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.
I have many handmade rag rugs – both woven and braided – in my home. My “city friends” always comment on them and I have to tell them you just can’t find these in stores. Most of my rugs were made by my grandmother, who is also our next-door neighbor. (She is the EPITOMY of frugality – someday I’ll write a book about her.) Anyway, I find these rugs wash very well – but just like sweaters, don’t put the wool ones in the dryer!! In between washings, we take them outside and shake them, or a better way to get them shaken out is to use a rug beater. Just hang them over the clothesline and whack away. You’ll be amazed how much dust and dirt comes out.
Thank you for sharing the how to of making a rag rug. I have always wanted to make them. I have seen people use denim and thought that was another great way to put those holey kneed jeans to use. I also like being able to choose the colours that I like and knowing that the materials I choose will last.
I had to giggle a little when I read this because so many people are into “going green” yet throw out so many recyclable items, “rags” being one of them. I remember my mother’s bag of old undershirts. We used them for polishing, dusting, washing floors – just about everything you would need a “rag” for. AND you could wash them. I do not weave though. My gram taught me how to crochet rag rugs when I was quite young using my own outgrown clothes. I have made many over the years and people always comment on what beautiful rugs I have. Several years ago I started to knit rag rugs. They are just as simple to do as crocheted rugs. I’ve never used old jeans. When we farmed, we used jeans for other things – oil rags, rub down rags for newborn sheep, goats, etc., towels for drying off, etc. We used old jeans to ball up trees that we transferred from our farm to our city lot when we retired from farming in 2004. Nothing should go to waste.
The denim rag rugs are one of my favorites – you can just throw them in the wash like a pair of jeans (because they ARE jeans). We do carry a denim rag rug that is made by volunteers at our local thrift store, MCC Connections.* We buy the rugs from them, so part of the proceeds go to a very good cause.
*Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) is a non-profit organization that helps people in need in America and around the world.
Making rugs from rags is one of those things that most people don’t do any more, but “going green” may (hopefully) open the door to more things like that.
And, Sarah, I saw the denim rug in the catalog, but didn’t realize it was made by volunteers for MMC. I think that’s cool.
OK, I spelled “epitome” wrong in my above comment, which was quickly pointed out to me! Sorry…
yarncrazy102 – I have trouble w/my crocheted rugs laying flat. I know you got to add a stitch here and there around the edge BUT is there another secret?
MY Mom made rag rugs for all the kids upstairs bedrooms in our 1800’s farm house, We had a Navy duffel bag that was called “The Rag Bag” ( I wonder why) any way all well worn items that none of us could use or didn’t want went into the rag bag.Now these were good rags not to be confused with tractor grease rags which were of a lower order and not welcome in the Rag Bag. During the winter months Mom would sort through for likely canadates for rag rugs. I wish I would have paid more attention as to her manufacturing process, as I recall it was cutting the strips and sewing them together and then rolling the sewn strips into a ball until she had enough of the raw material to start the rug. The rugs were almost always oval in shape and maybe 4×6 ft. It’s too bad that none of these survived as looking back they were truly works of art and a labor of love.
OHIOUSA: Sorry I’ve taken so long to reply. Adding additional stitches will help to keep the rug from curling but tension is really the key. Your tension just has to be really “loose”. Each round or row has to be checked for tension. I started making knitted rugs several years ago because the material I was using (undershirts and old t-shirts) had different degrees of stretch. Doing horizontal rows on size 15 circular needles evened out the stretch which evened out the tension. Because my fingers are being “blessed” with arthritis, I’m knitting more and more because the movement is different for my finger joints and far less painful. I hope this helps a little.
[…] other kind of homemade rug I typically think of is a woven rag rug. My grandmother has one in her house that I have always loved! If you ever managed to use one of […]
My grand mother, who died in 1969, used to make rag rugs. My grand father, who was a teamster and logger until caterpillers began to be used, then became a full time carpenter made a loom, much as you describe in the article. He used finish nails as that is what he had. Those rugs lasted into the 21st centry. My grand mother, with a 3rd grade education, bought the property I now live on, moved the family with a horse and wagon, probably quit making rugs mid fifties. There were still 10 or 15 boxes of rags which she fully intended to use for rugs. In the mid fifties open a ‘second hand store’ and ran it until 1963 when my grandpa went into the VA hospital and died there. I don’t know what became of the loom as I was 12 then, 70 now. So, thank you for your tutorial. I love all the things I’ve gotten from ‘Lemans’. They round out the other antique tools and things I have from family and yard/estate sales.
I was just trying to read some comments. I got a message on my screen that said I ‘already voted’ for something. I was not aware I was voting for anything. As I said, I was just trying to read the next comment.
please do not post my email address.