If there is one project that fully epitomizes the idea of Earth month in the Fiber Art space – it’s the rag rug. The rag rug is simply a rug that is made from fabric scraps. They are usually colorful and eclectic and great for use pretty much anywhere! They are also often the first project that a lot of weavers take up.
History Lesson: Did you know that rag rugs used to be a sign of great prosperity? In Sweden back in the 18th century when all fabric was hand-woven, even scraps were invaluable. It was mostly unheard of for people to WALK on them. This meant that only the wealthy had rugs made from scraps of fabric! ¹
We need more fiber art history.
While there are different types of rags rugs – notably ones that are crocheted and some that are braided in the round. The woven rag rug is usually woven flat as simple plain weave with a strong neutral warp.
For our last post of Earth Month – I decided it would be fun to give the rag rug a little update! So I have compiled 5 variations on the tradition rag rug that you can weave up and walk on in no time!
Last week we took some old t-shirts and made them into yarn. Now we are putting those yarn balls to work to create a simple, but beautiful piece of functional artwork.
I wove up a couple rag rug samples to share with you! I considered making full rugs – but I didn’t need them and we’re being sustainable, right?
Cotton rug warp (possibly assorted colors)
T-shirt yarn or other fabric scrap strips
Loom (floor or frame!)
Let’s look at our options!
If you are unaware of overshot – it’s a type of pattern that is characterized by decorative weft floats. These floats are often woven in multiples which requires plain weave between each pick in order to stabilize the fabric. The floats are woven with a thicker yarn than the plain weave so that the pattern is distinctive and the plain weave disappears where it sits between the pattern.
Taking the idea of overshot and applying it to a rag rug makes perfect sense! You can have an elegant geometric rug with the rags used as the thicker float yarns! This will also give you some fun texture under your feet!
Make sure you choose a warp yarn that you like, because you will be using that same yarn for your plain weave weft.
This variation is easiest to do on a floor loom so that the loom can do most of the hard work creating the pattern. If you don’t have a floor loom, it can also be done on a frame loom – it just requires YOU to do the hard work!
If you need help reading your weaving draft – check out THIS blog post! It also has a link to my favorite pattern book with a lot of overshot patterns to choose from. You can also find lots of great overshot patterns on PINTEREST (don’t forget to follow me!) I have a board dedicated to weaving drafts so check it out.
The color block rag rug is easy to do on a frame loom because you can weave up 1 color at a time. I recommend at least an 18” x 24” frame or you will have a lot of sewing up to do at the end. If you weave 4 panels on this size frame you will end up with a rug that is either around 24″ x 36″ or 18″ x 48 – depending on if you join them in a “square” or in a line. The larger you want your rag rug to be – the more panels you will need to weave!
I highly recommend using your EPI mini-loom to help you plan out your rug (Not sure what that is or how to make one? Check out THIS blog post.) With fabric strips not being a regulated size – you will want to sample out your materials first to make sure that they weave up the way you want them to.
Weave up an even number of panels in 2 different colors to create a checkerboard.
Use different shades of the same color.
Use a multiple of 3 panels to create a primary color rag rug for a kids room.
Since you are weaving your rug in panels – you also have the option of using different colored warp for each panel. You can use one that either matches or is the opposite of the fabric you are using depending on the outcome you want.
Just don’t go out and buy a bunch of yarn that you will never use again… that sort of defeats our sustainable goals.
When it is time to attach your panels together – the best way to do it will be hand sewing an invisible stitch (also called a ladder, hidden, or slip stitch) with a thin yarn that won’t add a lot of bulk to your weaving.
If you have a floor loom, your color block rag rug will be even easier! You will just weave up your rag yarn into large blocks of color – without having to sew it up later.
Rya is often used for rugs – just not usually rag rugs. Your tradition pile rug is made with rya or a similar pile method that is then cut short.
Then there’s always the shag rug.
Everyone loves a shag rug!
Rya is great for using up smaller pieces or mixing together some interesting color combinations. This one can be done on a floor or frame loom. You can create patterns, stripes, or shapes with your rya or just choose your fabric scraps at random and have a fun color mashup!
Don’t forget to always start and end your rya weaving with plain weave as well as using rows of plain weave between your rya to create a foundation for your rug. This will make it sturdier and more stable.
I imagine this would be a fun idea for your bath mat since it will be fun under your bare feet.
Who says you need yarn at all?
Well we all need yarn, but when it comes to your rag rug – you can make one with only fabric!
If you are using a frame loom you can use fabric strips as your warp. The fabric will be too large to be threaded through your heddles on a floor loom, so this is a frame only project.
Also, just like the color block idea above: you will probably have to weave this project in panels that are sewed up later.
Depending on the length of your fabric strips you may be able to warp your frame for 2 selvedge or you might have to tie each warp to the frame individually. Either way, if you use more than one color for your warp you can make fun balanced weave color patterns like houndstooth or plaid!
Houndstooth is generally woven by warping your loom with 2 different colored warps. You will warp 2 of 1 color then 2 of the other color and repeat. Your weft is the same pattern – 2 of 1 color and 2 of the other color.
You could even use the panels to your advantage and create color blocked pattern rugs. Each panel would use different colors that all look good together!
The possibilities are endless.
Side note on the weaving that is show in the photo below:
I made this piece out of only t-shirt yarn. This can be a really cool material for your rag rug – but it is VERY stretchy and will very easily pull in your selvedges even if you are careful. If you choose to go this route then do some samples to be able to account for the shrinkage that will occur once you let off the tension.
Well, this is the end of Earth Month here on Warped Fibers!
Just, please don’t let that stop you from creating a more sustainable fiber studio year round.
Did you have a favorite Earth Month post? Let me know in the comments and don’t forget to share!
¹ “Story of the Swedish Rag Rug.” Rugs Of Sweden – Vintage Rag Rugs, www.rugsofsweden.com/story-of-a-rug/.
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