Penny Rugs: Boot Scrapers to Placemats

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The penny rug has humble beginnings, but the beauty of this textile art has endured for more than 200 years.  Homemakers in the 1800s never let anything go to waste, so old clothing, hats, and blankets would be recycled into mats or rugs.  They would use coins as templates to make circles of different sizes, (hence the name “penny” rug) which were then sewn together in a variety of designs using a blanket stitch.  The name “penny rug” also has roots in the practice of sewing pennies inside the rug to make it lie flat.

19th Century Pennsylvania Penny Rug, Photo from J.Compton Gallery

Initially, penny rugs were used as door mats. Concentric circles were layered in stacks of three to give enough texture to clean the bottom of boots.  Burlap bags or feed sacks would also be reused to served as a backing to the rug to make it sturdy.

However, as time went by the penny rug evolved from a boot cleaner to a beautiful way to decorate the home.  Circle designs became more elaborate and were often fused with traditional folk art images, (i.e. quilt patterns, animals, trees, flowers, etc.).  Penny rugs got up off the floor and started adorning everything from tables, dressers, mantles, and even beds!

I started making penny rugs about six years ago.  They are a fantastic alternative to buying placemats that no one really likes and searching endlessly for a table runner that never truly fits the table!  In addition, penny rugs are a wonderful decorative touch for holidays and changing seasons.

Here are some of the penny rugs I’ve made over the years, (with exception to the 19th century Pennsylvania penny rug):

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While penny rugs look to be very intricate, most are actually very easy to make.  The most traditional layouts consist of nothing but circles, so the most difficult part of the entire process is deciding what colors to use.  Thick wools and flannels come in a variety of colors and patterns.  Raid the closet for fabric scraps or visit a local fabric store for a wide selection of wool felt.

The tradition continues to evolve as penny rugs now come in a wide variety of shapes, colors, and patterns.  Modern motifs and folk art mainstays combine seamlessly with the classic penny design. Get those needles out and start stitching!

Penny Rug Wisdom:

  • When using felt, be sure to use 100% wool, (or at least a 70/30 blend).  The acrylic stuff warps easily and pills, while the real thing is incredibly sturdy. Besides that, wool felt has a more traditional look that befits a penny rug.
  • DMC Pearl Cotton #3 is an ideal thread to use for stitching.  It’s thick without being chunky and strong enough to handle the weight of wool felt.  When working with smaller pieces, use 2 strands of DMC embroidery thread.
  • Tapestry needles are perfect for wool appliqué.
  • The only stitch you’ll truly ever need is the blanket stitch. I love this stitch because it’s simple and it hides little mistakes.  Stitch School has a great tutorial on a blanket stitch, here.
  • Always work in layers.  Complete the rug one layer at a time in a way that allows stitches to be hidden and protected by subsequent layers.
  • Always put a backing on a finished piece!  It makes the penny rug more stable and it protects/hides all knots and stitches under the design.
  • Use a tiny dot of Aleene’s craft glue to hold a piece in place prior to stitching. This may sound like cheating to some, but I’ve found it be a lifesaver when laying out pieces. Trust me, it works!
  • The best way to transfer a pattern to wool is to use freezer paper that has one side coated with plastic. Trace every piece of the pattern (if the pattern calls for 26 circles, trace 26 separate circles).  Cut out the pattern pieces and lay them on the wool plastic side down.  Press them down with a hot, dry iron until all edges are completely bonded.  This makes it so much easier to cut out each piece without the pattern slipping.  The freezer paper will peel right off when no longer needed.
  • There’s no such thing as making too many penny rugs!

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c.b.w. 2012

Where Dreams Wait

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On long approach
some dreams fly
Hard to catch
then left behind
They hover above
patient, undaunted
When hope awakens
the spark rekindles

South Embankment, London, June 2011, c.b.w.

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c.b. 2012

Garden Treasures

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The summer heat may be blazing, but my garden is thriving!  The sunflowers are blooming and I’m making some yummy salad with my freshly picked zucchini (yup, I’ve included a recipe!).

