Quiet Friday: Rag Rugs

My grandmother believed in wearing clothing until it wore out; and even then, she would darn thin areas inconspicuously, to make something last longer. So, it made perfect sense for her to turn scraps of dresses into quilts, and anything that was left could go to the lady across town who made rag rugs. Fortunately, I have a few of Grandma’s hand-sewn quilts, and two of those memory-filled rag rugs. As I weave new rag rugs, I think of the stories woven into her old rugs.

My grandmother's quilt and rag rug from old clothes

This old rag rug is made of clothing fabrics that are very similar to those in this quilt my grandmother hand-stitched.

Vintage Rag Rug from Missouri

This old rug is right beside my big loom. I like to imagine that the green denim in this rug was my grandfather’s worn out overalls he wore on the farm.

Detail of vintage rag rug

Close-up view shows the interesting pattern in the rug.

Rosepath Rag Rug on the Loom

Rag rug on the loom, with the distinctive Swedish rosepath motif right at the breast beam. (Click picture to enlarge)

Rosepath Rag Rugs, Karen Isenhower

In contrast to the muted tones of my grandmother’s rugs, the new cotton fabrics I used in these rosepath rag rugs are colorful and bright.

Double-Faced Rag Rug

Double-faced rag rug. Flip the rug over for a different look. (Click picture to enlarge)

Twill rag rug on the loom

Twill rag rug in the making.

Blue Twill Rag Rug

Sturdy rug, perfect for the entry hall. This is our “Welcome to our home” rug.

Diamond Twill Rag Rug

The treadling pattern in this diamond twill rag rug took full concentration. I did a fair amount of “unweaving” and do-it-over’s with this rug. Perhaps someday a grandchild of mine will put this rug in a special place and wonder about the stories woven into it.

May you find something old and something new; ponder stories of the past and make new stories yourself.

Happy weaving,

Karen 

 

18 Comments

  • Fran says:

    Lovely rugs, Karen! What type of loom do you use?? (Just curious!) Fran

    • Karen says:

      Hi, Fran,
      Thank you for the compliment!

      I wove these rugs on my 47″ (120cm) Glimakra Standard countermarch loom. I wish I knew what kind of loom was used to weave my grandmother’s rugs (the first three pictures).

      • Fran says:

        Yes, all very nice, I didn’t know I liked rosepath rugs til now.
        I will have a go.
        I just have a counterbalance, but I think it can handle it. Fran

      • Anonymous says:

        The first weaving I saw was an elderly lady “Aunt Sally”. She wove on a barn loom. I bet that is what the lady used to weave your grandmothers rugs. Aunt Sally lived to be 106 and wove some on the day she died.

        • Karen says:

          I would love to have met “Aunt Sally.” I expect you are right, my grandmother’s friend was probably someone just like that with an old barn loom. Oh, I’d love to be an elderly someone who is said to have woven on her loom the day she died.

          Thank you,
          Karen

  • Elisabeth Munkvold says:

    Beautiful rag rugs and quilt! I grew up with rag rugs and I love the concept of reusing materials. Maybe we need to keep our clothes until they wear out.

    What intrigues me the most is that despite the limited selection of materials they had access to, the result is so powerful. To me this is such a strong reminder that what may seem worthless and weak contributes to beauty and strength in a bigger picture.

    • Karen says:

      Great insight, Elizabeth! I agree, the limited selection of materials certainly didn’t limit the beauty of design, which was also entirely functional.

  • heather says:

    sounds like our grandmothers were cut out of the same cloth 🙂 in the 1970’s (when i was little) she would take me (and all her saved up strips of cloth wound into balls like yarn) to the “rug lady” down the street.the rug lady was my first exposure to weaving. she would let me climb up to the loom and explain how the rugs were made. i still have a quilt my grandma pieced out of all of my childhood pajamas. im sure all of the scraps went to the rug lady 🙂

    • Karen says:

      Oh how fun to hear your story, Heather! Yes, it does sound like our grandmothers had some similarities! That’s cool that the “rug lady” took time to show you what she was doing. Thanks for sharing!

