What Rag Rugs Should Be

My goal for every rag rug I weave is to make a pleasant footpath that lasts through many, many seasons of wear. What makes an exceptional rag rug? Quality of workmanship and design. Tightly-packed weft, snug selvedges, and high quality materials produce a strong rug. And, great design includes an interplay of weave structure, color, detail elements, and functionality.

Tightly-packed weft in a double binding rag rug.

Tightly-packed weft in a double binding rag rug gives no hint of the opposite colors that show on the reverse side.

Double binding rag rug on the loom.

Double binding uses a two-block threading that determines where color changes can occur in the weft pattern.

Double binding rag rug being woven with two ski shuttles.

Two ski shuttles are used for weaving the two layers of a double binding rag rug. Consistent tight selvedges contribute to a long-lasting rug.

Strength is like a quality handcrafted rug that handles daily foot traffic. And joy is like the artist’s design, the colorful pattern, that is woven into the rug. Strength and joy go hand in hand. We see this in creation. And in our Creator, who gives of himself to those who come near. Be refreshed with strength and joy.

May you be refreshed.

With you,
Karen

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Tools Day: Ski Shuttles

Patterned rag rugs always use at least two shuttles. I often have four or five filled ski shuttles at the loom. A low profile ski shuttle is an excellent choice for weaving patterned rag rugs. Why?

  1. It fits pleasantly in the hand.
  2. It holds a large amount of fabric weft without being bulky.
  3. The wide base glides smoothly across the warp.
  4. The low profile fits easily through the narrower shed of a tight warp that is common for rug weaving. (Beware of ski shuttles that are taller, and may not fit as easily through a tight shed.)
  5. It is slender enough to send it out of the shed to go over or under outer warp ends, when needed.
Basket of ski shuttles ready for the next rag rug!

Basket of ski shuttles that are ready for the next rosepath rag rug!

My ski shuttles are made by Glimåkra, except for the beautiful cherry wood ski shuttle my husband made for me.

Hand crafted cherry wood ski shuttle, and rosepath rag rug just off the loom.

Newly completed rosepath rag rug is ready to be hemmed. Cherry wood ski shuttle is hand crafted by Steve Isenhower.

 

Ski Shuttle Dimensions (Glimåkra Single Ski)
Height: 1 1/4″ (3 cm)
Width: 2″ (5 cm)
Length: 19 1/2″ (50 cm) and 25″ (64 cm)

Why I like low profile ski shuttles for weaving rag rugs.

Weaving width determines which ski shuttle length to use. The shorter shuttle works with any weaving width. The longer shuttle works only for wider weaving widths (30″ or more) and for spaces with plenty of clearance at the sides of the loom. The low profile of the shuttles is seen in relation to the height of the reed in the beater.

 

How to Wind a Ski Shuttle

1 — Hold ski shuttle vertically. Start with one tapered end of the fabric strip coming across the top of the ski shuttle. Hold the tapered end with your thumb while you start winding the fabric strip onto the shuttle with your other hand.

How to wind a ski shuttle.

 

2 — Continue wrapping the fabric strip around the length of the shuttle, straightening the fabric as you go.

How to wind a ski shuttle for rag rugs.

 

3 — Finish winding when you have a tail of fabric remaining.

How to wind a ski shuttle.

May your shuttles be a good fit for your hands.

Happy Weaving,
Karen

8 Comments

  • Pam says:

    What a beautiful cherry wood shuttle your husband made. Giving a hand made gift is giving a part of yourself. What a loving gift. Cherry wood is a very hard wood. Perfect choice for a shuttle’s smooth durable surface.
    How wide is the fabric weft?I love the colors you selected for this rug.
    Great pictures. Very informative. Thanks, Karen

    • Karen says:

      Hi Pam,

      The cherry wood has a nice feel, too. I like holding it in my hands.

      The fabric for the rosepath rug is cut 3/4″ wide. The batik fabric for the double binding rug is lightweight, so I am cutting it a little wider, about 7/8″ wide.

