The following is an excerpt from Handmade Home: Simple Ways to Repurpose Old Materials into New Family Treasures by Amanda Blake Soule (Trumpeter, an imprint of Shambhala Publications , 2009).
Though the popularity of making rag rugs has ebbed and flowed through the centuries, the tradition has stayed alive. Rooted deep in handcrafting for family life, rag rugs carry the essence and the history of repurposing as a necessity as well as an art. Rag rugs can be made in a number of different ways. If you’re lucky, you might have the greatest learning source of all in a living relative who can teach you the skill. My Great Aunt Maddie was a rag rug maker, and with her passing, my family was left with a plethora of rag rugs that she made over the past century. All of them were created from clothing and other household items that she also made.
When I added one of Aunt Maddie’s rugs to my home, I was inspired to create the same myself and carefully studied her rugs to discern the method she used. Making rag rugs has turned into a wonderful way for me to extend the life of some fabrics and clothing my family loves, keep our home cozy and warm, and connect to our past.
Time to finish: A Season
Finished size: As desired
USE WHAT YOU HAVE
Many different fabrics work well for rag rugs. However, to have a uniform thickness, it’s helpful to use similarly weighted fabrics. Standard-weight cotton clothing works fine, as well as heavier wool, denim, corduroy and chamois. (This rag rug is made from midweight cotton clothing — shirts, pants, rags and dish towels.)
Fabric (discarded clothing of the same fabric weight)
Heavy-duty needle (with a blunt tip and a large eye)
- Gather all materials as described above. (The gathering process of this project may take several weeks or months, depending upon the availability of fabric.) As you collect fabrics, you may want to sort them by color, shade or pattern, cut and sew them into strips, then roll them into a ball as explained below to keep your piles neat. I usually just cut it as I go, without worrying about color order, making the rug a bit more of a surprise in color at the end.
To prepare your materials, cut the fabric into 2-inch strips of any length. Cut the short ends. To join the strips, place the two strips of fabric, right sides together, and then stitch a 5/8-inch seam. Roll the fabric strips into a ball, as you would yarn. Continue cutting strips and sewing them together until you have a large ball about 6 inches or more in diameter. Make three balls.
- When you have three large balls, you can prepare the strips for braiding. Begin by folding the two raw edges of your strips in toward the wrong side of the fabric, approximately 1/4 of an inch on each side. Press. Continue along the entire length of ball, rewinding it as you go. Repeat this process for the other two balls.
Take one end from each of your three fabric balls and loop the three strips together, forming a loose knot. Place the knot on a doorknob or a hook to begin braiding.
- Using a classic three-strand braid, braid until the strand is approximately 10 inches long, at which point you can start to coil the braid.
First, remove the braid from the doorknob, tighten the knot, and cut off any excess strands before the knot.
Next, create a tight spiral with the braid. Hold the braid in place by lacing the braids rather than stitching them. Using a lacing cord and a heavy-duty needle, weave the needle and cord from one strand of the braid on one side to another strand of the braid on the opposite side of the coil to which it is connected.
Work a few feet in braiding and then do a bit of lacing. You’ll be working on your lap at the beginning and moving the coiled braid to the floor as the rug grows. Keep braiding and lacing until you are satisfied with the size of the rug. Braided rugs can be any size — for everything from a dollhouse-sized rug to a mat for a table to a full-sized rug. The size of your rug depends on your patience interest, and amount of materials at hand.
- To finish, trim the three strands to the same length and fold them over approximately half an inch, covering the raw edge. Lay this piece flat against the rug and complete the lacing. Secure the ends to the rug with regular heavyweight thread and a darning needle.