Old Hats Make New Rugs (Oct, 1952)
Old Hats Make New Rugs
By ELEANORE ENGELS
Photos by Wally Kunkle
THERE are many kinds of felt rugs, but we will discuss only 3 in this article: the tongue or petal rug (Figs. 1, 4 and 6)—sometimes called the scalloped doormat—the appliqued felt rug (Fig. 10) and the embroidered felt rug. These needlework floor coverings require no special frames, hooks, or gadgets. All you need is a long, stout needle (somewhat slimmer than a darning needle so that it slips through the felt easily), heavy waxed linen or cotton thread, and wool yarns taken from old sweaters and socks, knitting silks, or crochet cottons for decorative effects.
For these rugs, use either felt or extra-heavy woolen fabrics (broadcloth or flannel) which don’t tend to ravel, or a combination of felt and fabric. You can use lighter weights if you sand- wich 2 or 3 layers of cloth together to give proper thickness. You can use all new felt, obtainable by the yard in 72 in. widths, from department stores or mail-order houses; combine it with salvaged materials, such as old hats, discarded billiard and pool table coverings, old college pennants and blankets, industrial felts (from paper mills), and scraps left from the manufacture of athletic goods such as jackets and bowling shirts. (Try Salvation Army store, Goodwill Industries, and rummage sales for old hats.) Don’t use fur felts or tissue felts—they are too soft to be durable under foot.
The tongue (or petal) rug gets its name from the shape of the felt pieces that comprise it. These are small oblongs of felt, 2-1/2 x 3-1/2 in., square on one end and ‘cut into a tongue-like curve (occasionally cut to a point) at the end opposite (Fig. 2). You can vary the size and shape of these tongues, letting the size be determined by the kind of felt or fabric scraps available.
After you have measured the floor space where you want to use the rug and decided on the shape (round, oval, half-round, oblong or square), cut a piece of burlap or heavy cotton pillow ticking to size for the foundation. If it is to be square or rectangular, turn in a generous hem on each edge of the foundation material itself, and stitch it on the sewing machine. All felt appliqued and embroidered rugs are also edge-finished with binding (Fig. 5), using wool strips.
Each row of petals may be of a different shade or color, while the yarn, silk or cotton used to blanket-stitch the petals may be monotone throughout (Fig. 4). Another version keeps all the petals alike in color and varies the shade of the blanket-stitching from row to row (Fig. 6). Or you may have both petals and blanket-stitching change from row to row (Fig. 1A). A suggested color scheme is: Outer row of petals, dark brown; next 2 rows, dark or emerald green; one row of old gold; aqua center rows; cinnamon-brown flowers for finish. Or try 2 rows of black petals outlined in apple-green, then 2 rows of iron-grey outlined with royal blue, then one row of lighter grey outlined in cherry-red, and center rows of light grey outlined in emerald green with royal blue and scarlet finishing flowers.
Next, cut out felt tongues or petals to proper size and blanket-stitch around edges of each one, except across its square end (see Fig. 2). Keep your blanket-stitches firm, but not so tight that the petals curl. If your rug isn’t too large, lay out the burlap or ticking foundation on a card table. When making a rectangular rug, straight threads in the burlap and stripes in the ticking provide handy guide lines on which to lay out the rows of petals. If the background is ticking, however, you’ll have to draw in the markings for the petal rows across the ends of the rug with a grease pencil or crayon, spaced at 2-in. intervals. For oval, round or half-round rugs, also draw guide lines in with a crayon or grease pencil, allowing a 2-in. spacing. To get good curves use a string with a pencil tied to the end.
Now lay first, or outside row of petals, edge to edge on burlap foundation, with petals extending a little over its borders (Fig. 7). At the corners tuck one petal underneath at an angle to fill in the empty space. Pin petals in place and stitch to burlap, by hand or on the sewing machine. If petals are 3% in. long, second row will overlap outside row about 2 in. This row of petals is started by centering each petal on the division between the petals of the first row (Fig. 7). Pin second row in place and stitch down. Repeat process of adding row after row in toward center of rug in the same fashion, overlapping the rows and tucking in extra corner petals wherever necessary. When you reach rug’s center, cut out felt flowers, or a row of double scallops, leaves, circles, or geometric designs and make up a little pattern of your own to cover raw edges of last 2 rows (Figs. 1A, 3, 4, 6 and 7). Blanket-stitch the edges of these pieces and sew them firmly into place, either with waxed thread, or fancy yarn-stitching.
