I was in a large department store recently and saw a huge display of rag rugs – in coordinated colors throughout. They were tightly woven and machine stitched into place, perfect row after perfect row. They were pretty, yes. But there was not a real rag in the whole place.
I can hear you laughing. Of course there were no rags! No one makes rugs out of rags! Rags are for the trash; you buy real cloth to make rugs.
That’s where authentic rugs came from, right? I mean, no one would ever have made rugs from rags…
The fact of the matter is that real rag rugs, including braided, hooked, crocheted, knitted, or woven were made from rags. Real rags: worn-out clothing and household linens. Things we often throw into the garbage.
Anyway, rag rugs, believe it or not, can be made from rags. If you have a rag bag or basket, start there, or sort through clothes you’ve put aside for charity or the trash. Look for colors you want in a rug and sort according to weight.
Match types of fabric as much as possible (if you mix shrinkable wool with polyester, how will you wash it?). Cut or tear strips about 1″ wide from a medium material, a little wider for lightweight and a little narrower for heavy material. To make a long strip to knit, crochet or braid a rug, sew the ends of individual strips together. To make a perfectly joined piece, put the ends of two strips at right angles to each other. Sew a straight seam from the upper left corner to the lower right corner so that you will have a triangle to trim when finished.
Roll your strip into a ball and knit or crochet a square or rectangle from it. You can make several pieces and sew them together. Let your imagination flow according to what you have on hand.
Making a Woven Rag Rug
The tools for making a woven rug are simple. You need a loom of sorts, scissors, needle and thread. You can use a fancy loom and a shuttle, but you don’t really need it because you can make a loom easily.
The material is usually wood, anywhere from 1″ wide and up. You can, however, make a frame from heavy plastic if you have it. Or use an existing frame – like a sturdy picture frame. Cut a broomstick in equal or unequal lengths and nail them into a rectangle. Saw out the center of an old table… Whatever you come up with, remember two things: The inside dimensions will determine the size of your rug and a lightweight frame won’t hold up to a large rug.
“Warp” is the heavy duty string or yarn through which rag strips will be woven. You can buy warp, or you can use something else if you have anything handy. Remember that your rug will only be as good as your warp, so don’t use anything that will disintegrate after a few washings.
Remember that if you use wool yarn that will shrink, you won’t be able to wash the rug in hot water. Nylon is a good choice, but it doesn’t like bleach. Cotton will withstand hot water and bleach, but, depending on the quality, may not hold up to repeated washings. Make your choice depending on how you intend to use the rug.
You’ll need something to hold the warp onto the frame while you work with it. Those plain, black, big headed and cheap cut tacks will do fine. You can use nails if you prefer or already have them.
- To begin, place tacks at 1/2″ intervals all around the frame, excluding the corners. Tie a warp thread at the upper right corner, and bring it under the tack at the lower right corner. Go from here back up the next tack to the left of the upper right one, then bring it back down to the corresponding tack. Continue this way the full length of the frame and your loom is completed.
- Gather the rags and cut or tear them as above. You’ll need strips about four inches longer than you want your rug to be.
- Weave the strips of material through the warp, alternating “over and under” with each strip. Leave a uniform “tail” at each end of the loom.
- Push the strips firmly against each other and fill the loom completely, then remove the warp thread carefully.
- Sew a running stitch over the end, leaving a couple of inches for a sort of fringe, if you like. You can trim this close to the stitched end if you prefer, but not too close.
There are other rag rugs – braided, hooked, patched and variations of these. The Rag Rugs Tour from the Rugmaker’s Homestead website explains the different types. Lehman’s carries two books that explain hooked and braided methods.
There’s a lot to be said for making good quality things by hand and a lot more to be said for saving a bundle of money doing it. You can do both when you make rag rugs, no matter what the method. While it may be nice to stop at the store and pick up a throw rug for the front door, the sense of satisfaction and pride of doing a job well (and reusing valuable materials) is missing.
Why not bring some of that back to your life, save money and the landfill at the same time? You can’t beat that combination.