Sunday, July 23, 2017

Mug Rug: Ugh? Or Luv?

Mug rug. Ugh. The name reeks of cute. In the quilt world, a mug rug is a mini-quilt upon which one places a cup and a small nosh, maybe a nice piece of pastry. When someone first explained the concept to me a couple of years ago, I thought it was the silliest idea ever. What's next, Carrot Carpets? Munchie Mats? Fondue Flooring? Borscht Blankets? Toothbrush Tapestries?

And if you image-search mug rugs, speaking of toothbrushes, you'll need to use yours - the results are even sweeter than the potential pastries. A lot of mug rugs out there are decorated with snowmen, mittens, hearts, and flowers - all of which I'm cool with, in small doses.

That's the downside of mug rugs. But despite my prejudice, I deliberately put myself in a position where I had to make one. Because I knew it would be a great way to trick myself. 

One of the hardest things for quilters is to get out of our own way. With every new project, we aspire to make something that's merely better than anything we've ever made, or even seen. That attitude spells creative doom.

So I tell myself I'm just practicing, on something insignificant. Then, anything I do will wildly exceed my expectations!

And therein also lies the  conceptual greatness of potholdersArtist Trading Cardsfiber postcardsinchies, twinchies, betwinchies, and come to think of it, bed quilts - women aspiring to make bedcovers sometimes create museum pieces. Like the Gee's Bend quilts - I rest my case.

Will museums show mug rugs one day? That would have sounded crazy to me,  until I received Esther's.

When I signed up for  my very first mug rug exchange, I was lucky enough to be assigned to receive one from quilter Esther Bartels of Massachusetts. The theme of our swap was "Climb Every Mountain," and Esther made me this amazing piece in batik earthtones, with an embroidered rock climber, fish in a stream, and the Hebrew word  "ramah," for "heights," on top. 
I'm sorry, Esther, but this is no mug rug.  I would NEVER allow a buttery croissant  or a sloshy cup-o-joe anywhere near it. It's a beautiful little art quilt. Thank you!

For this swap, I only had to make two, but I had a special event coming up, and needed gifts. I was also in the midst of my English Paper Piecing (EPP) and handstitching obsession. So I made a pile of 3" cardstock hexagons, and used them to cut hexagons from a bunch of whimsical red, white and black prints. I ended up making a half-dozen mug rugs.  And they turned out....well, darnit, cute. I can never scowl at a sweet mug rug again. 

I hand-stitched the hexagons together, which doesn't take as long as you'd think. Here's the back of one of the hand-stitched tops, with the cardstock still inside. 

The more I made, of course, the more I began to enjoy them. Even handstitched, they are fast gifts. For some, I machine appliqued the tops to a red felt backing, with nothing in-between. The first step was to remove the cardstock templates, then pin the top to felt.  
Straight stitch all the way around the circumference. (I used invisible thread.)
The back:
Cut away the excess, an eighth of an inch beyond the stitching.
So fast! Optional: Machine (or hand) stitch around the central hexagon. 
The alternative way to finish them - with a quilt batting in the middle, and then a turned edge on the backing - is more time consuming. 

Ph.D.s in mugrugology dispute how big one should be. I've seen sizes ranging from 4" to 8" on a side, up to a foot! Usually they're rectangles, sometimes squares, circles, hexagons, even octagons. Bigger than a coaster, smaller than a potholder or placemat, is how I now think of them. 

After viewing the diversity of mugrug shapes online, I realized I had numerous potential mug rugs. not to mention toothbrush tapestries, lying around my house - specifically, in my UFO and orphan blocks department. Like these recent leftover EPP blocks from a quilt project:

Hey, I could just finish their backs, declare them mug rugs, and move them out of my house! But that begs the deeper question: Do our friends who haven't enrolled in a swap really want mug rugs? Will they use them? Do their neighbors and relatives drop in all the time for tea/coffee/hot cocoa/miso soup, like on TV sitcoms? Mine don't. Basically: Shouldn't we just declare them art and encourage our friends to hang them up instead of laying a trip on them that they should start making cocoa and brownies for non-existent hordes of mitten-clad sweet-toothed visitors? (Also: If the neighbors do drop in, and you put your home-baked goodies upon the rugs, how are you going to wash the oil and butter and coffee stains out of these things?) 

While doing my 13 minutes of research for this blog post, with my newfound love of the artform, I saw many fun, artistic, and interesting mug rugs.
  •  I like the scrappy pieces on this page, especially the one made from selvages.
  • An Etsy artisan makes beautiful, artistic mats that look like leaves. They're sold for a ridiculously modest price. Find them here.  Save time, buy them and support her/him! (No affiliation!)
  • Want to learn foundation paper piecing? Do it while having fun making these sincerely adorable octagonal mug rugs here.
Have you made mug rugs? Would you want some? Would you use them?


  1. I also had the privilege of receiving a mug rug from Esther. It's sitting in front of me so I can admire her work of art. So, Esther, I'm thanking you again for your original piece of art work. Marger

  2. Sorry I missed the mug rug swap. I would love it if someone randomly made me something! I use mug rugs/coasters all of the time!