After entire rug is finished, sew each petal firmly, completely through burlap foundation, with a daisy stitch in yarn (Fig. 8), a simple cross-stitch, a little star, or just tack it with waxed thread and square-knot it on the back. This prevents petals from kicking up in traffic and permits gentle vacuuming. Occasionally you’ll need to overlap the sides of the petals to make them fit the burlap, and the amount of overlap between the rows is also optional.
You can work out elaborate patterns and designs carrying out a flower motif, such as a round rug done in shades of deep red graduating into a center of pale pink which tends to look like a great rose (Fig. 9). For a round rug, reduce the petal widths by Vs in. for each course as you approach closer and closer to the rug’s center, so that the exposed parts of the petals in the very middle are tiny. Otherwise side-lapping is so great that pattern looks confused.
Select any pattern, here shown in quarters (Fig. 9), then make your whole rug according to that one design. For the pin-wheel pattern, alternate dark and light tongues in each course to produce a swirl effect. For the egg pattern, do likewise but produce a zig-zag effect instead of a swirl. For the peacock’s tail, alternate entire courses in dark and light, starting with a dark outside course. For the rosettes, alternate 2 light and one dark for the first course. Alternate 2 dark and one light for the second and third courses. For the fourth and fifth, alternate 2 light and one dark as you did for the first course. Sixth and seventh courses are same as second and third. Eighth and ninth are same as fourth, fifth and first, etc.
The tongue rug technique applied to cotton materials makes up into gay place mats for breakfast or lunch table, tray cloths or dresser scarfs. Made from terry-cloth, it turns out bath mats and toilet-seat covers. Delightful pillow coverings, either round or square, are other possibilities.
An appliqued felt rug (Fig. 10) gives the home designer far more leeway than the tongue rug, which is limited to such designs as can be achieved by using units of a single shape. Hooked rug patterns, quilt-block squares (Fig. 11A, B, and C)—any simple or elaborate geometrical figures—make perfect designs. Felt appliques are simply pinned to the rug backing and the raw edges sewed down flat. Any rule that applied to hooked-rug designing or to sources of designs for hooked rugs (see “Fancy Hooked Rugs,” June ’50 S&M) is suited to felt rugs. All-over flower patterns, quilt-block lay-outs (Fig. 10), or felt circles placed close together in special arrangements to form what is called the Button Rug, are very handsome.
The easiest patterns to work with are quilt-block lay-outs. Many of the women’s magazines sell stamped patterns that can be transferred directly to the rug backing with a hot flat-iron. Patterns for applique pieces are also included, which are stamped onto the smaller felt fragments, cut out with sharp scissors, and matched to the stamped pattern on the rug. Otherwise cut pattern sections from brown paper and trace a pattern through carbon paper onto the felt.
For the background or foundation of this rug, use a large piece of felt cut to desired size and shape. Some other stout fabric can be used—perhaps a length of very heavy overcoat material or a fabric called paper mill felt (not true felt but a woven wool cloth, thicker than domestic blankets, which is shrunken tight from the damp heat of the paper-making process). Paper mills sometimes offer their discards for sale. You might deliberately shrink an old blanket to use for your rug! Indeed, any wool you consider rugged enough to stand walking on will do. A good, tough army blanket is fine. Remember, the final cementing to burlap will stiffen and strengthen it immeasurably.
Next, choose a pattern and a color scheme. Whatever we said about color usage for hooked rugs holds true here. You can’t always be too choosy about background color. You will probably be grateful to find a piece of material big enough and tough enough to use for background without demanding a gorgeous shade. The rug shown here (Fig. 10) is done on a section of dingy-cream paper-mill felt. The roses are dark brick-red, a soft faded rose-rust, with dull yellow centers. Half a dozen different shades of green, from light to dark, make up the leaves and stems. Look for soft shades, avoid harsh tones and very bright colors combined with very soft ones.
If you are using (1) an olive green background (army blanket), use soft violet, old-gold, and faded rose for the flowers in the pattern, and pale, medium, and deep chartreuse for leaves with cinnamon brown stems. When using (2) a grey-drab background, try using all shades of blue from sky-blue through turquoise, aqua, Alice blue, cobalt and royal, with accents of brick-red in flowers or main design. Leaves, stems or minor sections of the pattern could be apple-green, emerald and leaf-green. For (3) a black background, make very bright flowers, using reds, clear blues, mustard-yellows, chartreuse and brick, and leaves or minor detail of leaf-green, cinnamon brown, and medium brown.
