in the air to drain and turn brown. After each dip the tone will be a little darker and the three dips bring it to the desired depth. Dry the three bunches thoroughly after dipping the third time and after drying, wash them thoroughly with soap and hot water, or until all dye particles are loosened. Then dry again, and they are ready to lay aside until used in the weaving.

Now we are ready for tone No. 3, the iron buff. Take the two remaining bunches of strips and moisten them, if they have- dried, and then prepare the dye bath as follows: Dissolve one-half pound of copperas in the tub containing two gallons of warm water. Stir it about until thoroughly dissolved. There should be no lump of copperas left in the water. Then dissolve one pound package of soap powder in another tub in the same amount of water and see that no lumps are left undissolved in this. Drop the strips into the tub containing the solution of copperas and see that it penetrates thoroughly to every part of the material. When you are sure that it has done this, take them out and drain for a few minutes. Then dip them into the tub containing the solution of soap powder. This must be repeated three times, draining each time after removing from one solution before dropping them in the other. Use the wooden sticks to handle the material when dyeing, because this dye solution stains the hands very badly. After dipping a third time in the solution of soap powder the bunches of strips are ready to hang in the air to dry. After drying, they must be rinsed and dried again. Then they are ready to lay aside until they are needed in weaving the rug.

When the cloth is dipped into the soap pow-der solution and after being dipped in the copperas solution, it turns a dull greenish color and has an unpleasant odor but these manifestations disappear after it has hung in the open air for awhile. There returns gradually from the dull green to the desired tone of reddish yellow just as the cloth in. the first instance, when dyeing with the manganese brown turned from crimson to soft brown.

The cause of this transformation in both the dyestuffs used in this chapter, is due to the oxidizing of the chemicals which have been deoxidized by being brought into contact with other chemicals in the dye bath. Both the permanganate of potash and the copperas undergo a chemical change when dissolved, and thus acted upon by the elements in the water and air. And the copperas is still further changed by being subjected to the elements in the soap-powder solution. When the goods dipped in either of these baths is hung in the open air to dry, the chemicals gather again from it the elements of oxygen of which they have been deprived, and by this process re-turn to their respective brown and buff. It is this very feature of oxidization that makes these two dyestuffs so permanent.


The design is developed in this rug as in all the other rugs by the tools and materials used and by the manner of using them. The tools and materials govern the manner in which the rug is made. That is, they determine its technique; the technique limits the design and produces effects which are typical of the process and which give the finished rug its characteristic appearance. The worker should al-ways recognize that the technique of any process determines the character of the design and should never attempt to produce a design which is manifestly unsuited to the medium in which the rug is made.

The design for the needle-woven rug must he simple in order to accord with the technique. It must contain only those ornamental features whose lines may be closely related to the structure of the rug. This structure consists of two sets of straight lines crossing each other at right angles. The vertical set corresponds to and is composed of the warp threads of the fabric. The horizontal set corresponds to and is composed of the woof threads or filler. On these two sets of lines the design must be planned if it is to conform to the structure of the rug.

Hence it is immediately apparent that vertical, horizontal and angular lines alone are adapted to this style of technique as these are the only lines conforming strictly to the structure of the rug. These are the only appropriate lines to use. They are as characteristic of the needle-woven rug as they are of the closely allied Navajo blanket, while any form requiring curved lines is totally out of place because it does not conform to the rug's structure.

There are three salient features of the needle-woven rug. The one that is most important because it has a decided effect on appearance of the design results from the stepping at the edges of the pattern. This stepping is necessary because the pattern is first woven into the warp threads and the background is afterwards woven into it. The manner in which this is done will be carefully explained when we come to weave the rug.

The second effect is produced by the difference in spacing between the warp threads for while these threads are concealed in the finished surface of the rug by the woof or cross threads, they have a determining influence on the wave intervals of the surface. These undulations are long or short according to the distance between the eyelets on the rug frame which hold the warp threads and by which they are regulated. This is mentioned to show the worker how closely ornament in handicraft is related to structure.

The third feature of the rug which is also a surface effect has already been mentioned. This is caused by the matting or felting of the loose fibers of the woof.

The worker must consider the color of the rug with the design and with such a simple design as the structure here demands only a simple color scheme is appropriate. It is well to limit such a scheme to three colors or rather to two colors as one color is represented by two tones. By tone in color is meant depth whether it is light, dark, or medium.

In the color scheme chosen for this rug yellow predominates or is thc keynote. It is frankly expressed in the iron buff tone No. 3. Echoed in the unbleached yellowish tone of the cotton which is tone No. 1 and moderated by the soft manganese brown tone of tone No. 2. This tone No. 2 is composite. It has yellow in it so that it may harmonize with the other two colors. But it contrasts sufficiently with them to emphasize them. Tone No. 1, the lightest color of the design, is used in larger proportion and in more unbroken spaces than the two other colors either taken singly or together. Tone No. 1 is the background color while tones No. 2 and 3 are the colors used in figures for the design, which thus stands out in darker tones against the lighter one. Tone No. 2 is used actually in about the same pro-portion as tone No. 1 but it does not appear so because the surfaces it covers are much more broken up. You will remember that we re-served the same amount of material for tone No. 1 as for tone No. 2.

The reservations for both the iron buff ,and the manganese brown have been liberal be-cause it is better to be on the safe side and have a little left over, rather than to need more of any color than one dyeing will furnish; for it is almost impossible to reproduce conditions under which dyeing is done and consequently to reproduce identical color. Furthermore, there is a great difference in the way in which workers use materials. Some pack and press it down more than others and will therefore re-quire more.

Tone No. 3, or the iron buff, is the most vivid color in the design. For this reason it is used in smaller quantities than the other and in a more striking way for it accents sharply certain portions of the design. The central figure, the four minor figures, parts of the border, are picked out with it.

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