My husband, Clyde, and I revived a long-lost family craft by making Wagon Wheel Rugs.
Using a combination of oral history and a trial and error method, we have succeeded in making the rugs the same way his Great-grandmother Kennedy probably did. Our great-grandmother was Elizabeth Rosebaugh, and she was born on the western frontier of Pennsylvania in 1826. In raising a large family, Elizabeth always had to make do with what she had, so it would be natural for her to come up with the idea of the wagon wheel rugs.
Things You’ll Need:
- cotton sheets or material
- a wagon wheel rim (without the spokes)
- an old blanket
Today we make them from cotton sheets, as well as dress material. The hardest part of the whole rug process is finding suitable cotton material. We search garage sales looking for cotton sheets for making the rugs. Most sheets with a blend of fifty percent cotton work well. If there is too much man-made material in the fabric, the material stretches as you weave and the rugs won’t lay flat. In fact, some of my first rugs looked more like baskets than rugs.
Most sheets from garage sales are on sale because the owners have changed bed size or are redecorating and changing color schemes. These sheets are usually still in good condition and can be purchased for a dollar or so in our area. The rugs can be made with brand new material but that would add to the price of the rug. Pioneers didn’t have the opportunity to make designs like we can, using the vivid colors of modern sheets. Depending upon the color scheme, some of the rugs have vivid spokes that dominate the rug, while others have a solid band of color going around, giving the rug a wheel effect. Flannel sheets make warm rugs for the winter.
Tear the sheets into long strips.
The old iron rim of the wagon wheel is over 140 years old and is still being used. We wrapped the iron wheel with strips of an old blanket.
Then pin the cotton material to that to form the spokes. The early pioneers tied their strips to the rim. We start by crisscrossing the rim with an odd number of spokes, usually nine and pin the ends.
Then we start weaving in the middle where the spokes intersect. As the rug making continues, more spoke strips are added and the weaving resumes. In the process, the wheel rolls round and round many times before the rug is finished. This makes for strong, arm muscles.
On the large wheel, the completed rug will be 33 to 34 inches across with a 2-inch fringe. Clyde found a smaller, easier to handle wheel that we can make smaller rugs about 24 inches across that are ideal for small areas like the bathroom. I use this wheel when demonstrating our craft.
Clyde also experimented with making half rugs that are so attractive and handy by the kitchen stove or sink area. He says that half rugs are the hardest to make so he just make them for family.
The rugs last a long time. To wash them, gently slosh it around in a sink of sudsy water. A washing machine, even on the gentle cycle, is too rough for them. Rinse, then lay out flat to dry. Press down any areas that lump up.
The wagon wheel rugs can be used in many ways. A small rug tossed down on a wall-to-wall carpet for accent is an ideal accent for a large basket of flowers.
Draped over a small antique table they make an attractive addition to any room.
These rugs are as useful today as they were in bygone days as they are reversible as well as washable.
- We have used other circles to make rugs but some worked and others didn’t. We used Hula Hoops with fair success. The flexibility of the Hula Hoop is a problem. The best modern results came from having a machine shop make us an inch and half wide rim with a 30-inch diameter of metal welded into a hoop. It is not as heavy as the real wagon wheel and I use it for demonstration.
Since we retired we demonstrated our rug-making skills as we travel across the state to craft fairs. Rug weaving is a time-consuming occupation, so we set up the wheel and weave wherever we are and soon find ourselves the center of attention and a topic of conversation. Probably Great-grandmother Kennedy did the same.
veryirie said on 1/6/2009 – Excellent pictures and instructions. I’ve done off-loom weaving, but I don’t know where the heck I can get hold of a big wagon wheel over here. I’m determined to think of something to use though. Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful craft!
smidgen said on 1/2/2009 – This is wonderful and so practical! I bet that you sell tons of these at craft fairs that you go to and sell! I love the pictures and directions!
prism said on 11/25/2008 – It is so wonderful that you are passing on this skill! I’ve never seen these before but I can tell they are sturdy and last a long time. Growing up in New England, I am more familiar with braided rugs that have that same look and quality. I know there are still many in our family made by my Grandmother.