Finnish Rag Rugs

Most Chloe Ellefson mysteries celebrate a folk art relevant for the featured ethnic group. When I chose to focus on Finnish immigrants in the 11th book, The Weaver’s Revenge, I wanted to spotlight the tradition of weaving rag rugs.

Practical weavers collected worn clothing, cut the fabric into strips, sewed the strips together, and used them as weft. Although this craft was widely practiced by people of different origins, scholars note that Finns have been most successful at maintaining the tradition.

Some “hit and miss” rag rugs reveal a largely random approach, with irregular pinstripes.

(The National Museum of Finland)

Historically, most American rugs were created this way. However, the skills Finnish weavers brought to the New World included color and design. The two examples below show controlled stripes and gorgeous palettes.

(The National Museum of Finland)
(The National Museum of Finland)

Many traditional weavers went further by creating more complicated designs, such as twill, rosepath, and tabby.

Rag rugs for sale in Puutori in Turku, Finland, 1955. (Finnish Heritage Agency)

The photo below provides a closer look at a spectacular rug.

(The National Museum of Finland)

In Chloe’s time—the 1980s—some scholars considered rag rugs too commonplace to warrant study. When I learned that, Chloe’s boss Ralph Petty popped to mind. In The Weaver’s Revenge, when Chloe wants to research both patterns and the social implications of Finnish American rag rug weaving in the Upper Midwest, Petty is not impressed:

“I told you not to waste time on that ridiculous proposal, did I not?”

“You did,” Chloe allowed, “but I still want to help the Rankinen interpreters by learning more about–”

“What’s there to learn? Rags were made into rugs. End of story.”

There was, of course, much more to the story. Finnish American immigrants wove rugs that were practical and beautiful. Weaving helped women cope—sometimes financially, sometimes emotionally. The practice was and remains an important aspect of cultural identity.

Loom at The Hanka Homestead Finnish Museum

Most old rugs received hard use, so few have survived. The tradition, however, endures. Here are two recent prize-winning examples from Finnish country in northern Wisconsin.

And if you visit a site devoted Finnish heritage, it’s easy to imagine how much cheer these works of art brought to log homes.

Rug on display at Little Finland, Hurley, WI.

You can gain much more insight into the Finnish rug weaving tradition by reading the 11th Chloe Ellefson Mystery, The Weaver’s Revenge. Coming soon!

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6 Responses to “Finnish Rag Rugs”

  1. Nijole Etzwiler Says:

    When up in Hurley one year, I visited the Iron County Hist Soc and bought a rag rug. The HS members weave them right there.

  2. Pat Murphy Says:

    Beautiful rag rugs-great workmanship

  3. kathy White Says:

    Very Beautiful! I can not figure out how they could reproduce a pattern of a print on the brown section of the brown and grey one, it seems impossible to me, but they did it!

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