The tradition of rug braiding came down to me from my hill-farm grandmother. She called it thrift, but I also have found it to be one of the most enjoyable recycling activities that I practice.
The first step is acquiring the material. Used woolen blankets, coats, slacks and skirts are good. Old Army blankets are a real find. Their weight and colors blend well with other wool colors. Many wool items are discarded because of a few moth holes; that does not disqualify them for rug material. Church rummage sales, thrift shops and friends who know I am braiding are my best resources for wool.
I take apart clothing with sleeves, and remove linings and buttons. Then I open all of the seams so that I can deal with flat pieces only. I wash all of the pieces of material, preferably on a sunny day, and hang them out to dry.
The next step is the ripping-tearing-cutting stage and is best done outdoors, as there tends to be a lot of lint. The usual width of a braiding strip is 1 1⁄2 inches. It is very satisfying to rip up a blanket that tears into long strips. If it will not tear, it must be cut. Once the strips are all sorted by color, the ends of the strips are stitched together and wound into color-coded rolls. Now I’m ready to start braiding. I use Braid Aids that attach to each of the three strips employed in a braid. They help to turn in the raw edges of material as I braid the three strands together.
After I have a few feet of braid completed, I start to coil the braid into the finished shape. My grandmother stitched each braided round to the next with carpet thread, hiding her stitches between the folds of the braids. I use a special lacing thread that can be spliced to make one continuous thread throughout the rug.
The rug I recently completed represents an outlay of only $12 for material. It measures 6-by-7 feet. A well-braided rug is an heirloom and will utilize many pounds of wool that would otherwise go to the landfill.
You can find Braid Aids and lacing thread online, or check with your local craft or fabric store.