Friday, October 26, 2012

A snowman inspired by the penny rug

I first came across the concept of the penny rug on Pinterest, and it was love at first sight.

Have you ever approached Christmastime with a longing to give each of your loved ones a special gift, yet had very little money to do so?  Have you ever thought about making gifts, only to find that the cost of materials may also be beyond your budget?  Here is what I believe about gifts:  An investment of time, energy, and love can yield a special gift in the absence of money, even if you are not particularly crafty or artistic, and even if you do not have expensive machinery at your disposal.

That is why I *heart* penny rugs.  For a delightful assortment of examples, do a Google image search.  A tradition from the 1800's, the penny rug was a hand sewn craft intended to use up the smallest of wool scraps to create something beautiful and warm.  I have read that the penny rug is so named because women used coins as templates for the small wool circles.  I have also read, though, that coins were sometimes sewn under the pieces of wool to ensure that the finished project would lay flat.  For more on the history of the penny rug, visit this page at Rag-a-Muffin Collectibles and this one at Layers of Meaning.

So, to review, this is a craft that:

Has inspiring historical roots
Allows a crazy sweater lady (me) to use up wool scraps
Costs practically nothing
Fills small bits of spare time
Allows me to get creative and play with a rainbow of wool

Yes, I knew immediately this was the craft for me!  After spending some time online admiring some beautiful penny rug designs, both antique and modern, I was inspired by an adorable snowman (which I unfortunately can no longer find, or I would link to it) to make a table runner/chair decoration for a snow lover on our Christmas list.

Want to try to make a penny rug for someone on your Christmas list?  The most commonly used stitch is the blanket stitch.  This is what I used for my snowman project.  It was frustrating at first, because while I knew how to blanket stitch on the edge of material, I quickly realized that blanket stitching for applique in the middle of a piece of fabric is different.  This Patchwork Interactive video explains it beautifully.  She is not working with wool, so you can skip to about 2:45 for the relevant part of the demonstration.

Other than the ability to blanket stitch and some very basic hand sewing skills, you will need:

a decent pair of scissors
a large-eyed needle
embroidery floss
various felted wool scraps
something (like a coin or cup) for a template, or material (such as a cereal box) to make your own
one large piece of fabric for backing

For my backing, I used a piece of wool blend storebought felt I already had, but there are lots of things you could use.  Centuries ago, women used things like burlap sacks!  In a truer, more traditional penny rug, the backing will not show much anyway.  My project is more penny rug-inspired.  I cut my backing about 10 inches wide and 30 inches long, with a point at each end.  I was thinking it could be used as a table runner or to decorate the back of a chair.

I then used a large jar lid as a template for a dark blue circle, which I blanket stitched to my backing.

It only took a small handful of scraps to cut out the basic shapes for my snowman!  All that was left was to blanket stitch my snowman onto the background circle and add some details.  I did secure the bottom of the head and middle snowball with matching thread, since I did not blanket stitch that part--and I did the same with the bottom edge of the hat.

The process of stitching it all together and adding details such as snow and twig arms was a relaxing while-watching-TV activity.  It was what I'd imagine knitting or crocheting feels like for some people.  Also, I should probably mention that I have no formal embroidery experience.  I watched that blanket stitch video and have applied embroidery to several projects in a trial-and-error sort of way.  You can wing it!

Again, this snowman project is really only inspired by the penny rug.  I am currently working on a more traditional project for someone else's Christmas gift, but it'll be a while before that one is finished!  The general concept can go wherever your imagination wants to take it, and can be personalized for almost anyone on your Christmas list.  I think it would be so neat to find an old, unusable article of family clothing, such as a moth-damaged coat that belonged to your grandmother, and use it as material for this historical craft.  I definitely see several variations of this technique in my crafty future!  I hope you like it, too.