Finishing a hooked rug is a very important step. I teach this method to all beginners, but it is also the finish that I use the most. In fact, it is the finish I am using on my room-sized rug.
After the edge of the rug is prepared, folded and secured in place with some simple basting, it is time to whip the edge of your hooked rug. After 18 years of Rug Hooking I have developed a tried and true method. It is my fold forward finish for hooked rugs. I like a whipped finish because it gives the hooked rug a stiffer edge and some added protection from the vacuum. Yes, I vacuum my hooked rugs. I use rug warp backing so my rugs are sturdier and stiffer than linen rugs. I do have one linen rug that I vacuum often but I have to be extra careful to not catch the edge into the beater bar.
Why you should steam your rugs
Why you must steam your rugs
“Have you admired the smooth even work in completed rugs at the rug shows? Steaming is not an optional step. It makes a huge difference in the finished product. Try steaming your rug and it will look as smooth and professional as the rugs on display.“
When you knit a sweater, you block your work. It is a process of getting the fibers damp and then letting them dry in a set position so that they permanently retain their shape. We cannot get our rugs super wet, so we use steam.
After a bit of observation, you will be able to easily pick out rugs that have been steamed and those that have not. It adds a bit of polish and finish to your work.
Click on one of the links below to get to a certain step faster.
How to Finish the Edge of your Hooked Rug
- The Process of Steaming your Hooked Rug
- To zig zag or not to zig zag the edge of a hooked rug?
- Cut Off the Excess Backing
- Baste the Edge in Place
- How to Calculate How Much Yarn You Will Need
- Whipping the edge
- Other Finishing Articles
The Process of Steaming your Hooked Rug
I usually steam twice. Once when the hooking is complete and before the whipping is started and again after the whipping is complete. At an absolute minimum you will need to steam at least once.
An ironing board works for most rugs but a larger surface is ideal. This mat is 47″ x 28″, larger than most rugs! You place it on top of a table and then fold it away when you are done.
I know rug hookers who keep a piece of plywood around just for steaming rugs. Cover the surface with a blanket or towels and begin steaming. What do I use? Just a small table top ironing board for small projects or this mat on my large studio table.
Be sure to protect your surface. Heat from the iron could delaminate some materials or melt modern nylon carpet. Be safe.
Place your rug face down on the ironing surface and lay a wet pressing cloth, a white towel or piece of natural colored wool, over the surface. I know some people who are adamant about using wool, but for me it is a bit like the emperor’s clothes. I don’t see a difference while “they” claim the difference is remarkable.
With the iron set on wool, lay the iron on the rug and let it sit for 5 to 10 seconds. Do not apply pressure, let the iron do the work. Lift the iron and move it over so that it slightly overlaps the previously pressed area. Continue in this manner until the rug is complete. Don’t slide the iron across the surface, always lift to move it. If you are steaming a large rug or a particularly lumpy one, spritz the rug with a spray bottle filled with water. It speeds up the steaming process, but don’t get the rug extremely wet.
If the pressing cloth becomes dry, rewet it as needed. I find it useful to keep two pressing cloths handy so that a wet one is always nearby. Below I used a washcloth because I was steaming a small piece but I usually use the white bar towels that I use in the kitchen.
If needed (and it always is needed for me), turn the rug over and repeat the process. When you stop seeing improvement, you know you are done pressing. Repeat as needed. Your rug should be smooth and flat with no ripples.
You may need to press each side several times.
How to Square up your Rug
Check for square by measuring the diagonals. The measurements should match. If not, tug gently in the direction of the shortest measurement and remeasure. Repeat until the measurements match.
When the steaming is complete and you’ve checked for square, leave the rug on a surface where it can sit for a minimum of 24 hours or several days. Your rug will remember the shape it is in and you don’t want that shape to be rolled up.
To zig zag or not to zig zag?
I learned my first finishing method from Rug Hooking Magazine. I was then exposed to the fold forward finish at Sauder Village by Evelyn Lawrence. Jule Marie Smith, my teacher that year, took the method a step further and eliminated the cording because of the thicker nature of rug warp. I’ve used that method (and rug warp) ever since.
Using a sewing machine on a hooked rug
I remember a scheduled slide show lecture with Jessie Turbayne at Sauder Village that turned into a very small group discussion – just three of us. One thing Jessie said that has stuck with me is how the sewing machine is very destructive. It slams into the fibers and splits them to make the stitches. To reverse machine stitches is very difficult without damaging the backing even further. Hand sewing is much more forgiving.
So…Does the Zig Zag Damage my Rug?
I was faithfully following the RHM instructions with two rows of zigzagging in addition to the zigzagging at the edge. Am I doing more harm than good by doing that? I think so. Once the backing is folded up and whipped, it is not going to unravel any more. Not sure how the custom of the stitching started, but I’ve been carrying it forward. It was in the instructions in Rug Hooking Magazine, so I just followed along and kept doing it without thinking about WHY.
