Backing or Foundation Cloth?

ISSN 2207-001X March 29th 2017

Are you confused by these two terms?

Do you use the word “backing” or “foundation cloth” to describe that which you hook strips of fabric, or prod small pieces, into?

Or do you consider “backing” a fabric you apply to the back of a finished wall-hanging?

The first image is of wool strips and yarn hooked into a recycled woollen blanket!

The second is the back of one of Kira Mead’s large quillie pieces, where a blanket has been used to “back” the project.

Bobby George, a member of the Australian Rugmakers Guild from Victoria – posted a question on the Guild’s Facebook page……..

“I have a collection of wool blankets and have been told that they can be used as backing. To my mind, it would take a lot of effort to push the hook through for each loop. Has anyone used it as backing and if so, do you have any tips?”

Thinking maybe Bobby was confused by the words backing and foundation cloth I contacted her to clarify.

Bobby said –

“I cannot remember where I heard it, but I am sure I heard that a good use for woollen blankets was as foundation cloth. I have quite a few blankets, many bought early on before I realized that pieces of the thicker blankets need more strength to prod and strips of blanket even more to hook with.

As I have little strength in my wrists and hands I thought that I could use some of the blankets as foundation cloth, however I’m having the same problem – I need to use a lot of grunt to pierce the blanket, hence the general inquiry.”

Anne Schafer, also a Guild member from Victoria, responded on Facebook to Bobby’s question with  –

“I’ve just had a try hooking into a woollen blanket with a few different size strips and rug yarn and they worked fine. Might be hard to keep a straight line as it’s not easy to see the straight grain.

This is just a quick example, (Shown above)  no design to it as I didn’t want to draw on my cream blanket.  It’s a little harder and slower to work with as there’s no real visible weave to go by like linen, hessian or other.  Although, that might be the type of blanket I used.

Also, there’s quite a lot of bounce in the blanket even though well stretched on my gripper frame.  You would need to make sure not to break the wool thread of blanket, otherwise holes resembling that made by pet teeth would occur.  I used wool blanket strips, roughly #7, circle outlined in teal carpet wool, used double, using a 5mm hook.”

With this discussion, underway locally, today, when I received my copy of Rug Hooking Magazine, it was interesting to see there was an article on ….

“Which is the best backing” and they’re talking foundation cloth.

It’s a very interesting article and clearly sets out the comparative differences in cost and use, along with some “do’s and don’ts” – great if you live in the USA or Canada – not so good for those of us living in Australia or New Zealand where there aren’t any rug hooking suppliers.

I know, proper rug hooking backing (foundation cloth) can be purchased online – however, currency exchange and international postage adds a great deal of cost to an already expensive purchase.

The cost factor is detrimental when trying to interest beginners to the craft of rug hooking.

So most of us resort to a “make do” scenario and suggest the use of Hessian, a step above burlap.  Hessian is readily available in wide widths and inexpensive, even compared to Scottish Burlap.

While it has an even weave and no “slubs”, it does have its problems for some people – apart from it’s distinct odour, there’s also a “hairiness” to the fabric – either one of these is enough to create an allergic reaction for some.  So, what to do ……… if you don’t want to spend all the time you’re hooking sneezing and blowing your nose and can’t afford the outlay to import your backing.

One of the large fabric outlets here has in its curtain & upholstery section, a  synthetic linen that works well as a backing.  At first glance it appears that the weave is too fine – but it’s been put to the test and even an 8mm hook will pierce it without causing any problem.

An open weave synthetic curtain purchased in the same department of THAT store, was used in another creative way as a substitute for the expensive “real thing” and the “smelly hairy” local Hessian.

Speaking of “make do”, here is Kira Mead’s version of a project hanger while working on one of her large creations – “Navel Gazing”

In the next image you can also see Kira’s “Grid Back” used for hanging large odd-shaped pieces. The woollen blanket covers the plastic grid leaving only one row exposed into which to slide the metal track. The creation can then be hung from a hook by a cord looped through the metal track, or hung from Art-track systems, directly in to the holes in the metal track, all the while keeping the odd shaped edges well supported.


Judi Tompkins – the recycled Blanket Queen

has added her two cents worth to this conversation about backing …….

“Because the craft of rughooking is so well known in the North and people have more knowledge and experience with making and giving pieces, there is a tendency for people to invest in the more expensive linen/rug warp/monks cloth fabrics because they intend (or hope) that the hooked piece will be handed down for generations to come.  This may or may not be true anymore and will depend on how much the next generations value this particular type of handwork. Handmade furniture seems to retains its value through generations but I’m not sure that attitude applies to floor rugs and wall art.

The bottom line is that – for us in the South – investing in expensive and imported foundation fabric is something I do for items that I intend to give as a gift or have been commissioned to make; otherwise I use the locally available linen or hessian (which is now better quality). I don’t have any expectation that my work will survive me.

Regarding the use of wool blankets (and I’m speaking wool not acrylics) depending on the weight and weave of the wool it can be used – just test it before you use it. BUT…. be aware that you can’t easily draw – or draw complex designs – on most wool fabrics, even using a permanent pen doesn’t guarantee that the design won’t “fade” or move due to the fuzzing on the surface of the wool. So, plan on hooking a “free form” design or one that will accommodate some “flexibility”.

Wool is also immensely heavy, stretchy and itchy so you’ll want to have a proper frame to support your work (which will become even heavier as you add more wool). Small projects would be more workable I think … and because I work in LARGE stuff I would probably be crushed under the extra weight!

Because I use a lot of rovings, mohair and other delicate fibres I tend to put a backing on my work to prevent the stitches from being accidentally pulled out. If I were using a wool foundation and then added a backing I would find the piece to be very heavy indeed.

All that having been said … it might be that if you want to hook a floor rug then a wool blanket as a foundation might be ideal … it would add weight to keep it from moving and it would wear well. It’s just the stretching aspect that concerns me.

Remember too that wool is hair/protein and serves as a “hot lunch” for insects. If you use a wool as a foundation cloth but hook with non-wool fibres it is easy to forget that you need to plan for insect management when you are finished.

Editor’s Note:  Judi’s extensive woollen blanket collection is for sale – either whole blankets or sections – details can be seen on the “Swap, Sell” page  on the Guild website.

Happy Hooking     –     Jo Franco, Editor

One thought on “Backing or Foundation Cloth?”

  1. This comment is from Miriam Miller who said; I taught a blind person from Wagga Wagga, to rug hook and she found hessian made her fingers sore, as she had to feel every stitch she put in. Being totally blind makes things more difficult for her. I gave her a sample of the linen available here but she did not like the cost. She has used blanket and likes it as the blanket does provide a backing that is gentler on the fingers than hessian.

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