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Early American Rugs


The rugs and carpets that were available in the early seventeenth century were not floor coverings. Rugs were valuable possessions that were never walked upon. They were imported at a great expense from the Near East or from Belgium, France, or the Netherlands. They were hung on the walls, spread over a bed, or draped on the top of a table, much as you would display a tapestry. The kitchen floor, the dining room floor, and the parlor floor were strewn with sand. Every morning the spots of grease and candle wax were scooped up and disposed of. The sand was then raked smooth and a fancy pattern was swirled over the surface with a turkey wing.

Colonial homemakers yearned for the same Oriental rugs that had become popular in England and throughout Europe. The first floor coverings that American Colonists could produce themselves were rush mats. Rag rugs soon became popular and replaced the rush mats. Rags or what ever kind of material that was available were cut or torn into relatively even one inch wide strips. The strips were then sewn end to end thus creating a long continuous cord. A loom was set up with widely spaced warp threads. The warp threads consisted of heavy cotton or linen. The cord of material became the weft. The result was a reversible flat woven rug.

Any housewife could produce a rag rug as long as she had a large needle, when no loom was available. Worn clothing and frayed linens were cut into two inch strips that were folded with the raw edges inside, sewed together end to end, and braided. Beginning at the center, the braid was coiled in concentric circles and stitched together with heavy thread. The resulting carpet was either round or oval. Most often the cloth strips were left undyed so the braids and the rug were multicolored. Braided rugs have never cease to be popular for rooms furnished in the early American style.These were area rugs in the original sense of the word, as no attempt was made to cover the entire floor with carpeting.

Hooked rugs were Scandinavian in origin, but they had been in use in England before the first settlement in North America. In the colonies, these were sometimes made of rag strips cut half to an inch wide and rolled. However, heavy woolen yarn was found easier to work with. Burlap or a canvas cloth was stretched on a wooden frame, and a design was drawn by tracing or freehand on to the canvas. A large crochet needle with a metal hooked tip was punched through the material from above, catching the yarn and drawing it up through the hole, when the hook was disengaged, a loop of yarn remained on the surface. Straight rows of evenly sized loops gave the rug a smooth surface. It was difficult for an inexperienced rug hooker to make the loops evenly sized, so some of the loops were sheared off to even out the surface. Hooked rugs were usually made in square or rectangular shapes. Rug hooking has been the most continually popular of all colonial crafts.

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