No more. I hate the process of prepping the backing. I need to secure the outer edge after I cut off the excess, so I zig zag the fresh edge after I make the cut. I can live with doing that much. I tried to finish one of my stair risers once without a sewing machine when I was out of town. I’ll never try that again. It unraveled so fast it was all I could do to get it stitched up before it completely unraveled.
No sewing machine? Here are some solutions
- Have a friend do it. Just ask. Offer rughooking wool if needed.
- Use fray check. I’ve never tried this because the stuff is just too darned expensive but I’ve been told it works. If you do use it, be sure it says acid-free on the label. You don’t want your edge decaying from the inside out.
- Hand stitch over the edge enough to keep the fibers from unraveling as you work with it.
I made these stitches about 1/4″ into the fabric and about 1/4″ apart. This will never see the light of day once your rug hooking edge is complete.
- Work fast, only cutting as you need it. I tried this and it was a dismal failure for me.
Cut Off the Excess Backing
This step is necessary for most finishing methods.
- Mark your final edge by drawing a line around the outside edge of your rug. I use 1 1/4″ for rug warp when I’m doing a whipped edge.You will have to experiment with this measurement if you are using another backing because the thicknesses of linen backings are not consistent. For linen, I will add a thin cording (3/16″ or smaller) for more support since the backing is so thin. The goal is to make the folded edge with the cording, the same height as your loops.Use a pencil and drag it in the ditch. Use the method described in Basic Techniques: Drawing Straight Lines.Use a ruler to measure the distance or add the Finishing Measuring Tool to your shopping cart. Free with any order.
For oval rugs…
Mark the cut off line by making several marks around the edge and then connecting the dots. Add a row of machine straight stitching just inside the cutting line if your rug is oval or round BEFORE cutting off the excess. This is vital to prevent stretching. Do the stitching BEFORE you cut it off. This will help to prevent stretching when you zig zag the edge and when you handle the rug for finishing.
- Now cut off the excess backing at the pencil line. Zig zag the raw edge to prevent fraying. If the rug is very large, I will cut as I go so that while I am handling the rug I do not stretch out the edge.
If you have a serger, use it!
After steaming and preparing the edge of your rughooking by zig zagging, I fold the edge toward the loops and then baste it in place. I know this takes longer than using pins, but pins hurt! I was in a car accident in 1996 and that changed my outlook on life. I would rather do something pleasant, even if it takes longer than to do something unpleasant even for a short time. Getting poked with pins is not pleasant.
You can also use clips but I think they get tangled up with the thread and yarn as I am working. Basting takes a bit of time, but you have a clean, uninterrupted edge to whip. Nothing gets in the way..
The Needle and Thread
I use a sturdy needle with a sharp point and a comfortable length. For my hands, the longer the better. Doll maker needles are my favorite for whipping with the yarn, but for this basting step, you can use whatever needles you have on hand.
Many rug hookers prefer the gold bent needle. If you use this needle, you will still need a sharp needle such as the doll needle for whipping the corners and for this basting step.
You can buy doll needles anywhere they sell doll maker supplies. I got these in the craft area at Wal-mart.
Fold the backing forward once
To get started, fold the backing edge in half toward the loops on the front with the raw edge of the backing touching the last row of loops. Loosely baste in place keeping the stitching close to the raw edge. I usually start in the middle of a straight edge and work my way around.
When you get to the corner, cut the corner off on the marker line and continue stitching to the next side with a stitch or two then backup to the corner. Stitch the edges of the mitered corner together to make a sharp corner. This will make the next fold easier and neater.
Fold the edge again
Next turn the edges forward again so that the folded edge touches the final row of loops. Baste in place. Keep this basting close to the loops.
When you get to the corner, stitch even with the last loop. Fold the next side into place and take a few stitches at the base of the corner where the sides meet. The rest of the corner will stick out, but ignore that for now.
Now press the corner towards the finished piece with your finger. Take several stitches along the sides of the package to hold it in place. See the diagram.
Don’t skimp on this step. The stitches you make will help to make a smooth corner when you whip the edges with the yarn. This thread “bridge” will allow the whipping yarn to move smoothly up and over the corner.
Alternative Corner Method
Another way to prepare this corner is to fold the corner in first and then fold the sides into place. It creates one seam down the center and may make a squarer corner. You’ll have to experiment to find the method that works best for you. How about a set of coasters? Plenty of corners to practice on. Now before you turn up your nose, consider this.
Have you ever practiced something and NOT gotten better at it? Practice.
Be sure to read the section that includes tips on how to whip the perfect corner.
How to Calculate How Much Yarn You Will Need
You won’t need as much yarn as you think. Even a room-sized rug can be hooked with just one skein.
