Rugs which are beautiful and hard-wearing can be very costly to purchase. By making your own, you can both save money and add something unique to your home.
This method of making rugs using embroidery stitches is very similar to other kinds of tapestry work. You can make cushions, stool tops and wall hangings in the same way, and in designs which will suit any setting.
With stitch-made rugs, you can either make a pile surface or a flat surface. Both wear well and take about the same time and skill to make, but a pile surface uses about one more ounce of wool per square foot on coarse canvases. A pile rug is more traditional and, for some people, more luxurious, but a smooth-surfaced rug gives more opportunity for variety because different stitches can be used and so it may be more interesting to make.
As with any other kind of tapestry work, you can buy kits consisting of canvas printed with designs together with the right amount of wool. This is the easiest way if you want to make a rug with a traditional or complicated pattern, but it is also the most expensive.
Alternatively, you can buy a chart which shows the formation of the design, and adapt it proportionally to fit the size of the rug you want. This involves using squared paper—normally one-quarter of the size of the rug, but full-size in the case of asymmetrical patterns—so you can work out precisely how the pattern will fall. This method gives you the chance of choosing your own colours, and also of saving money by buying the wool direct from carpet factories.
You should always be careful to buy enough wool of each colour, because if you run out you may not be able to get the same colour later. In fact, slight changes of colour are characteristic of many valuable Oriental carpets, and in other types are often deliberately introduced to give variation to a large area, but this sort of thing is usually better planned in advance.
If you feel like designing your own rug, for your first attempts it is wisest to start with a very simple geometric pattern or perhaps adapt an existing one. Buy paper printed with small squares which correspond to the size of your canvas , and use coloured pencils to sketch in your design. Work out several roughs of the main pattern first before you design the whole rug.
Since carpets are normally seen from all directions, you will probably find that a strictly symmetrical design is the easiest type to start with, because you need design only a quarter of it. The pattern should be reversed for each of the remaining quarters.
In a room where you do not want a rug with a pattern, you can add interest to a plain one by combining different stitches, or by alternating pile and smooth surfaced sections. Often you can add depth to a carpet by combining two shades of the same colour, particularly in those cases where you are using two strands of wool in the needle together.
The size of rug you make will obviously depend on where you will be putting it, but for rectangular ones you will usually find that it is easiest to base the width on one of the standard widths available in the type of canvas you are using, and to make the length one-and-three quarter times this size.
Woollen yarn only should be used for rug- making because it is-hard-wearing, does not attract the dirt quickly, is available in the right sort of thickness and has an advantage over man-made yarns in that its hairy texture helps to cover the foundation canvas.
The thickest type of wool available is 6-ply Turkey wool. Carpets made with this are very strong, but also heavy and rather coarse. They are the quickest to make, but are also the most expensive because so much wool is needed.
For a finer carpet, you should use 2-ply carpet wool. This is thicker and coarser than 2-ply knitting wools, and is sold at needlework shops. It is often possible—and cheaper—to buy it in the form of thrums from a carpet mill. This is the leftover yarn which the mill cannot use. It tends to vary slightly in thickness, so you may have to use two strands, instead of one, in some cases.
Two-ply crewel wool, which is often used for other kinds of tapestry work, should not be used for carpets because it is too soft to withstand continual friction. If you do want a finer yarn than 2-ply carpet wool, it is better to use Brussels thrums because this is stronger and more hairy. This is often supplied in loose twists of several strands, which should be separated before use.
Rug canvas, which is the foundation on which the stitches are worked, is available by the yard (metre) in various widths, with 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9 or 10 holes to the inch (25mm). The correct canvas must be chosen for the type of wool being used, because if too thick a wool is used for the size of hole, the stitches will be difficult to work and will distort the shape of the finished rug, so that it will not lie flat. On the other hand, if you use too fine a wool, the rug will be floppy and the threads of the canvas will show through.
As a guide, 6-ply Turkey wool should be used only on canvas with three holes to the inch. On the intermediate sizes, with 4, 5 or 7 holes to the inch, it would be too thick but one strand of 2-ply is not enough, so here you should use two strands. On the finer canvases, use two or three strands of Brussels thrums.
Except on the very finest canvas, the mesh is formed by two threads each way which separate the holes into which the needle is inserted. Except in certain stitches, these threads should be counted as one, and the stitches worked over both. It is possible to buy single-mesh canvas which corresponds to the sizes above, but it is more difficult to use because the stitches have to be worked over two consequent threads, and it frays quickly.
Preparing the canvas
To prevent the canvas from fraying during the working and to strengthen the edges when the rug is finished and in use, it is essential to prepare it correctly, and a minimum of 4in. (100 mm) extra should be allowed in the length.
The stitches are normally worked in rows across the width of the canvas from selvedge to selvedge, and start at one of the cut edges. A 2in. (50mm) turning is made by folding over this edge along a weft thread, so that the holes correspond with the holes underneath. The edge should be firmly oversewed in postion with matching sewing thread.