      All the best,
      Karen

  • Denise says:

    I really appreciate your tips, Karen. Are you weaving with a single strip of fabric as opposed to two strips? If so, why?

    • Karen says:

      Hi Denise,

      My first response is — it’s easier. 😉
      Weaving with a single weft strip does make a lighter rug, but I don’t necessarily see that as a disadvantage. I use doubled weft fabric strips if I want to do some color gradation in the rug, but otherwise, I like the simplicity of weaving with one fabric strip on the shuttle. Weaving with two fabric strips on the shuttle can be tricky if the fabric strips are not exactly the same length. However, I have been thinking of doubling the weft for the rosepath pattern picks on the next rug to accentuate a raised look for the pattern…

      The double binding rug is two layers thick, so using one weft strip on each shuttle makes sense to me.

      Thanks for asking,
      Karen

  • Debbie Moyes says:

    Your rugs are gorgeous and whatever the draft is, makes the rug look so sophisticated! And it looks fun to weave. I don’t really understand what a double binding rag rug is and what the threading is….

    • Karen says:

      Hi Debbie,

      Double binding is very fun to weave. There are two layers being woven at one time. First, throw a pick for one layer, and then throw a pick for the other layer. It feels like magic every time you beat the two layers together.

      I listed some resources for double binding in my response to Maggie in the comments at the end of My Favorite Thing to Weave, if you are interested.

      All the best,
      Karen

      • Debbie Moyes says:

        Thank you! I just ordered The Big Book of Rugs (sounds like a children’s Golden book title!) and am looking forward to figuring out what you are doing.

        • Karen says:

          Debbie, in The Big Book of Weaving (I think that’s the book you mean), this 8-shaft rug (p.144) is called “Rag Rug x 2.” The book doesn’t mention the words “double binding,” but calls it “weft enhanced plain weave.”
          The other example of double binding in the book is “Checked Fabric,” p.96, and they call the weave technique “Reinforced weft weave structure,” but it is actually a simplified double binding structure. You can use that draft to weave rag rugs if you adjust it to 8 epi and use fabric strips 3/4″ wide. Arrange the two blocks as you please. I have done many rag rugs with this draft.

          Have fun!
          Karen

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How to Begin a Rag Rug

It is not enough to be pretty; a good rag rug must also be sturdy. Four crucial steps give a rag rug the solid foundation it needs to get off to a great start, and to be ready for the strong beat required to make a rug that lasts.

How to Begin a Rag Rug

1 Space

  • leave enough warp to tie and finish ends after the rug is cut from the loom

Assuming there is a sample at the beginning of the warp, leave space after the sample. Leave about 4″ (10 cm) of empty warp. Then, using two warping slats, place one slat in each plain weave shed. The slats act as a spacer, and as a firm backstop for beating in the waste rags. (Leave about 8″ / 20 cm of space between each rug, from header to header.)

How to begin a rag rug. Four crucial steps.

Empty warp is followed by a pair of warping slats, scrap weft, warp yarn header, and beginning of hem. Measurements are marked on twill tape for reference while weaving.

2 Waste rags

  • a place to attach the temple
  • prevent the header from unraveling when the rug is cut from the loom

Weave with scrap fabric strips, 1 – 2″ (2.5 – 5 cm) wide, for 2″ (5 cm). Attach the temple as soon as possible.

3 Header

  • secures the rug weft
  • gives the rug a firm edge

Use warp yarn to weave a 3/8″ (1 cm) weft-faced header. Arrange the weft in small arcs across the width of the shed. Treadle the next shed and beat in the weft.

Weaving header for rag rug. How to.

With temple in place, the header is woven with 12/6 cotton, the warp yarn. Forming small waves in the weft places more weft in the shed, which helps prevent draw-in.

4 Hem

  • thinner rag weave, to be turned under and stitched

Cut fabric into narrow strips, 1/4″ (.5 cm) wide. Weave hem to desired length, with enough to fold under itself for finishing.

–Repeat the four steps in reverse order at the end of the rug.–

How to begin a good, sturdy rag rug!

