Preparing the backing for a hooked rug

July 29, 2015

Hooked rugs are made from scraps of material and are richly textured. These guidelines will show you how to finish your  colourful masterpiece by adding a backing to it.

Preparing the backing for a hooked rug

Hooked rugs became popular in the 19th century. Early rugs were backed with homespun cloth or linen, but hessian is the traditional and by far the most popular backing material. Early hessian came from empty grain sacks or sugar bags and even today, if there is no other source, an old bag might do for a small project. Hessian sold by suppliers of rug-hooking equipment wears well and has holes properly spaced for easy hooking. Broken threads may cause gaps in the rug; before you buy, identify any by holding the cloth up to the light.

Adding the backing

Whatever backing you choose, the edges must be bound.

  1. Use cotton twill tape, approximately seven centimetres (2 3/4 inches) wide, that matches the background colour of the finished rug. (You may want to dye the tape to obtain the correct shade.)
  2. Attach the tape before you begin hooking so that you can hook right up to the edge where the tape is sewn to the rug.
  3. When the rug is completed, fold the tape back and hem it in place to hide the seam.
  4. So the rug backing will not fray, make two lines of running stitches 2.5 centimetres (one inch) beyond the edge of the rug pattern, around the perimeter (stitch on the diagonal across each corner). Then place the cotton twill tape on the front of the rug just inside the rug-pattern edge.
  5. Sew the tape firmly to the backing, stitching three millimetres (1/8 inch) in from the tape's outer edge.
  6. Carefully gather the tape to ease it gently around corners.
  7. After all the hooking work is completed, cut off the backing just beyond the outermost stitches.
  8. Mitre each corner by folding the tape on the diagonal six millimetres (1/4 inch) from the corner of the hooked area, then fold the tape along each side to the back of the rug. Leave 10 centimetres (four inches) of tape showing on the front.
  9. Use overcast stitches to sew the tape to the back of the rug and to sew the folds together at the corners of the design. You will want something to keep your rug taut as you work. It need not be a fancy piece of equipment; an inexpensive canvas stretcher from an art supply store will do.


Eventually, you may need a standing easel-type frame, but for experienced rugmakers a simple lap type that leans against the edge of a table should be adequate. Choose a softwood frame so that you can use thumbtacks to attach the hessian.

  • First tack the hessian at one corner. Pulling one side tight, tack the adjacent corner.
  • Then insert thumbtacks at five-centimetre (two-inch) intervals along the taut side.
  • Fasten the other corners and sides the same way.
  • Remove the rug by prying the thumbtacks loose with a metal nail file.
  • If your rug is larger than your frame, thumbtacks long enough to go through completed parts will help in repositioning it for work on new sections.
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