The opposite edge should be prepared in a similar way, although the sewing can be less 2. neat here because you may have to adjust the width of the turning later to fit the pattern.
The selvedges can be finished before you start the main stitching but it is usually safer to complete them afterwards. This is particularly so with smooth-surfaced rugs because the type of stitching used tends to pull the canvas out of shape and this is easier to correct if the edges have not been finished.
Before you plunge into making a full-size rug, it is always worth working a sampler. This will give you a chance to try out the various stitches and wools, and it will not matter if you have to unpick anything and distort the canvas in the process. If the sampler is a success, it may make a very attractive cushion or stool cover.
For pile rugs, the canvas should be arranged so that the folded edge is towards you, with the raw edge uppermost, the selvedges on your left and right and the unworked length of canvas stretching away from you. Start working the stitches in the first hole from the fold on the left-hand edge . Work a complete row across the canvas, changing colour where necessary.
Don’t be tempted into working blocks of colour instead of complete rows, because you may find that by doing so you miss holes or make other mistakes. To save time, however, and to avoid wasting lengths of wool, it is a good idea to have several needles threaded with the appropriate colours.
For smooth-surfaced rugs, arrange the canvas so that the folded end where you are starting work is away from you, with the cut edge on the underside and the unworked length towards you. The only exception to this rule is if you are using Soumak stitch . With these types of rugs, you can generally work in blocks of colour most efficiently, and this will save on the number of joins necessary.
Start off with a 18in.-24in. (457-610mm) length of wool in the needle. It will be used up quickly, particularly with a pile rug, but don’t use longer lengths in order to avoid joins, because with the constant friction caused by pulling the wool in and out of the canvas, it will start to fray and may eventually break.
With pile stitches, the ends of each length form part of the pile on the front of the rug, and do not need any special methods of securing because the formation of the stitch is enough. With smooth-surfaced stitches, however, the end should be held along the underside of the canvas, and caught in the stitches.
If you are using two lengths of wool in the needle, make sure that these lie flat side by side on the canvas, and are not twisted.
One of two stitches can be used to make a carpet with a pile: Surrey stitch (Figs.1-3), so named because it was devised by a member of a Surrey Woman’s Institute, and Turkey or Ghiordes stitch (Figs.4-6), which is similar in formation to the knot used by Oriental workers.
The two stitches give a very similar appearance on the front of the carpet, but Surrey stitch is stronger and gives a neater finish to the back, although it does take longer to work.
The length of pile made by either stitch is optional, but a length of 1 ½ in. (19mm) on canvas with 3 or 4 holes to the inch (25mm) is best; a shorter pile should be used on finer canvases. There is no need to use a gauge or guide to keep the loops a consistent length because they can always be trimmed evenly later, and you will soon find that with practice you can make them the same size. Cut the loops after each row is worked.
The best stitches for smooth-surfaced carpets are those which are worked diagonally across the mesh of the canvas, because this helps ensure that the threads are completely covered. Variations of cross stitch are most commonly used, but many other traditional embroidery stitches are also good and an interesting effect can be made by combining them. Other popular stitches are Soumak stitch and Gobelin stitch.
A rug made with Soumak stitch (Figs.10-1 2) looks like a loom-woven Oriental Soumak rug. The method of working it is different from other stitch-made rugs in that the unworked canvas is held to your left-hand side with the selvedge running sideways. Regardless of the direction in which you are working—from side to side, top to bottom or diagonally—the V made by each stitch should always have its point lying along the weft of the canvas and towards you.
The stitch is fairly tricky to work until you get the knack, because the point of the V is made by inserting the needle between the double weft threads and each stitch interlocks with those above and below. This makes unpicking difficult, although the resulting surface is very strong and does not use much wool.
Gobelin stitch is a much simpler interlocking stitch which is formed by working a row of stitches across the canvas from right to left, and then another row, which overlaps the first row, from left to right. It is a very quick stitch to work, but is best kept for plain or striped rugs because it does not work well for intricate designs (Figs.13-1 5).
Finishing the rug
Most rugs need stretching to show them off to best advantage, and this is particularly important with smooth-surfaced ones which may have become distorted.
The easiest place to do this is on a bare boarded floor, where you can follow the lines of the boards as a guide. With its right side facing up, tack one long edge of the carpet to the floor, keeping the side completely flat, but without stretching it. The tacks need not be very close together at this stage. Then tack down one of the adjacent sides, making sure that it is at right angles. Pull the fourth corner so that the other long side is also at right-angles to the short sides, and so that it is the same length as the opposite edge. Tack this down as well, then insert further tacks all round so that the carpet is completely surrounded by tacks about 1 in. apart.
Cover the rug with sheets of blotting paper and soak these thoroughly with cold water. Using a hot iron, press carefully all over, including the side edges. Leave the rug for a few days until it is completely dry.