Maker Unknown (American)
Colchester, New London County, Connecticut
Linen/cotton and wool; 93 1/4 x 89 in. (236.9 x 226.1 cm)
Inscribed (in wool pile at top center): 1796 / NL
Rogers Fund, 1933 (33.122)
Bed rugs (referred to as "ruggs" during the late eighteenth century) are completely home-manufactured products. The wool yarn pile is needleworked (not hooked, as was once assumed) in running stitch on a base of handloomed wool or linen. Most often, the base is a wool blanket, the surface of which is entirely obscured by embroidery. All the wool used for making bed rugs such as the Museum's two examples (13.207) was most likely shorn from local sheep. The fleeces were then washed, carded, spun, and dyed by the rug maker.
Although a few extant bed rugs are embroidered with stitches that lie flat to the surface of the base, the majority have a looped pile that may have been either clipped or left uncut. Both of the Museum's bed rugs have cut pile faces. The one illustrated here has some random loops left uncut: the unevenness of the surface seems to indicate that the loops were made without the aid of a reed to keep them at a uniform height and that the surface was clipped with a small scissors or blade.
The bold, overscaled patterning of the typical bed rug is unlike most other embroidered bed coverings of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The thickness of the sewing yarns as well as the need to create a design that would be effective when made into pile contributed to the use of large motifs and to the pleasing appearance of the end result. The central motif of a bouquet of flowers growing from an undersized urn can be traced to the influence of the Tree of Life image commonly found on Indian palampores. The Tree of Life design inspired many quilt and coverlet makers, yet it was never used with such vigor as on bed rugs.
This rug was acquired from the Jonathan Deming house in Colchester, New London County, Connecticut. The majority of bed rugs have been traced to Connecticut, but they were made throughout New England, and examples are known that range in date from the 1720s to the 1830s.