Traditional penny rugs, made of wool, are not rugs at all; they're decorative pieces used as table runners or wall hangings. Dating to the 1800s, they were a creative way to use scraps of wool left from other sewing projects. In 2010, penny rugs are unique accessories used in eclectic home decorating. Penny rug crafters scour remnant bins, garage sales and consignment shops for interesting woollens to showcase in their rugs.
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Things you need
- A range of wool fabrics (not knits)
- 2 pieces of felted wool background fabric, 12 inches by 18 inches
- Fabric-safe permanent marker
- Embroidery needle
- #8 perle cotton
- Template plastic or cardboard
Collect interesting wool fabrics (not knits) of coordinating colours in all types of available patterns. Machine-wash and -dry all wools to felt them before beginning the project. You can also purchase wool felt from fabric stores and online retailers, but you won't find the same variety of colours and patterns in wool felt yardage. You can mix and match your felted wool and purchased wool felt in the same penny rug.
Draw a 1-inch, 2-inch and 3-inch circle on sturdy cardboard or template plastic. Cut out the three circles to use as penny templates.
Decide which pennies to cut from the various colours and patterns of your wool fabrics. Each penny pile consists of three coordinating circles of graduated sizes layered from smallest to largest. Penny stacks can coordinate or contrast as you prefer. For example, you might have a brown-and-cream plaid 1-inch penny on top of a red 2-inch penny on top of a dark brown 3-inch penny. Or keep your stacks coordinated; for instance, put a cream-coloured penny on top of a chocolate penny on top of a very dark brown penny.
Trace around each template on the wrong side of the woollen fabrics with a fabric-safe marker. Butt the templates right up against each other as you trace; no seam allowances are necessary in penny rugs. Our penny rug measures 12 inches by 18 inches. Dividing those measurements by 3 inches determines that you will need four penny stacks by six penny stacks, for a total of 24. Cut 24 of each size penny, leaving the pennies raw edged. Trim off the marker outlines as you cut.
Sort your wool pennies into stacks of three, in colour combinations as you want them to appear on your rug. Select a coordinating or contrasting perle cotton colour for the 1-inch (top) penny. Thread the needle with enough perle cotton to stitch one round of buttonhole stitches around the edge of the 1-inch penny. Knot one end of the perle cotton with a compact knot.
Bring the needle up through wrong side of the 1-inch penny approximately 1/4 inch from the cut edge. Lay the 1-inch penny in the centre of the 2-inch (middle) penny from the same stack, with the threaded needle protruding from between the stacked pennies. Sew buttonhole stitches evenly around the entire edge of the 1-inch penny, taking the needle through both penny layers so the stitching attaches the 1-inch penny to the 2-inch penny. Knot the perle cotton on the back of the 2-inch penny and trim the tail short.
Thread the needle with enough perle cotton to stitch one round of buttonhole stitches around the edge of the 2-inch penny. Knot one end of the perle cotton with a compact knot. Bring the needle up through wrong side of the 2-inch penny, approximately 1/4 inch from the cut edge. Lay the 2-inch penny in the centre of the 3-inch (bottom) penny from the same stack, with the threaded needle protruding from between the stacked pennies. Sew buttonhole stitches evenly around the entire edge of the 2-inch penny, taking the needle through both penny layers so the stitching attaches the 2-inch penny to the 3-inch penny. Knot off the perle cotton on the back of the 3-inch penny. Repeat stitching each stack of three pennies together with buttonhole edgings until you've completed all 24 penny stacks necessary for the project.
Cut a piece of felted wool fabric 12 inches by 18 inches. The background can coordinate or contrast with the penny stacks as you prefer. Lay out the penny stacks on a table top or tray, arranging them as you want them to appear on your penny rug. Transfer one penny stack at a time to the background wool and stitch it into place by sewing buttonhole stitches evenly around the 3-inch penny. To finish, knot the perle cotton on the wrong side of the background fabric and trim the tail short. Continue until all the penny stacks have been sewn to the background with buttonhole stitches.
Cut a second 12-inch by 18-inch piece of background wool fabric. Layer it to the back of the penny rug, wrong sides together, encasing all knots and stitches. Pin the background layers together to secure. Finish the outside edge of the rug by sewing buttonhole stitches evenly around the perimeter of the rug through both layers of the background fabrics. Bury the last knot, trimmed close, between the two layers of background fabric so the knot is trapped between the layers.
Tips and warnings
- You can substitute crochet thread or three strands of embroidery floss for perle cotton.
- Using the same colour perle cotton throughout your penny rug project helps coordinate the rug design and tie the penny colours together.
- Calculate the number of penny stacks needed for other projects this way: Divide both the width and length of the project by the diameter of the largest penny. Multiply the number of penny stacks needed for the width by the number necessary for the length; this gives you the total number of penny stacks you need for your project.
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