DIY: Learn how to make a beautiful braided rug from old fabric

Braided rag rug supplies

What You’ll Need:

  • Long strips of fabric (old sheets and curtains are ideal, and far easier to work with than t-shirt scraps sewn together to make them longer)
  • Sewing scissors
  • A ruler
  • Pins
  • Safety pins
  • Sewing needle(s)
  • Thread in a color that’s neutral to the fabrics you’re working with

Braided rag rugs have been around for centuries, and with good cause: they’re an ideal use of upcycled fabric, and they’re so sturdy that they can last a really long time. Since you’ll likely be staring at yours for years to come, it’s important to use colors that you won’t mind staring at for the next few decades. You may be completely enamored by rainbows now, but you might not have the same passion for them down the line, so it may be best to either go with more neutral shades, or at the very least, a monochromatic palette.

You can often find some great deals on cloth at large fabric stores: if they only have a yard or two of a particular fabric left, they’ll often mark it down like crazy, and you can score some beautiful colors at 1/2 to 1/4 their original price. If you’re in love with a particular cloth, but they only have a single yard of it, get it anyway! You can sew the cut strips end-to-end to make one long one, and it’ll add a lovely vibrance to the carpet you’re creating.

Where Will It Go?

While you’re in the planning stages for your rug, think about where you’re going to place it. Its final resting place won’t just determine the colors you’ll want to use, but also its size and shape. If this is going in the kitchen, you might like a rectangular piece that’s just large enough to stand on when you’re at the stove or sink. If it’s for a child’s bedroom, maybe a round or oval shape would be preferable, so it can take up a significant amount of space in the room without interfering with furniture placement.

Image © Author

How to Create the Rug

Step 1:

Take a sharp pair of scissors and cut your fabric into long strips. Try to ensure that they’re of equal width and length, but if there are slight deviations, don’t worry about it. One of the easiest ways to do this is to take a ruler and cut little notches every inch or so along one edge of your fabric. If you have any loose strands fuzzing along the edges of your strips, just cut them away as you come across them. Once you have a nice, big pile of fabric strips, roll them into three equal-sized balls. To make very long, continuous strands, all you have to do is overlap ends and use a needle and thread to sew them together.

Step 2:

Grab an end from each of the three balls, overlap them, and sew them together. Take a safety pin and pin this edge to a couch, curtain, or other sturdy fabric item that you can use to secure it as you work. Keep the wound balls fairly close together (keeping them in a box on the floor seems to work), and braid the strips together, moving backward a bit as you work. As the braid gets longer, you can re-pin it to the base again and again so you don’t have to back out through your house and down the street to get it all done.

*Note: If you’re making a square or rectangular rug, you can just make a bunch of braids that are the same length, so all you have to do is sew them together side-by-side. For oval or circular rugs, you’ll need a very long, continuous braid so you can coil it.

Step 3: Time to Sew!

As mentioned, if you’re putting together a square or rectangle, you can just lay the braids side-by-side, pin them together, and then use a needle and thread to sew them together. For a round or oval rug, coil the end of the braid so it looks like a snail shell, pin that together and sew it to keep it all in place, and then just keep coiling and pinning, and then use that needle and thread to sew all the coils together. Tuck the last bit under the rug to stitch it in place, and you’re done! You now have a gorgeous, sturdy, upcycled rug that’ll keep your hooves warm for years to come.

Lead image © Martin Labar, all other images by the author

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  1. Carley3 February 9, 2015 at 1:00 am

    My rug looks more like a tea cosy. How do I stop it from curling up rather than lying flat? any advice would be appreciated

  2. dbjameson November 1, 2014 at 7:26 pm

    In order to make the woven rug shown in the top picture look up four strand braided rag rugs – I make them using a four strand braid where you loup the fourth strand into the previous row. I also cut a slit in the end of each new fabric strip and just loup them together so there’s no sewing at all – just my scissors and fabric strips (and large safety pins in the ends to make them easier to poke through the previous row).

  3. August 30, 2014 at 4:11 pm

    I want to learn how to breaded rugs so I can help our day care some thing new.

  4. Jennifer Moore August 13, 2014 at 11:58 am

    About to begin a wool rug of my own… More on why wool later!

    Read dozens of book on the subject (Yeah Libraries!)

    Apparently the braiding needs to be done so it looks flat
    and sewn together carefully. No twisty willy nilly cramming/jamming…

    The pictures here are a fantastic starting guide.

    Love the tips about sewing the strips together
    first to start the braid and repinning so we’re not backing
    out of the house across the street to finish. Bahhaha!

    Also the finished looking rugs have their strips turned/folded onto themselves as they are braided to give that finished look.
    No raw edges or threads hanging out all over the place like a birds nest!

    Remember each fabric you choose will behave differently.
    A girlfriend who chochets the most marvellous rugs from chains and sews together – swears by using only synthetic stretch fabric so they doesn’t ravel.

    Wool? There’s a reason LLBean can charge so much for their braided rugs and why you NEVER see them at thrift/consignment shops… They last a freekin age and then some.

    The books I’ve read warn to stay away from old wool (possibly felted) sweaters (easy, cheap)
    Try cutting up a felted sweater… It’s hard work. Wool fabric however (felted/just wash it before hand) behaves well.

    Thankfully I have a small stash of wool fabric already so the cost will be alittle less. That’s why they’re charging so much for the new wool rugs. Quality in/quality out!
    Will attempt to post pics here when I’m done Next week!

  5. kgbooks May 27, 2014 at 10:23 am

    I would also like to know how to make the rug look like the one in the pictures. Seems to be different than merely coiling or lying the strips side by side. While it seems easy enough to figure out to weave the strands, how does one complete the edges? Thanks in advance!

  6. 805Sunshine January 26, 2014 at 3:41 pm

    Hi-I\’ve always wanted to learn how to make the kind of rug shown as the cover and last slide-it\’s woven together, not sewn like in your instructions. Every tutorial I\’ve seen, however, says to sew the rug, and they never look like the braided/woven ones I remember from the 70s. Is that type just a lost art? It seems like maybe the sewing is a shortcut, to make it easier for beginners. Do you know where I could find instructions how to make the big one in the title picture? Thank you in advance.

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