Whipping a rug takes a long time. Ripping it out because you run out of yarn and have to start over with something else is a nightmare. Run the numbers before you begin
Yarn Calculator If you are a member of The Rug Hooking Journey, all you have to do is log in & plug in the numbers. The calculator will do the rest. Become a member here.
In case you are curious, here’s how to do the calculations yourself:
Do a whipping test
Use a piece of scrap backing and prepare the edge using the instructions above so you can practice whipping. Use a piece at least 8″ long. Use the instructions above to prepare your test piece. Prep two sides so you can also practice a corner.
I typically use a 5′ or 60″ long piece of yarn to whip my rugs. Do not let the yarn shop wind the yarn into a ball for you. Instead, leave it in a skein and untwist it so it is a circle. Cut through one place (any place) on the circle through all the strands. That will quickly give you strands of yarn that are approximately the same length, about 5′ long.
Use one piece to whip your scrap sample. Keep whipping until you use up the entire strand.
While this test will help you to determine how much yarn you will need, it also gives you a chance to test the color. You can hold the test edge up to your rug and verify that the color is just right. If you whip the edge and then have to take it out, that process can be hard on the edge of your rug.
When you have finished the test, measure the length of whipping you accomplished with this length of yarn. Measure the length and the width of your rug. Enter the numbers into the calculator. Note the number of strands you need. Count your strands. Do you have enough? You’ll know right away if you can move forward.
No time to do a test? Most rugs will only use a fraction of a skein. You can whip 594 inches or just under 50 feet using my example of 4.5″ of whipping from a 60″ length of yarn using just one skein of my favorite whipping yarn, Cascade 220 (a worsted knitting weight) skein of 220 yards.
What type of yarn should I use to whip my hooked rug?
Use 100% wool yarn. Anything less will begin to pill up and get fuzzy in a short time. Nothing wears as well as wool.
In this example I used a single ply but I’ve also used a 3-ply needlepoint yarn, Paternayan.
Paternayan is a needlepoint yarn, but is no longer available in my area.
It can create an interesting edge because you can separate it and combine it with other colors. This is often the only solution when you cannot match a color. For instance, if you can’t find the perfect green, use several greens that are a close match. Take the plys apart and reassemble them into a 3 to 6 ply yarn and whip the edge with the new combination. Including one strand of an accent color makes a nice look also.
After several years, I don’t think the needlepoint yarns hold up quite as well as my new favorite, Cascade. Unfortunately, they discontinued by favorite color, but they still make a dark brown heather. One skein will whip all but the largest rugs.
Having trouble finding the right color of yarn?
- If your background wool is tightly woven you can cut strips from #6 – #8 and use these strips to whip the edge. You know the color will match perfectly but you will have to work slower to keep each strip from twisting and you will have more ends to begin and stop.
- If you used a plaid for the final border, the best solution may be to use a 3-ply yarn and separate the plys and reconstruct them using multiple colors. In the image below I used 2 navy and 1 red for 2″ then changed to 1 navy and 2 red. After whipping 2″, I changed back to the previous combination. This edging was very subtle and goes well with the plaid. I wasn’t clever in developing this technique. I couldn’t decide if I wanted more red or more blue so I whipped 2″ of each side by side. I liked the look so well that I continued this method around the rug. Experiment! Audition the wool – you can’t be sure what it will look like until it goes to work in your piece.
- Don’t try to match the last row. Consider using a different color for the outer edge. Match a different color in the rug or use a dark neutral.
Whipping the edge
Here are some general tips:
- If whipping is frustrating for you, it may be because the wool gets tangled as you work. Hold the wool yarn as you would if you were crocheting using your left hand. (Reverse these instructions if you are left handed.) Insert the needle in the correct position and pull the yarn through while continuing to hold the wool with your left hand. Both halves of the yarn should be separated enough that they won’t tangle as you pull the yarn through. Release the wool in your left hand when you are ready to pull it tight.
- Use a single strand instead of a double. You may have to go into some of the holes twice depending on the thickness of your yarn, but you will have an easier time of it. I don’t have nearly as much tangling and twisting. Even though I may need to go into some of the holes twice, I think I can whip faster because there is less frustration.
- Pull the yarn firmly but not extremely tight. You can hold the tension on the previous stitch with your left hand as you work. If you whip loosely the yarn will tend to move around and your backing will show through. By pulling tighter you will have a neater edge and probably a longer wearing one because friction will be reduced.
Keeping the tension even is a bit easier on rug warp because the bundle you are whipping is so solid. Linen tends to be a bit squishy. Add a small bit of cording to help fill it out.
- For rug warp and 3-ply Paternayan yarn, stitch once in each hole. If it looks like the whipping is too thin, double up every so often. Every yarn and every backing will be slightly different, so double up when you need to by stitching in the same hole twice.
