Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Bed Rug

M. B.
Probably made in Connecticut, United States
Wool embroidered with wool
102 x 99 3/8 in. (259.1 x 252.4 cm)
Credit Line:
Rogers Fund, 1913
Accession Number:
Not on view
This bed rug is needleworked in looped running stitch, which has been cut to form a pile surface on the light brown/ochre woven wool base. The base is made of three panels of fabric, sewn together at their selvedges. The bed rug is decorated with a central pattern of branching flowers stemming from a single vase, along with a border of large flowers and twisting vines in shades of rust brown, light brown, yellow beige, and moss green with a black background.
American bed rugs (referred to as "ruggs" during the late eighteenth century) are, for the most part, completely home-manufactured products. The wool-yarn pile is needleworked (not hooked, as was once assumed) in running stitch on a base of hand-loomed wool or linen. Most often, the base is a wool blanket, the surface of which is entirely obscured by embroidery. It is hard to know if the blanket bases were domestic or imported products, but it is likely that the wool used for embroidering the designs on bed rugs such as this example was most likely shorn from local sheep. The fleeces were then washed, carded, spun, and dyed by the rug maker.
Although there are a few extant bed rugs that have been 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. This rug has a cut pile face, though another in the collection (33.122), 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, overstated 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 yams, as well as the need to create to create a design that would be effective when made into a 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 image of the Tree of Life commonly found on Indian palampores. This type of seventeenth-century European Baroque floral composition—sent in as prints from the Old World to inspire Indian textile printers to design export products specifically for the European and American markets—had an enduring influence on American needleworkers into the nineteenth century. The Tree of Life design inspired many quilt and coverlet makers (see 38.59 and 1970.288), yet it was never used with such vigor as it was on bed rugs.
This rug is thought to be from Connecticut. Unfortunately, it came to the Museum with no history, but it strongly resembles a bed rug in the collection of the Wadsworth Atheneum that has a firm Lebanon, New London County provenance. While bed rugs are recorded in household inventories throughout New England and even into the Southern states, some of these may have been heavy, unpatterned woven-pile covers imported ready made from England. Most flowered bed rugs, like this piece, have been traced to Connecticut, with examples ranging in date from the 1720s to the 1830s.
[Peck 2015; adapted from Amelia Peck, "American Quilts & Coverlets in the Metropolitan Museum of Art," 2007]
Inscription: inscribed in wool pile at top center: M B / 1809
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