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Wondering exactly what a penny rug is?
Penny rugs first appeared about the time around the Civil War years. Housewives who had to make efficient use of everything in the home used small pieces of wool or felt in decorative wall hangings, pillows or table covers. They cut scraps of wool or felt that were too small for other purposes into coin-sized circles. The template for the circles was originally a coin, which gave the decorative piece its name.
The rugs were not actually rugs that would have been used for floor coverings, but were intended to be decorative smaller pieces. In a society where nothing was wasted or discarded, the small wool circles were blanket stitched around the edges then joined together on a burlap or linen backing to give the rug stability and dimensions.
The decorative pieces originally were made from coin-sized circles arranged in patterns that would take advantage of colors or weights of the wool fabric. Sometimes other common objects were used as a basis for the design. Typical choices included flowers, birds, cats and hearts.
The backing on the rug made it much the same as a large quilt block. The pieces could be used as a pillow top or the backing could be hemmed and used as a fanciful wall hanging. The designs and the colors were only limited by the colors of the original scraps. Part of the creativity in making such a piece was to put together the colors in a way that was appealing to the eye, while using the existing scraps of wool.
The existing penny rugs today are prized as collectors items. The mid-nineteenth century period used different dyes and different weaving techniques, so the longevity of such items is less than for today's wools. The reproductions today add a whimsical touch to room decor from the Civil War period.