Penny Rugs – How to make these great gifts for pennies!

Vintage Style Penny Rug

Recently I received this email request from a dear friend. I wanted to share my response with you – especially since the holidays are coming up & this would be a nice gift to give – for very little cost!

Hi Pearl,

I was wondering if you had or know of a place where I can get some directions on how to make a Penny rug runner. I thought this would be an interesting project to make. I just don’t have a clue how they are made.

I love the look of the wool and the colors for fall. I’ve found places to buy them but I would like to try to make one.

Hope you had a great vacation.


Dear Lois,

Good to hear from you! Yes, we had a wonderful time visiting with family over the last few weeks. We spent our time participating in a youth conference at my parents church, resting, visiting, and a quick trip to Baltimore. We especially loved the aquarium! I’ll have to post some pictures here real soon.

I hope the information below will help answer most of your questions. I just love penny rugs, especially when they are made out of all of the vintage prime colors! I especially love to see them used during the Autumn season with all of the rich golds, browns, and reds!

What is a penny rug?

felt penny rug

As we all know, women are by nature extremely creative & very resourceful.

Ok…well, most women 😉

But back in the 1800’s most women had to make the best of the resources that they had, especially when it came to things such a splurging on decorations for the home. So, they would keep the small bits and pieces of the wool and felt that they collected from their clothing, hats, coats, blankets, etc., and then use these precious bits of fabric to make beautiful decorations for their homes.

When they had a nice basket full of little snippets of fabric to work with, they would sort them into piles of similar colors. Then, to form the desirable circular shapes, they would use a coin as the template to cut their fabric pieces from. Using something as small as a coin would insure that the smallest of scraps could be used in the project. This is how the term penny rug came to describe these little pieces of art.

What’s also interesting is, the penny rug was not normally used as a rug at all, but rather, as a decorative cover for a bed, shelf, wall hanging, or table runner.

Pink and black penny rugRobin’s Rug

After cutting all of the different circle shapes, each color was put into it’s proper pile, where it would wait for it’s turn to become a part of the finished design.

The finished size was determined, then a piece of fabric (wool or felt) was chosen as the base for the rug. Each circle was then placed on top of the base in the desired pattern, so the creator could decide what the final design would look like. Once satisfied with the design, each piece was then secured with a straight pin so it could be stitched together.

Although any style of embroidery stitch could be used, the one most commonly used to applique the individual pieces of fabric in the penny rug was the blanket stitch. Bright colors of thread, that were different from the piece of fabric being stitched, helped the pattern to stand out even more, and also added another creative layer to the piece. Depending on how intricate the creator wanted to be, the circles might also be stacked in several layers, each smaller and a different color than the one below it. Sometimes the rugs were backed with a piece of an old burlap bag or feed sack, and on special pieces, an actual penny was stitched under one of the circles to help weight it down.

Although circles were the main shape used in early designs, any shape imaginable could be used in current designs. I have seen some beautiful pieces made with shapes such as; stars, hearts, snowman, crow, and trees. There’s really no limit to the designs that you could come up with, you simply want to be sure that the pattern can easily be hand stitched around each edge.

wool penny rug

Materials to use in making your penny rug

Most penny rugs were made using wool, and felted wool. Although felt was handcrafted in years gone by, we are blessed to be able to buy felt by the square (usually a 12X12 square) or by the yard in most craft/fabric stores. Last year, I picked up some wonderful thick felt yardage, which came in colors such as dark mustard, chocolate, deep red, and cream. Check the prices, but I found that buying my felt by the yard was much cheaper than buying it by the square.

If you’re an adventurous soul, you could try your hand at felting your own wool!
Have you ever thrown a wool sweater into the washer/dryer without realizing it? Then, when you took it out, wondered who the tiny cute little sweater belonged to – only to realize that it used to be a human sized version of YOUR new sweater? Then you already have all the experience you need in felting wool 😉

Simply go to your local thrift store, yard sale, or your own closet, and pick out a cheap wool sweater (I suggest 100% wool) of your color choice. Keep your eyes open for sweaters with small holes or other damage, as these will turn out to be real bargains for you. First, cut down the side seems, separating the front from the back. Then, remove the arm sections, and cut down the long seem. Throw these pieces into the washer, and wash on the hot cycle with a bit of laundry soap. If you’d like, you could also throw the pieces into the dryer as well. You can expect the pieces to shrink up to 70% in size! When the material is dry, you can cut it into the desired shapes for your penny rug.

cutting shapes for your penny rug

Embroidery floss makes the best choice for sewing the pieces together, and you can buy nice large bundles of different colors at your local craft/fabric store.

