Friday, 24 April 2015

The Ultimate Recycling

Rag Rug Making

Not so very many years ago most floor coverings were made by hand. Not a scrap of fabric was wasted or thrown out and most textiles were eventually cut up and incorporated into a rug of some kind. I read somewhere that the reason there are so few early rag rugs left to see is because as the rugs wore out they were moved through the house, eventually being used as a dog bed before ending their days on the compost heap.

Various techniques for creating these rugs developed in different regions and in different countries but the basic idea of looping, sewing or poking lengths of textile through a backing fabric remains the same. Very often rug making was a group or family activity, the youngest being tasked with cutting up the textiles and the older family members pegging the rug, sometimes a person on each corner. Before burlap or hessian was widely available the rugs were often made using a flour or potato sack as backing.

As the availability of machine-made carpeting increased these hand-made rugs tended to become more decorative and artistic. Sometimes they were used in places of high wear or in front of a fireplace to protect the expensive carpet.

More recently, and especially as recycling has once again risen higher on our agenda, the creation of rag rugs has become a very appropriate and popular craft and art form. Be warned though, when you start making rag rugs it becomes impossible to walk past a charity shop ever again just in case there might be a fantastic item lurking inside which is just the one you're looking for to cut up and create with.

There are many ways to make rag rugs including prodding, hooking, progging and braiding, and although I have experimented with most of these techniques to create Christmas garlands (Click here for tutorial video) and flower brooches among other things I hadn't, until recently, actually made a rug. Then I was very kindly given some lovely bright and colourful fleece remnants which lent themselves beautifully to this project and so that is how my first rag rug came into being.

Fleece fabric remnants and wooden tools

These are the prodders that I used to work the rug. The one with the rounded handle is available commercially, while the other one is made from a piece of dowel that we had lying around at home. In years gone by people often used home-made prodding tools. One of the most common being half a wooden clothes peg sharpened to a point.

I have found that people have different opinions on whether or not rag rugs should be backed or lined. Mostly it appears that prodded rugs were not backed for the practical reason that the dirt would fall through them and not get trapped within the rug. There are several different methods for hemming and/or backing rugs using fabric or hessian.

To make my rug I began with a piece of hessian that measured approximately 25 x 21 inches and drew a border 3 inches inside the outside edge. This is the back of the rug because you peg or prod your rug from the back. (Any design or border you want to put on your work should also be drawn onto the hessian at this point). I then folded and ironed the 3 inch hem onto the right side and stitched it in place. This stops the rug from fraying and gives a very neat finish with no need to hem or bind your work later. It means that you will be pegging through two or more layers of hessian at the edges and on the corners.

I cut my fleece fabric into strips (or tabs) about 2 inches x ½ inch. If using fabric that is thinner than fleece your strips will probably need to be a little wider than this. 

Reverse of rag rug

Working from left to right I began pegging in the bottom left hand corner by making a hole in the hessian with the prodder and pushing one end of a fleece strip through. I then made a second hole about ½ inch to the right of the first and pushed the other end of the strip through with the prodder. With my left hand underneath the hessian I pulled the ends of the strip until they were roughly equal. 

I next made another hole in the backing fabric ½ inch to the right of the second hole and poked one end of a second fleece strip through. The other end of this strip was prodded through the same hole as the first fleece strip. In this way two pieces of fabric are prodded through each hole in the hessian. This is known as double prodding and makes a very thick, firm rug.

I continued working rows in this way until the whole of the backing fabric was filled. Very often I think the reverse of a rag rug can look just as lovely as the right side.

I used strips of the two different colours of fleece fabric alternately when working along a row, but different combinations would produce a very different end result. It goes without saying that I am already planning my next recycling project otherwise known as rag rugging.


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