Gold petals unfurl
Beautiful blast of yellow
Sunlight on a stem

A sunflower finally blooms!

The zucchini harvest continues to yield some great picks off the vine.  My little bunny thinks he’s going to steal one, but he doesn’t realize those suckers weigh over a pound each.

There better not be any bunny nibbles on that zucchini!

I made a great zucchini salad by modifying a recipe from Incredibly Easy Salads.  Here’s how I made it:

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound zucchini, unpeeled
  • 1 medium sweet onion, sliced thinly
  • 1 medium orange bell pepper, sliced
  • 1/2 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried marjoram

Directions:

1) Halve and cut zucchini into 1/8-inch slices.  Combine with onion and bell pepper; set aside.

2) Combine vinegar, water, oil, sugar, salt, black pepper, and marjoram in a bowl and whisk until combined. Pour over vegetables.  Chill overnight.

Makes 6 servings.

To serve:

I’ve found the marrinated zucchini/veggie mix to be quite tasty on its own, but you can also serve it over some salad greens.  Use a slatted spoon as the dressing is quite strong!  A little bit goes a long way.

Enjoy this cool, refreshing salad as a light supper or as an appetizer!

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What’s growing in your garden?

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c.b.w.  2012

Wreck This Journal: Poetic Whimsy

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Sometimes inspiration is a subtle little creature that wanders through your subconscious.  This was the lesson I learned after completing a Wreck This Journal page that instructed me glue down a page from a magazine and circle the words I like.  I dutifully finished this page a long time ago, but the significance of what I had done didn’t hit me until this week.

Grab a highlighter or a pen and start circling words that speak to your muse!

I literally followed instructions and circled words I liked without really thinking that they could or might fit together.  And there they sat for months until I read through them the other day.  To my complete surprise, the words I circled actually fit together to create two interesting little poems.

experience antique country
passion beauties
character past
roamed feisty skies

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symmetry beautiful
flowing array
authentic faux
enable discerning
create luminaries
learning

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Granted, these aren’t perfect lines, (my inner editor wants to revise so badly), but they still have something interesting to say. My voice is there and speaking very loudly!  To me this little exercise really showcases the power of random association and free-writing!  If I’ve learned anything, its the importance of shutting off my filter every now and again in order to explore new possibilities.

Stay inspired!

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c.b. 2012

I’m Getting Spoiled Again!

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For the third week in a row, an amazing reader and fellow blogger has been kind enough to nominate me for two more blog awards.  What an honor to receive the One Lovely Blog Award and the Beautiful Blogger Award from mywithershins.  She writes an incredible blog filled with beautiful crafts, photographs, and fantastic stories.  If you aren’t reading this blog, its worth a bit of time to stop by and see what all the fuss is about!

Thank you so much for these gorgeous awards:

   

The acceptance rules are a little hazy, so I’m going to follow the lead of mywithershins and list seven lovely and beautiful things that deserve some recognition.

1) A perfect Cafe Mocha – I drink one almost every day and it never gets old.

2) Penny rugs – Wool felt applique is beyond beautiful and I’m planning to write a post about what is fast becoming a lost art. Stay tuned!

3) Red maple leaves – You can take the girl out of the woods, but you can’t take the woods out of the girl.  I still make wax paper sun catchers out of pressed red maple leaves.

4) The smell of rain – Whether its wet pavement, the Northwoods, or a desert landscape, rain brings out an earthy aroma beyond compare.

5) The twinkle of white Christmas lights – What’s not to love?

6) An old book – There’s something magical about bent covers, worn pages, and a story that’s been read by countless people.

7) World maps, atlases, and globes.  To a geography geek these are utterly mesmerizing!

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To pass along these lovely awards, I’m going to rely on my rule-bending ways.  Instead of tagging seven more blogs (which is the usual way of things), I’m going to open this up to my readers.  If you know a beautiful blog that deserves these awards, post the link into the comment section. That should really expand the bubble and give everyone a chance to share a favorite blog and visit blogs beyond my circle.  I’m looking forward to some great new places to visit in the blogosphere!

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c.b. 2012