How to Construct a Penny Rug

Free Penny Rug Patterns

Here are some free penny rug patterns, as well as a few how to articles to help you with ideas… but the best patterns come from your own creative ideas – just like the gals in the 1800’s 😉

Christmas Tree Penny Rug

Roosters & Flowers Penny Rug PatternThe Instructions

Circle Table Runner Penny Rug

Warm Hearts Penny Rug

Autumn Leaves Pattern

Penny Rug Coaster Pattern


30 thoughts on “Penny Rugs – How to make these great gifts for pennies!”

  1. Pearl,
    What a lovely article! Thank you so much. You may want this information to add to it: I was a featured artist/designer of penny rugs in the June 2007 issue of The Early American Life magazine. The writer, Nora Seymour, did a story all about penny rugs from the beginning to now.

    There were 5 featured penny rug stitchers in that article. You can get a copy of that magazine if you go to and order it sent to you. It was so informative.

    You can find my interview on page 68 and my featured colonial house runner on page 69. She did a great story on penny rugs. Very informative.

    Woolly hugs..Annette at Primitive Peddler

  2. Pearl,
    This is a wonderful article. Your right the holidays are sneaking up on us fast. Such a great gift this will make. Your site is great!!!


  3. Pearl,
    Thank you so much for this great article.I just love the look and texture of the penny runers. I am looking forward to “shopping” for my wool and getting started. Thanks again.

  4. Good Day Pearl,

    Thank you for the mention on your blog. Though we do not produce wool felt they can definitely explore a synthetic version made with our felt.

    Did you know Rainbow Classicfelt is now is made with Ecospun a polyester fiber made from recycled water/pop bottles? Billions of those are bottles are going to the landfill each year and for every pound of fiber we make we prevent 10 bottles from just sitting in the landfill for the next millennium, instead they are being made in to projects that have a use purpose as a penny rug – a gift, a school project or any of the many other uses our customers find.

    Thank you again for mentioning Kunin!

    Have a wonderful day!
    George Stellmach
    National Sales & Marketing Manager

  5. Hello

    I was wondering do you sell the patterns of the penny rug that is called 35 penny rug. Also you have alot of others. I thought maybe it was in a book call bluejean primitives but dont seem to fine anything. So would love to hear from you and let me know an answer on my question. Hope to hear from you soon.

    Thank you

  6. I was at an Cooperative Extension meeting today and the program was on Penny Rugs. We were given a kit to make a coaster with hearts. As I didn’t center these hearts right I filled in the spaces with a stem and leaves making the hearts look like a flower. I was happy with the results and hope I can make more for gifts. We were given some patterns and I’m anxious to get started. I don’t use wool but am happy I can use the felt pices you spoke of in you article. Thanks for this. If it’s okay I will use your article in a program I will have in May for a Women’s group in the Grange in which I belong.


  8. Pearl…I enjoyed your site very much. I’m new to “penny rugging” and have a couple of patterns and have begun cutting out circles. I am hooked onpenny rugs. I usually do decorat8ive painting but have been fasinated with penny rugs, I’n now into it totally. I’m into the thrift shops, waiting for theie next half off specials. Taking clothing apart is a mess but you surly can get some beaufiful fabrics. I am trrying to find a source for wool that come in plaids, checks, etc. that I can purchase and felt. this seems to be limited in my area. Thanks for your site and info. Jennie

  9. Pingback: Penny Rug
  10. You’ve inspired me to make penny rugs. Cutting fabric is difficult for me because of arthritis. Can you suggest a machine that will cut the circles for me?

  11. I wanted to write you that little word so as to thank you as before for these fantastic tips you have contributed on this site. I’m certain there is much more fun in the future as I read through your site.

  12. Its like you knew my thoughts! You seem to understand so much about this, like you wrote the ebook in it or something. This is great blog & a fantastic read. I will certainly be back.

    • Thank you Robin!
      Your rug is just beautiful!!
      ps. I added a link back to your site, since the original article didn’t have a link 🙂
      Keep creating beautiful things for us all to enjoy!

  13. I LIVE IN England and cannot find decent felt, ours seems to be thin and shiny, I had a load brought from a Canadian friend who got me in to them but although I rang places in Canada and America couldn’t find anyone who exports it, which would probably be expensive although it’s lightweight, have now got friends making my patterns and using my felt, which is good, but I need a couple of colours, you are very lucky and I found your site looking for a new Xmas runner, here’s hoping one of my friends come to America to buy some for me, I do a lot of embroidery, quilting, (also taught by my Canadian friend), make cards and knit a lot, and if I can pass my love of things to friends, that’s good. MARY

  14. Thank you for explaining to me what a penny rug is. I would like to try to make one but will have to check out price of would. I have lots of felt and may try with that first from your directions. Your rugs are so pretty.


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