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My Mother was born during the Second World War. Her family lived in a pretty typical stone house of the time. A back to back, two up one down with an outside toilet. In a long street of many more houses inhabited by other similar families. The houses had stone floors, and carpets were pretty rare, if not unknown. My Mum told me that the family often spent evenings in front of the fire making a rag rug to put on the cold stone floors. These were made from cut up pieces of worn out old clothes and pieces of sacking.
Making A Rag Rug
I have often wondered how these rag rugs were made. Mum says that my grandfather made a frame for my grandmother to hang the rug from whilst she was making it. And grandad also made my grandmother a hook to pull the rag pieces through.
But a few weeks ago the making of rag rugs was really brought to life for me. We visited East Riddlesden Hall, a local National Trust property in Bradford. East Riddlesden Hall is a 17th-century manor house, which was the former home to a Halifax clothier. In one of the rooms there was a very typical demonstration of tapestry work. Inevitably the ladies of the house would have spent their spare time doing needlework. But there was also a display of rag rugs, and a chance to try it out. So what would I need for making a rag rug?
It sounded like they had done a very similar technique to my grandmother, using cut up old worn-out clothes and sacking as a backing material. The curator watching over the room told me that in the 1700s the material used would have been woven cotton. It frayed easily. On the other hand, knit or jersey fabric doesn’t fray, so would be much more suitable for making rugs in 2018.
This is so relevant to me!
I was immediately captivated by this fact. If you have been reading my blog, you will have already found out that I am a keen sewist, and that I also do work in jersey and other stretch fabrics. You also may have read my series on Lagom, which is a lifestyle that promotes sustainability, recycling and upcycling.
If you have ever sewn, you will probably have ended up with countless small scraps. My scrap bag overfloweth.
But whilst the cotton and woven scraps can often be used to make many things, the jersey scraps that you end up with after cutting out your pattern are often too small to use for anything else. So here we have a possible use for those scraps!
Furthermore, as a parent to a 2 year old I do often have to throw away Elizabeth’s old clothes. She grows out of them quickly, and so I am constantly clearing out. Some I can sell or give to charity, but if they have been to nursery they may have stains or be very faded. Here is a way of reusing these clothes rather than to throw them away. How totally Lagom.
So I was hooked on the idea of making a rag rug of my own.
What you need for making a rag rug.
- Hessian for the backing fabric (I cut quite a small doormat sized piece from mine and hemmed it with a sewing machine, but you could hand hem it or leave it rough, though the edges do fray)
- Some old jersey clothes (T-shirts, leggings, sweatshirts)
- A pair of sharp scissors and a wooden block to make the ‘clips’ of rags all the same length
- Your tool of choice for actually pulling the rag ‘clips’ into the rug. I was surprised to find a range of tools online. These vary from a simple ‘proddy’ or wooden peg, to a latch-hook type tool, right through to a sophisticated rag rug tool with a spring loaded jaw that can pull the rag ‘clip’ through.
- To make the ‘clips’ or rags you need to cut the clothes into inch wide strips of material. This is not an exact science. And then use the wood block to cut the clips to be approximately all the same length.
- I drew a design on my hessian with a marker pen, but you can be as random as you like.
To Do the Traditional ‘Proddy’ Method
- Take the hessian and make a hole with the ‘proddy’
- Then push one end of the clip through the hole with the prod, and pull half the clip through from the other side.
- Then make another hole a few hessian strands away from the first
- Push the second half of the clip through this hole and pull through to the other side!
- Now make a hole a few strands away from the first, and carry on.
To use the Rag Rug Tool
- I found this rag rug tool on eBay. You push the point of the tool into the hessian and back out again, effectively making 2 holes at once.
- Then you squeeze the handles of the tool together to open the jaws of the tool and insert the rag clip into the jaws
- Then pull the clip through the holes created earlier, and you are left with the clip in place.
- Now again all you do is push the rag rug tool through the hessian a few strands away from the first holes, and carry on.
Quite quickly the rug takes shape.
Until you are left with the finished result
I was very pleased with the end result. My mother was absolutely delighted when I showed her the work in progress. I cannot wait to show her the finished piece. Andrew has now asked if I intend to work my way through all major craft making genres. So please do tune in again next Wednesday when I do a masterclass in scrimshaw. (only joking – my next few blogs are going to be about sewing handmade costumes in preparation for Halloween!)
Have you thought about making a rag rug? Do let me know if you have, I’d love to see your makes. Contact me on social media, or I’d love to see your comments below.