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Sewing and Rag Rugs

Handmade rugs that partially cover bare wood or tile floors, whether hooked, needle worked, braided or sewn bring a warm welcome into any room.

Pieced together descriptions from colonial times in the early 1800ís indicate rags were collected, cut into strips that were hand sewn together end to end, wound into balls, then the resultant lengths sometimes woven, or knitted but often braided and stitched into flat coils. Rag rug making was considered a functional domestic craft. Early versions of these small rugs do not survive for modern examination since they were extensively used, sustaining much wear, and eventually disposed of. A basket or bowl of collected scraps of cloth coiled into balls can be seen by a chair or fireplace in many paintings depicting every day domesticity of the times.

Rag rug making is a humble yet satisfying endeavor. The style of a traditional rag rug can be made from leftover fabric scraps, no longer wearable clothing and of course cloth identified as rags. A great way to recycle and repurpose fabric pieces. Worn out clothing can be removed of buttons (saved for the button box), zippers, pockets and seams, torn into strips, sew the strips end to end by hand or machine, choosing the next connecting piece by design, color, or artistic whim. Roll strips into what will become a very large ball. Several balls of torn fabrics can be placed into a basket to await their eventual transformation into a rug.

The strips can be braided and coiled into a circle or oval, temporarily held together with safety pins, then hand sew the coiled strips together. Machine sewing is possible but somewhat awkward. Alternatively, the braids can be stitched as they are coiled so that the rug requires no more attention once the desired end size is reached.

A rag rug can be made of strips of fabric crocheted using a very large crochet hook and a single crochet stitch. Increase the number of stitches with each round so the rug enlarges with each round.

Each rug making venture becomes a mesmerizing assembly and the routine of stitching together the strips with sturdy threads reveals a medley of memories.

"Braiding a Rug," Agnes Millen Richmond, oil on canvas, 30 3/4 x 22 1/2, private collection.

Images of rag balls ready for rug making.

Sew happy, sew inspired.


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