Brighten Your Home With Rag Rugs

Rug Making KitsRug making is a venerable craft of humble origins but has a vast and admirable history as a communal, cultural activity with roots in migration and homesteading. Rag rugs in particular use such simple techniques and involve so little expense that anyone who wants to turn old material into an impressive decoration for their home can get into this rewarding hobby.

Rag rugs, as the name suggests, were originally woven from bits of worn out clothing or other odds and ends of material in poorer communities where nobody could really afford to throw anything away. There aren’t many remaining pre-1900 examples as most rugs made this way were used until they literally fell apart – and then normally went on to be re-used again as portions of another rug!

Before the age of central heating when carpeting was a luxury rather than commonplace commodity, rugs were absolutely essential to protect feet from cold and dirt, retain warmth in a building and add a touch of colour to otherwise bare and drab residences. Rug making has often been treated as a communal activity, with women in local communities sitting around the same frame to work while swapping the latest stories and gossip. For these reasons rugs have always had an important cultural importance throughout the world and it is possible to trace migrations, trade and even invasions through the patterns of rug techniques and designs spreading across the globe.

Any fabric which isn’t prone to easy fraying can be used to make a rag rug. Woollen fabrics are often preferred as they tend to be the most hard-wearing. Try local jumble sales, swap meets or the depths of your own wardrobe. Blankets, trousers, tweed jackets, kilts, tablecloths and cotton dresses are all excellent sources of rug making material. Make sure you wash everything first, both for hygiene and to ensure the fabrics are all pre-shrunk. If you want to dye your scraps now is the time to do it. You can even safely combine different textures as long as the fabric weights are roughly the same – too much variation in this can cause warping.

  • Backing – sackcloth and hessian fabric are most commonly used. Remember fine weaves are more difficult to work with so start with a looser weave if you’re a beginner.
  • Equipment – not much needed here as the only necessities are a frame, hook/progger (depending on how you’ll be making your rug) and scissors.
  • Frame – a wooden rectangle used to secure the current working section of the rug to ensure the correct tension and easy access to the backing.
  • Progger – needed to push the fabric through for a proggy rug technique.
  • Hook – required to catch and pull strips through for a hooked rug technique.

Proggy rug making technique is ideal for designs which are more about mixing colours and textures than making pictures. Proggy rugs often have a more shaggy finish which gives them a pleasingly rustic appearance. Generally the fabric needs to be cut into short strips of 2-3 inches long (this can be varied depending how deep you want the rug pile to be). Working from the back side, make a hole with the progger and push the strip halfway through. Make a second hole close by and push the rest of the strip through. Repeat until the backing is covered.

Proggy rugs can be varied in finish by using different types of materials, density of clippings and space between rows. Densely worked rugs with tight rows will have very thick and upstanding piles while lighter working with larger gaps gives a much more ragged look. If using lighter materials like thin cottons it is a good idea to cut into wider clippings to add bulk, otherwise the finished product can look very sparse.

Hooked rugs (or latch hook rugs) are made by hooking strips of material or rug wool 15-18 inches through the backing fabric using a special latchet hook tool. Hooking is worked from the front of the rug. Hold the strip of material beneath it between thumb and forefinger, then pierce the backing with the hook and draw the material back through to the depth of pile desired. Strips need to be guided by hand but must not be held taut as this causes the previous loops to get pulled out. Repeat until the strip is used up and then draw the loose ends through to the front and trim to the same height as the rest of the pile. Generally the pile needs to be close enough to cover the backing, but not too close as this will cause a lumpy and uneven surface.

Rug designs are often marked on the backing fabric in pencil. The amount that can be done at a time depends on the frame size, but generally the portion fixed on the frame needs to be finished before moving to the next section. Most rug makers will put in the design key motifs first and then work through the colour blocks to finish.

You can make a rug any length but width is constrained by the need to reach the centre of the backing easily. To make larger rugs it is common practice to make up panels and then join them together. In order to do this you’ll need to leave an edge of backing at least an inch wide along the joining side. Overlay the two edges and then hook through the double thickness backing to achieve the join.

To finish the rug, turn under and secure the edges of the backing using slipstitch, then cover the edge with a border of around two inches of heavy cotton fabric. Some people like to cover the whole underside of the rug in hessian or heavy cotton but this can attract a lot of dirt so isn’t for everyone.

If you’re looking for inspiration for your home take a look at the rug making sets available to buy online from today.

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