One of the more monumental textile projects in early America was the fashioning of the warm, heavy bedcover known as a bed rug. Production of these textiles was labor intensive, from processing the wools to weaving the foundations and stitching the pile. Typically bed rugs were yarn sewn, a technique executed with a needle and woolen yarn in a running stitch. Though no seventeenth-century bed rugs survive, references appear in American inventories and other documents from that period.
A small number of eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century bed rugs, primarily from the Connecticut River Valley, are known today. Although the designs give an appearance of symmetry, the dynamic movement results from a naturalistic scrolling of carnations and vines. The predominant motif of a carnation on this and similar bed rugs relates to European floral needlework designs, specifically from Richard Shorleyker’s 1632 pattern book, A Schole-house for the Needle. Symbolic of earthly and divine love, the carnation is often associated with brides, bridegrooms, and newly married couples. As significant investments of time, money, and creativity, bed rugs were valued as objects of status and were often signed or initialed and dated.
Stacy C. Hollander, “Bed Rug,” exhibition label for Self-Taught Genius: Treasures from the American Folk Art Museum. Stacy C. Hollander and Valérie Rousseau, curators. New York: American Folk Art Museum, 2014.