Braiding fabric pieces cut out from rags (old useless clothes) and then sewing them into rugs was once a necessity – people didn’t have money or access to the different types of rugs available for you and me; they had no choice but to use up the old clothes leftover after countless alterations, mending, recycling, etc. Today rug making is more of a creative endeavor than a necessity. But the beautiful texture of a rag rug and the creative possibility of making interesting patterns can really encourage you to take the time and make these easy-to-make rag rugs.
What do you need to make rag rugs?
To make a braided rag rug you do not need many things – some rags to cut up and some sewing chops. All the sewing tools needed are most probably in your sewing box.
You can tear up long strips from rags (from old clothes including jeans, t-shirts, old bedsheets, old curtains) or cut them carefully with scissors – your choice; Just ensure that all the rags that you are using are of the same (more or less) weight. You can use cotton strips or strips cut from old t-shirts or wool fabric strips. Experts always advice to cut the cotton fabric strips in the bias direction – this gives flexibility when you make the rug. I didn’t. I tore left over fabric from old sewing projects in the lengthwise direction.
If you are using new fabric to make your rag rug, do prewash the fabrics to prevent shrinking after it is made and washed. Cut wool and other heavy-weight fabrics into 1-1/2 inch strips; If you are cutting old jeans cut 1 1/2 inch wide strips not more than that; You can cut Cotton into 2 1/5 to 3 inches wide strips.
If you decide to hand sew, you will need a thick needle or a semi circular needle and Heavy crochet cotton thread/ buttonhole twist thread/linen or cotton cording.
Using the sewing machine to sew the braids together is a much easier way to make these rugs though hand sewing is a better look because you will be sewing on the back and the stitches are not visible on the front.
How to braid the rag-rug
The most common braid is made using 3 strands. Here is a detailed tutorial to make a 3 strand braid. But you do not have to limit yourself to the 3 strands- In fact if there are more strands, thicker and more durable the rug will be. You can even braid 12 strands. A 3 strand braid will give you a round-shaped braid but you can make a wide and flatter braid with more strands.
Related post : How to make a 4 strand braid.
With fabric that frays, you will need to pre-fold the fabric strips so that the frayed edges are not exposed outside. Cut the strips and fold the edges to the inside – like a double folded bias tape. This will prevent the frayed edges from showing outside. With the raw edges hidden inside your braided rug will look way neater. If you have a bias tape maker 3/4 of your job is done otherwise use an iron to fold the fabric by half and then fold the edges to the inside. (You can also fold them as you braid if you do not fancy ironing all those lengths of strips)
Decide on the color scheme. It can be a color riot or you can use light colors for an understated effect. If you want different colors, start with three strips of different colors and start braiding. After the first braid is complete, and you want to change colors, keep one strip the same color as in the previous braid and then braid. This will give a smooth transition of colors which is soothing rather than having a jump to a different color scheme altogether.
When you braid, make sure that you are not pulling it too tight. You have to keep an even tension at all times so that the braids will be flexible as well as not floppy. It should also lie flat and smooth. If your braid is too tight or the braids are stitched without any give, your rag rug may rise at the edges or at the center like fold mountains. Not a good sight. You want a flat rug, not a domed shape.
Start by stitching the top of the three strands together to keep them joined and then start braiding.
As you make the braids you will need to join more fabric. When you have reached almost the end of the a strip, stop and use a safety pin to hold the braids together in place.
Do that some 2-3 inches ahead of the end of the strips.
Then join the next fabric strip. I joined the strips straight across.
Ensure that you are not joining all the strands at the same place – this will create bulk in one area.
When you have braided sufficiently start by coiling the braid into a circle. If you are machine stitching, sew the braids in place as you coil.
Do give some ease when coiling (ie do not coil too tightly).
You can machine stitch the rug by choosing a zig-zag stitch on your machine and butting the braids and running the stitch across them the stitch should catch both the braids.
Change the presser foot on your sewing machine to one of zig-zag stitch, change the setting to a zig-zag stitch and make the stitch widest on your machine.
Butt the braids together and sew on the joint, catching the two braids in your zig-zag stitch.
Hand sewn rag rugs look much better than machine sewn rugs, though they are more work.