History of Wool Pennies

Wool Pennies

Here’s a little history on the penny rug, and it’s evolution into an embellished art form.  Traditionally, during civil war time (around the 1800’s), thrifty homemakers, (I would actually call them textile artists) cut up wool coats or pants that were no longer serviceable and they made them into rugs or mats.  Pennies were used as templates, hence the name penny rugs and sometimes an actual penny was stitched into the rug!  Large circles were stitched down first and then a smaller size circle was added on top. Homespun threads were dyed; likely using vegetables and the textile artist then used decorative stitches around each circle, which not only embellished the project but actually added to the strength of the piece.  These rugs were backed with burlap, heavy canvas, or other types of strong material and they could withstand the rug beater, which was used to remove mud and dirt.  Oh my goodness, I can’t imagine beating a piece of textile art!

Today Penny rugs are not actual rugs for the floor, but decorative coverings for beds, tables and dressers and mantles. Sometimes they are used as wall hangings or pillows. Most designs include circles and some include
images from everyday life such as cats, flowers, birds and shapes such as stars and hearts.

Penny rugs are made by selecting good quality 100% wool. The wool shouldn’t too thick. It may be hand-dyed or over-dyed to give the piece dimension. Circles are cut from the wool in varying sizes and then stitched together concentrically using complimentary colors. The circles are stitched to a wool backing in a pleasing
design. When finished the entire piece should have a backing to cover the stitches and to protect it. The backing may be wool, linen or burlap.

The image above created using a 4″ circle layered with a 3 1/2 inch circle. I cut 4 slots in the upper penny and used the sections cut out as embellishments.

The cut out leaves embellished with fly stitch and blanket stitch.

The eyelette are outlined with blanket stitch. Inside the eyelettes I used double cast on stitch.

The outside of the upper penny is outlined with bullion knots where I alternated the number of wraps between each knot to give it more of a pronouced edge. I used colonial knots to embellish the top.

In this example I’ve used a few pennies on this sampler.