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
- 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.
How to Create the Rug
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.
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