Ready for the body of the rug! A good, strong beat will not disturb this layered foundation.

It takes courage to live by faith. Courage is the backbone against which life circumstances can push. Faith is knowing God has a higher purpose for the circumstances we find ourselves in. A rag rug with this firm starting point will not only look good, but be ready for a purpose. And so will we.

May you live courageously.

With faith,
Karen

13 Comments

  • Gerda says:

    This is a very timely post for me. My rotary cutter arrives on Tuesday and I am planning my very first rag rug. I finally have a Toika Liisa up and running so can undertake to weave something that requires heavy beating. Do you add any weights to your beater to get more sturdy rugs? Thanks so much for taking the time to explain, photograph and film. Your posts are a great read and so much more than just showing your achievement. Much appreciated! Looking forward to seeing your rug finished (and mine started)!

    • Karen says:

      Hi Gerda,

      I’m excited for you and your new adventure with rag rugs! I do not add weights to my beater. I can get a very strong beat with my overslung beater, because of the natural momentum in the swinging beater.
      My practice is: 1. place the weft 2. beat in that open shed 3. change sheds 4. beat twice
      After a while, you get a pretty good rhythm with that sequence. Though, with rag rugs it’s never “fast,” but that’s okay with me. 🙂

      Very happy weaving!
      Karen

  • Susan says:

    Thanks so much for the post. May I ask what end per inch are you using?

    • Karen says:

      Hi Susan,

      The sett for this project is 8 ends per inch. I am using an 8 dent reed, with 1 end per heddle and 1 end per dent. (Except for selvedges, which are 2 ends per heddle/ 2 ends per dent/ 2 times each side.)

      Karen

  • Ruth says:

    Thank you for sharing your techniques for weaving rag rugs and increasing my knowledge and excitement for weaving rugs. I had not thought of using narrower rags for the hem – I’ve always used coordinating yarn. Your rag technique will be used on my next rug. I am looking forward to seeing your finished project along with any tips you have for finishing your hems. Several people I weave with use glue and/or another adhesive to secure the warp ends in addition to the knots they tie before the hem is sewn down. I’m curious to learn of your techniques. Blessings!

  • Tobie says:

    This post is so timely.
    I don’t seem to get sturdy enough weaving. I do not know if my weft is too thin or I am not beating hard enough. I weave on a Macomber which is a heavy loom.
    I’ve been using t-shirts for weft and now have some old sheets to dye and cut. How wide are your strips?

    • Karen says:

      Hi Tobie,

      I’m glad this post came at a good time for you!
      I cut my strips 3/4″ wide unless the fabric is very lightweight, in which case I cut them a little bit wider. I use only pre-washed cotton fabric. I’ve never used t-shirts or knit fabric for rugs, so I can’t tell you anything about that.

      Several factors contribute to a solid, sturdy rug. Here are a few that come to mind:
      –Tight warp – I don’t know how much you can tighten the warp on your Macomber, but I keep the warp very tight on my Glimakra.
      –Find the sett that works for your weft and your loom. My usual sett is 8 epi. If the weft is not packing in tight, you might try 6 epi.
      –Strong beat. I beat once with an open shed, then change sheds and beat twice. Some people add weight to the beater. I haven’t needed added weight with my overslung beater.
      –Make sure your selvedges are tight. Loose selvedges will weaken the entire rug. I twist the weft twice and pull it tight around the outer selvedge.
      –Use a temple. This helps with the beat and with getting tight selvedges.

      Hope that helps,
      Karen

  • Kathy says:

    This is wonderful information! Thank you! I just got an older Kessenich loom, which is pretty heavy and solid, and I’d like to try a rag rug soon. Are you using plain weave for the rug? When you twist the weft twice, do you turn the ski shuttle around itself, too? Also, do you iron the fabric strips in half? Or do you iron both long edges to the center? If you iron both to the center, do you fold it in half so they are on the inside? Thank you so much! Kathy

    • Karen says:

      Hi Kathy, Great questions!
      Many of my rag rugs are patterned weaves, like rosepath, which includes plain weave for the hem and between the pattern picks.
      When I twist the weft, I do not turn the ski shuttle around. By holding the other end of the weft taut I can easily straighten the fabric strip in the shed.
      I do not iron or fold the fabric strips at all. I cut them 3/4″ and lay them in the shed as is.