To begin the rug, assemble as many colored felt hats as you need or can get hold of, and cut out all the pieces of the applique patterns. Be sure to cot in nice clean lines. Keep these pattern sections separated as to size, shape and color in a divided hosiery box or muffin tin. Next, lay out felt background on a card table or, if it is large, on the floor. With a yard-stick find the true center of the background and mark a line through it in chalk from top to bottom of the rug, and from side to side. This will help you to lay out the pattern with accuracy. Line up the applique design with these cross-lines, arrange it on the felt and pin or baste each small felt detail into place. To keep the thread from tearing out of the felt, overcast each little applique section of felt to the background with close but deep stitches, using waxed button-hole silk or heavy-duty cotton thread. Rug-warp or strong linen thread are sturdier but tend to make the stitches too noticeable.
After entire design has been overcast into position, cut a piece of good burlap to exact size and shape of rug. Cover entire back of rug with a coating of good-quality rubber cement, and apply a coat to surface of burlap lining. Let ‘ stand 5 minutes and apply a second coating to each. Let both fabrics stand until surfaces have become slightly tacky. Hunt up an assistant to help you. Two pieces of fabric full of sticky rubber cement can turn into a one-man hazard!
Beginning at one end of the rug, lower that section down so that the edges exactly coincide with the edges of the burlap below it. Now, just as if you were smoothing out wall paper, let the 2 layers of cloth come gradually together, carefully avoiding wrinkles as you press it down. After sections are joined, press them together over and over with a cold flatiron to insure a good seal. Give the cement a few hours to set, then trim edges slightly.
To finish the edges, cut bias strips about 2% in. wide from strong wool cloth, such as wool flannel or men’s worsted suiting, and stitch together on the straight of the goods until the length will go around your rug. Press open the seams, then with the right side of the strip against the right side of the rug, sew the binding to the edges of the rug, using a back-stitch and heavy waxed thread. Allow plenty of ease on rounded rugs and notch the corners of the rug to prevent any unsightly humping. Finally, turn binding out and over to wrong side of rug and overcast it down snugly to burlap with waxed thread (Fig. 5).
The oldest pattern I know in this type of felt rug is called the button rug. The design consists of small felt circles or buttons. Each button is made of 3 different-sized layers of felt, the bottom layer 3 in. in diameter, the next layer on top of it 2 in. across, with a small 1-1/4 in. circle on the very top. Each circle is overcast or button-holed to the circle below it, and the whole button is then sewed to the felt base. One museum rug that I saw was entirely covered with little buttons, edge to edge. The rug was not bound, but was finished off with a deep wool-yarn fringe.
Many of the old rugs were left unbound, and few of them had burlap backings, but these 2 steps add so much to the life of a rug that they are well worth the extra effort involved. Some rug authorities recommend putting a coat of glue-sizing on the backs of any homemade rugs except the reversible braided rugs. Powdered glue is available in hardware stores and the package carries directions for applying.
Embroidered felt rugs, seldom seen nowadays, used typical hooked-rug designs. The work consisted of filling in the outlines of the chosen pattern with needle-work done in chain-stitch, using special yarns of high twist to insure good wearing qualities. This type of embroidery is called crewel-work. Crewel yarns suitable for rug-making (obtainable in most big department stores) are expensive. For a rug intended to be ornamental rather than heavy-duty, it might be possible to substitute yarns salvaged from really good heavy sweaters and hand-knit socks.
For procedure: A pattern is traced onto the felt backing just as a hooked-rug pattern is traced onto burlap (see April and June ’50 S&M). The same rules for color and design also hold true. The outlines of the pattern and the areas inside them are completely filled in with a simple chain-stitch using the woolen yarns (Fig. 12). The chain-stitch usually starts on the outside edge of a leaf outline and goes continually around and around to the very center point, or until the whole expanse of felt is filled. This may be done loosely or compactly. The more compact the stitching, of course, the finer the rug. Some of the old rugs were so closely worked that the felt backing was scarcely visible. Modern rugs, on the contrary, usually show a good deal of felt background.
This is slow, painstaking rugmaking. For those who love to embroider, and who have a feeling for delicate shadings and gradations of color as well as unlimited patience, I offer the idea for the embroidered rug. It will be rare and beautiful and a worthy heirloom for your family.