A Brief History of Rag Rugs

Our beloved craft of rag rugging is fairly well known nowadays in the crafting world, and seems to be, slowly but surely, making a comeback. I’d even hope to make the bold claim that here at Ragged Life we’ve had a hand in making more of the public aware of, and even take up the craft. So, we thought it was about time we shared a bit on the background, heritage and history of rag rugs, as this is where much of the beauty lies. Here goes!

If you’ve ever tried rag rugging before, you’ll know that there are two traditional methods- hooky and proddy, or as we call it loopy and shaggy. There’s actually a few different names for these methods, but the outcomes are the same. For loopy, the result is a neater, smoother finish. Any patterns on the fabric are shown better and pictoral designs can be made. Shaggy, as the name would suggest, creates a fluffy finish. This is most commonly used for rugs as you can imagine a lot of fabric goes into it, making the finish warm and cosy.

Whilst we adapt to modern day and the trend for recycling, up-cycling and all the -yclings, rag rug making in the past was a thrifty way to re-purpose old cloth from mostly woollen clothes.

Although the methods are well preserved, the actual history is a little vague in places. This is partly due to the fact that, in Britian, the craft was a sign of poverty. The materials used were things that would otherwise be thrown out and the rugs were necessary to keep cold flagstone floors and floorboards warm before today’s luxury of fitted carpets. Therefore, the rugs were not treated as artwork, as they may be today. This meant that, commonly, a new rug would be made every year, and the old one moved to the kitchen, the kitchen rug moved perhaps outside, and the last thrown out! Unfortunately, because of this, it’s difficult to find old rag rug relics.

Not only was the practice of rag rugging practical but it was also social. Rag rugging inspired a strong community spirit with family, friends and neighbours meeting to make the rugs together.  In this way they could share the candlelight and rush light, again a thrifty saving.

Women would time things so the rug would usually be finished by Christmas. It would then be laid in front of the fire while the old hearthrug was demoted to the kitchen, that one to the back door and the old doormat thrown on the compost heap or in the dog kennel.

We love the tactile element of the shaggy rugs and the association with particular clothes that have gone into them – even today any material goes – from swimming costumes to bin bags – whatever takes your fancy.

Cushions are also a modern addition to the rag rug revival and are usually much quicker to complete for a first project.

Hope that was informative and if you’ve got any further details to share we’d love to hear from you!

3 thoughts

  1. Here in Cumbria I understand that a new rug could start life as bedding before starting it’s journey through the floors of the house.

    • That’s so interesting Ruth! I’ve heard that one before but wasn’t sure where they did it. I bet the rag rugs kept them nice and warm in bed 🙂

  2. Pingback: Ragged Life Blog | A People's History of Rag Rugging - Ragged Life Blog

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