Rug Hooking Materials: Backings
Sep 8th 2014
Rug hooking is a simple technique that has been around for for many years. It started as a way for people to use the thrums left over from weaving and any scraps of material they had around the house. Traditionally burlap was used as feed bags were recycled into the backing material for the rugs. These very frugal rugs varied from utilitarian pieces to works of art. Today the rug hooking technique isn’t just used for rugs; it is also used to create ornaments, button covers, chair pads, wall hangings, bags, and much more. Your imagination is your only limit on what you can create using the rug hooking technique. However, in order to look outside the traditional uses you have to understand how different materials impact the final result.
The first thing you have to look at is the backing you pick. Even today, burlap is the most economical choice as it is easy to find and inexpensive to purchase. However, it is also the least sturdy of all of the backing choices you have today.
Burlap is made of jute and when it gets wet (and rugs do tend to get wet!), it will degrade faster than the other backing options. So, if you want to make a rug that you can pass down for generations, burlap is not your best choice. However, if you want to make a wall hanging, ornament, or something else that isn’t going to see much wear and tear, burlap is an excellent choice for a backing. One thing to keep in mind with burlap is that the weave is not perfectly even; the holes will vary in size and the ditch may not run exactly straight. If you are wanting to create a geometric piece where consistency is key to the finished object, burlap is not a good choice for that type of project.
The next step up from burlap is monk's cloth. This cloth is a bit sturdier and more expensive than burlap; it tends to have some type of marking system woven into the cloth, either vertical lines or a 2”x2” grid of white lines against the base cream color of the cloth. This makes it very easy to transfer patterns and to keep your rug hooking square in the frame. Each hole in this cloth is framed by a square of two threads on each side. New rug hookers sometimes find that when they go to push their hook through the hole that they split the threads with their hook instead. While it is something that a rug hooker will adapt to, it can certainly be frustrating at first! Monk's cloth is made of cotton and is decently sturdy, but not stiff. It makes it a good choice for bags, pillows, and other items which need flexibility in the final product.
The next choice for backings is rug warp. Rug warp is also made of cotton, but each square is made of a thicker, sturdier thread than monk's cloth. Again, this is more expensive than the previous two choices, but when you compare the three you can easily see why: rug warp is much heavier than monk's cloth or burlap, making it a good option for rugs and other items that will see a heavy use. It is easy to hook into as the holes are clearly defined and always run in a straight line.
The last, and most expensive type of backing, is linen. Linen is light weight, flexible, and sturdy. The weave is not quite as uniform as rug warp, but it is considerably more uniform than burlap is. Linen is a good choice for any project as it has all the best qualities of the other backings put together. If you want to make a heirloom quality item, then linen is the best choice for that piece because linen lasts.
All the best,
Chris, Nancy, and the entire Woolery team