By using Grandma's four-strand braid and interlocking method, your handmade, braided rug can require very little sewing!
ILLUSTRATION: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
Here's an attractive, old-fashioned floor cover that barely requires sewing! Handmade braided rugs, braided the way your grandmother did it, can save you money and make your house cozy.
The familiar braided wool rug has certainly stood the test of time, but my grandmother taught me — years ago — how to put together a handmade braided rug, one that eliminates the whole process of sewing the rug together, and gives the rug maker greater control over his or her colors.
Best of all, since my grandmother's rugs are made from inexpensive cotton, synthetic or blended fabric scraps, they don't cost much to make, and they're washable!
To begin, gather a pile of fabric scraps. Cut these scraps and rags — on either the lengthwise or crosswise grain — into the longest strips possible. These bands should be 2 inches wide and (ideally) 3 to 5-feet long (tear the strips — when you can — to save time, and sew short pieces together to get the right lengths).
Next, fold each strip's raw edges into the center, and then refold along the middle of the strips to hide those turned-under edges. If you do have a sewing machine, stitch the folds closed as you go to make a permanent crease. If you don't own a machine, just baste or iron the folds in place.
Sort the strips — by color — into bags or boxes. You don't have to fuss too much over the design, but even a hit-or-miss pattern will look sharper if a particular color (usually a dark one) is saved for the outer border.
Plan Ahead for Your No-Sew, Braided Rug
You'll have to decide how big your rug will be before you start it, because those proportions will tell you how long to make the center braid. As a rule of thumb, the length of that braid can be found by subtracting your planned rug's width from its length. A 2-by-3-foot rug, then, will need 1 foot of center braid, while a 3-by-5-foot rug will require 2 feet (a round rug, as you'll see, only needs a few inches of center braid).
It's best not to be too ambitious, until you get the hang of four-strand braiding. If you want to make a 2-by-3-foot — which is a good size for your first project — you'll have to gather three to four pounds of scraps.
Four-Strand Braid, Grandma's Interlocking Method
To make the center braid, pick three strips of cloth and sew them together at one end. Make sure these are of different lengths, and keep the lengths varied as you sew strips onto those that are braided in. Three stitched connections, if too close together, will produce a weak spot in the rug.
If you can find someone to hold the sewed ends (as you would hair) while you braid the center piece, you'll produce a straighter, more even weave. Make this central "rope" an inch longer than you determined by the length-minus-width formula above, because the end will have to turn back on itself when you begin to work on the next layer of the rug (to start a round rug, just braid 2 or 3 inches, and fold this center braid in half to form a "core").
With your center braid done, sew a fourth cloth strip under the last crossover formed by the original three. This will give you the four strands that you'll need to follow Grandma's "interlocking" method. Then, fasten a safety pin — to use as a "needle" — to the end of each strip.
If you're right-handed, hold the "working" end of the braid in your left hand (or vice versa for southpaws), and fold back that extra inch so that the four strands lie side by side — to the right of the braid — as shown in Illustration A.
Now, imagine that the strips are numbered — one through four — from right to left. Take strip No. 1 and weave it over strip No. 2, under strip No. 3, and over strip No. 4. Then, using the safety pin as a needle, pull strip No. 4 through the adjacent loop of the center braid as shown in Illustration B.
Strip No. 2 (the new "outside" strand) can then be woven over No. 3, under No. 4, over No. 1, and through the next loop of the center braid (see Illustration C).
This process of weaving the outer strip over ... under ... and over the other three, and then through succeeding loops of the center braid, will continue (with some variations ... see below) until the rug is finished (you'll have to, of course, keep sewing new strips to the unbraided ends as you go).
Keep Your Braided Rug Flat
Every time you round a corner, your rug will have a tendency to "pucker." To compensate for this, just braid more than one strip through each center braid loop as you round these turns. For example, on your first row around the ends of the center braid you may have to weave through one loop five or six times. When you next go around the same spot, though, braiding twice through every other loop might be sufficient. It's impossible to give strict rules for this, except that fewer of these "extra" passes through one loop will be necessary as the rug grows. Just work on a level surface — so you can see if the rug stays flat — and braid two strips through the same strip more often if the center starts to pucker. If the edges of the rug begin to look frilly, on the other hand, use fewer of these extra "corner" weaves.
Finally, when your rug is the right size, trim each strip to about an inch long. Weave each of these tips under a loop, and stitch 'em all in place.
That's all there is to it. So why not dig out those boxes of old clothes and scraps of sewing material and recycle them into a beautiful rug, "just like Grandma used to make"?