  • Claudia says:

    Karen,
    What is your usual sett for your rag rugs? And when you lay two pieces together, do you fold one inside the other? I have always sewn my pieces together but is makes the process so much longer. I’d love to skip that step. You have a wonderful eye for color.

  • Karen says:

    Claudia,

    My sett for rag rugs is 8 ends per inch.
    I cut the ends of my fabric strips into tapered ends – about 2-3-inch taper. I overlap the tapered ends in the shed. Because the ends have a long, narrow taper, there is no need to fold one inside the other. Overlapping the tapered ends makes a sturdy, almost invisible join, with no bump or bulge in the weaving.

    • Colleen says:

      Hi Karen,
      I wish I lived close enough to take lessons from you. Your skills and your beliefs would be such a pleasure to absorb.
      I am still looking for a floor loom and a band loom (the new ones, in addition to more money, do not appear as sturdy). In the meantime I am learning.
      How wide do you cut your cloth strips? I would think fabric weight would be a factor, but still how do you decided?

      • Karen says:

        Hi Colleen,
        If you are ever near Houston, let me know. I’d love to spend time together. That would be delightful!

        The Glimakra countermarch floor looms that are new are just as sturdy as the old ones. I have a new one and an old one. There is a slight change in the band loom, though. The older ones, like mine, have metal ratchets. I’ve been told that the new ones work just as well, though. But you are right, the new looms are more expensive. I bought my big loom new because I wanted to make sure I wasn’t inheriting anyone else’s problems.

        I normally cut my fabric strips about 3/4-inch wide, except for the ones I use in the hem, where I cut them about 1/4-1/3-inch wide. I have found that the weight of the fabric doesn’t really make that much difference in the final outcome, as long as the differences are distributed fairly evenly as you go. To simplify, I cut all my fabric strips the same width.

        Great questions!
        Happy weaving,
        Karen

        • Colleen says:

          Hi Again Karen,
          Sorry to take your time from weaving, but I really appreciate your advice!
          Thank you for the invite! I think I need to actually get to weaving so I can have a better understanding of what I’m being taught.
          Thank you also for the loom evaluation. I had not thought of inheriting other’s problems! Glimakras must be enjoyable looms as I don’t see many used ones listed.
          And, thank you for the cutting information. One thing I forgot to ask is how do you know you have enough cloth for a rug?

          • Karen says:

            Ask away. I’m happy to answer questions.
            No need to be concerned about a second hand loom if it’s a Swedish loom, like Glimakra. There’s not much that can go wrong with it. I didn’t know that, though, when I started, and I wanted to make sure I was learning on a good “instrument.”

            How much fabric for a rug? Good question. Haha. I’m still trying to figure that out. My method is guess and hope it’s enough. Usually, that has worked for me. I need to get better at record keeping for my rug materials. I do buy new 100% cotton fabric in 5-yard lengths – I like weaving with long strips because it’s much more efficient than using short strips. I find bargain fabric on clearance at fabric stores or at Walmart. I’m at the point where I have a small collection of fabric in different colors to choose from, and I just add to it little by little as needed.

            I hope that helps!

            Karen

  • Colleen says:

    Yes, thank you, it was very helpful. It made think though of how some fabric stores take inventory and wonder if it could help you. They have the figure for the weight of a yard of any given type of fabric and then they wander around the store with a scales and weigh the bolts. You could weigh some of your fabric to see how consistent the weights are for a given length and then weigh a finished rug. You would need to do the weight calculation for the warp too. Not hard and once you have the calculations for a couple of rugs you would only have to spot check or factor in the weight for a different type of fabric. I know there are weaving variables, but I think you could come close. Then “someday” when you get everything measured and weighed before you start you could double check your calculations. Just an idea 🙂

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