header pic from here

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A History of Needle-punch Rug-Making

Thousands of years ago long cold winters called for warm floor coverings.  One option was to use animal skins, but another was to shear the sheep and spin the wool.  Not only did these wool floor coverings protect cold feet, they were sturdy and when dyed, beautiful.  Thus the art of rug making was born.

Many different tools were developed to aid in the art of rug making:  looms, hooks, needles.
In Russia a group of religious people began to use needles and yarn to embroider their clothing. 
They used special needles called punch-needles. 
The embroidery looks like this:

Sailors noted this technique as these people sailed to America.  They adapted the technique by using a larger needle and made rugs as a way to pass the time at sea, probably selling their products when they reached port.
Rug making has continued, mainly through the use of hooks, and needle-punched rugs were considered a rather lowly form of rug making. 
This was mostly because it was difficult to punch loops that were small and uniform in size.
In 1995 Amy Oxford designed a wonderful punch needle tool that makes 1/4" loops using 1/4" wool strips.  This punch needle mimics the rug hooking look exactly, but is much easier and faster!

You can make wonderful rugs for your home. 
That is why I am designing many fresh and modern patterns for punch needle rug making!
Wikipedia defines punch needle rug making like this:
"Using either yarn or strips of cloth, you work with the punch tool from the back side of the pattern. The Monk’s cloth backing is tightly stretched on to a frame. Every time you punch the needle down through the backing, it makes a long thread on the right side of the rug. Then, as you lift the needle, it automatically makes it into a loop. These loops pack together to create a rug so solid that chewing dogs and clawing cats are its only enemy. As long as you use the tool correctly, it will automatically make all the loops the same length."

Now, wool is expensive - usually around $24 for a half yard.  So here's the thrifty and green secret.  Hit up your local thrift store and buy 100% wool clothing.  Bring it home, cut out the linings and zippers, etc.  Wash it in hot water and dry it on high heat.  This will felt it and voila!  You have nice felted wool ready to be cut into strips.  I bought an entire cart full of wool clothing for only $16!!! 

Making rugs does not have to be expensive.  My husband built my frame from reclaimed wood, and he is planning on selling kits/plans so that you can build your own for a cheaper price. 

This is a craft that everyone can do!
Stay tuned here for my patterns and examples of the rugs I am making - as well as rug punching inspiration from around the web.


  1. My grandma taught me how to needle punch, but I haven't done it in ages! I love the way your rug is starting. I just might have to try this again! So cute!

  2. I have always wanted to hook a rug...really badly but it kinda stays towards to bottom of my to do list because I am somewhat intimidated by the whole thing... You have made it seem so much more doable. I may just scoot it towards the top of my list! :)