Which backing fabric should you choose?


Monk's Cloth


Figuring out which backing to use for your project, it's good to keep in mind what fiber the fabric is made from.

Burlap is cheap (around $4.00/yd) and can be found at any fabric store. Burlap is made from the jute plant, which is wonderfully biodegradable. Have you ever purchased a shrub from the garden store, with the rootball wrapped up in burlap? You put that in the ground, and the burlap will disappear. So burlap is okay for small projects that won't need to be washed, but it's not ideal for a rug that's going on the floor.

Monk's Cloth is also pretty easy to get from fabric stores ($15.00/yd). It's made from cotton, like cheesecloth, but with more threads. Cotton doesn't rot when it gets wet, but the fibers do become brittle over time. Think about your jeans; they're washable but they eventually wear away at the knees if you keep them long enough. If you're going to put a rug on the floor, it has to withstand generations of wear and tear.

There is another cotton backing material called Rug Warp which you can get from rug hooking companies ($24.00/yd). This material is sturdier than Monk's Cloth, but still cotton, so can get brittle with wear and tear.

Linen is available from rug hooking companies like Little House Rugs ($36.00/yd). Linen is made from the flax plant. When the plant is prepared for spinning, it's soaked in water, so everything that DOESN'T ROT is what is spun into linen. So it's rot resistant, and practically indestructible. By far, the best backing fabric for your hooked rugs. 

Before you balk at the price of linen, remember that the greatest value you will put in your rug is your labor. I charge $100.00 per square foot for my hooked rugs. (Linen costs $2.75 per square foot!) Well worth the price, considering my rugs hooked on linen will last 100 years or more.

Finding the grain:

Whichever backing fabric you choose, it's important to find the grain in the weave. The fabric can stretch in weird ways when wrapped around a bolt, and if you trust the cut edge, you might draw your pattern way off the grain. The easiest way to find the grain is to pull a thread near the cut edge, until you find one that goes all the way.

When you pull the thread all the way out, it will leave a gap in the weave. Cut along that gap and your edge will be true to the grain.
Before                                        Find a thread that goes all                 Cut along the gap                                         After
                                                    the way from one selvege 
                                                    to the other selvege