- As you stitch, the whipping may begin to lean. Stop every so often and gently adjust the yarn by tugging with your fingernails along the very outer edge to keep the whipping at a 90 degree angle.
- If you are unsure of your technique, practice on the backing you cut off until you are comfortable to finish your piece. Be sure to practice a corner or two.
- The ultimate practice would be to hook a small mug mat or coaster out of your left over scraps. This piece will give you 4 corners to practice and if something goes wrong here, it is better than if it happens on your rug.
These squares are my favorite first project for beginners. It is a 6″x6″ square that has been divided into four squares and are hooked with scraps. Read Hooked Rug Gallery: Beginner Square.
Guaranteed Even Results Using a Knitting Needle
A friend of mine, Starr Burgess, told me about a method she uses for whipping to get a consistent tension on her whipped edge. Check it out below and give it a try if you are struggling.
For many, finishing a hooked rug is the least favorite part of hooking a rug. I’m not crazy about the prior preparation steps, but I do enjoy this part, the whipping. Take your time. Keep the rug handy so you can pick it up at odd moments and you will be done before you know it.
If the corners are the hard part, keep reading for several tips that will make the corners easier.
Secure the end of the yarn
I usually start the whipping about an inch away from a corner and head toward the corner. Start with a long strand of yarn so you will not run out before you can complete the corner. Bury the yarn into the thick edge of the backing you prepared in the prior steps. Bury the thread again going in the opposite direction. This will help to ensure that the end will not work itself loose later when the rug is handled. I usually leave the tail sticking out until I make a few stitches then I cut it flush.
Begin whipping the edge of your hooked rug
You will need to make a stitch in every hole and may need to make two in one hole every now and then. You want to make the whipping thick enough to completely cover the backing. Pull firmly and evenly for a neat edge. Pick a channel in the threads and follow it. I usually go one thread away from my loops. Whip up to the point where the row you are whipping in is in line with the row on the opposite edge — this is the hole that is common to both sides. At this point you can use Susan’s tip below and skip the corners for now and whip them later.
Susan’s Corner Strategy: Whip the edge up to the point where both sides share the same hole. Now skip the corner. That’s right, just ignore it for now. Continue whipping down the next side. Later when all four sides are whipped return to the corners and whip each corner. You have better odds of making each corner similar because you are doing one right after the other. This tip comes to me from Susan Adams of Lima, Ohio, one of my at home studio students. Thanks, Susan.
Alternative Method: I like to eat my vegetables and then enjoy desert guilt-free, so I whip all four corners first and then attack the edges. I find this easier to hide the yarn ends. What is important is that you find the method that works for YOU.
The Corner Trick
As you whip in the ditch that is one thread away from your last row of loops, watch for that same ditch going in the opposite direction. I’ve marked it with a black dot in the illustration. Make only one stitch in each direction. Only two passes of yarn will be in this hole. Your corner will get quite large and bulky if you stuff dozens of stitches into this one hole. It will significantly weaken the corner of the rug, a spot that is already vulnerable.
Now make several (5 will usually do it) small stitches right at the corner. This is where you will need the sharp needle. Pierce the bundle about a 1/4″ or so from the edge. Lay the stitches down in a row. Because the stitches are short they are not going anywhere. Long stitches that span from the tip of the corner to the intersecting hole will move and expose the backing. As a result, most rug hookers add more stitches, further stressing the backing, to keep everything covered.
Imagine a line running from the intersecting hole and the tip of the corner. Start whipping one side of the corner. As you whip your stitches will get shorter and shorter until they cover the short stitches you made previously. When you have it all covered, stop and start the other side picking up after the short stitches.
Whip up the second side, double checking the back of the rug as you go to be sure you are covering the backing.If the miter does not come out as neat as you would like, (your corners will improve with practice) take one large stitch over the corner to hide the mess if you need it.
Corners are tricky, but they are important for a neat finish. If it doesn’t work out the first time, carefully snip the yarn, pull it out and start over. Be very careful so you do NOT snip the backing.
To cover bald or thin areas
If you have white spots because your whipping was not close enough, use a single strand of yarn and touch up the areas that need more coverage. Also try moving the yarn with your fingers to cover up the open areas. Just review the last inch or two on both sides and you can touch up anything that looks thin as you go.
If you need to, you can still fill in these thin areas after you are completely finished. Just get a length of yarn started and whip where you need to and then bury the end in the bundle to secure it.
Time For Another Final Steaming
Now that your whipping is done, but don’t quit yet. Be sure to steam the rug again – all over or just the edges depending on what it needs – and create a label for your rug. See the instructions at Don’t Miss the Last Step – Label Your Rugs!
Other Finishing Articles
Finishing a Pillow
How to choose a finish for your rug – the knife fold edge
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Cindi Gay Rug Hooking Newsletter
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