      Happy rag rug weaving!

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Three on the Loom Bench

My son accepted my invitation to “try a little bit of weaving” while he was here for a recent visit. After a few instructions, Daniel was weaving the double binding rag rug like a pro. When his two little ones find him at the loom, they climb up to sit by him. They want to get a closer look. The children don’t understand what Daddy is doing, but they love being with him and watching him.

Double binding rag rug on the Glimakra Standard. Karen Isenhower

Three different cotton batik fabrics make up the body of the rug.

Learning to weave a rag rug. Glimakra Standard

Daniel tries his hand at weaving a double binding rag rug. He learns how to use two ski shuttles, turn the weft at the selvedge, step on four treadles in sequence, and move the temple. Whew, it’s a lot to remember!

Three on the loom bench. The children want to see what daddy is doing.

Up on the loom bench with their Daddy.

As children naturally love to be right next to their loving Daddy, so it is for us with our heavenly Father. Praise is the heart’s song. Praise to the Lord rises from the core of our being as we consider who he is and what he has done. There’s no better place to be than right by our Father’s side.

May your heart sing.

With wonder,
Karen

6 Comments

  • Oh this is so precious! Brings back my memories of having my little guys sit on my loom bench with me. They loved playing with my boat shuttles as if they were cars! Thanks for bringing back a sweet memory today. Sharing our love of fiber with our family and now little grand babies is a treasure isn’t it! Have a beautiful week creating more fiber yumminess!

    • Karen says:

      Donna,
      My kids saw me weaving on rigid heddle and inkle looms when they were small, but I didn’t have my first floor loom until they were long gone from home. It’s fun to introduce them, as adults, to this weaving process.

      Happy weaving,
      Karen

  • Fran says:

    This rug is going to be one of your most attractive, I am thinking. Yes, weaving gets challenging!

  • Pam says:

    Beautiful family, beautiful weaving. I come from a family of makers. Many is the time my Dad would make me holly-hock dolls or willow whistles. I would watch in fascination. Grandpa was a cabinet maker, my Grandmas and my my Mom seamstress, and all fresh from the garden canning experts. They hunted for game, mushrooms, nuts. I know where the Dutchman britches grow. My ex-husband called us hunter gatherers. These skills and many more have been passed down to younger generations. Everything we do has a little secret to tell us. What a wonderful legacy to give to our children and our children’s children.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Pam,

      Oh, you have such wonderful family stories to pass down! A family of makers passes down more than the treasured things they make. “Everything we do has a little secret to tell us.” –Yes, this is a gift that continues after the maker is gone.
      You have helped me feel very thankful today as I reminisce about my own rich heritage.

      Blessings to you,
      Karen

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My Favorite Thing to Weave

Double binding on one and rosepath on the other. Both looms are weaving rag rugs. Detailed plans, multiple shuttles, fancy footwork. Piles of cotton fabric, and miles of cut fabric strips. I know what to expect when all these elements combine, but it still fascinates me to see the “roses” bloom on the rosepath and the two layers synchronize in the double binding!

Rosepath rag rug on the Glimakra Ideal loom. Karen Isenhower

Blue and pink “roses” emerge as the result of a planned treadling sequence.

Piles of fabric for making patterned rag rugs.

Piles of fabric on the cutting table. A picture of rag rugs being imagined.

Rosepath has demanding requirements–for threading, treadling, shuttle shuffling, and selvedges. Double binding on eight shafts has its own challenges–which shuttle goes first? But when I am at the loom weaving rag rugs I feel like singing. All of the efforts seem like bonuses to me. Everything comes together in a wonderful fashion. There, perched on my loom bench, I am doing what I love to do!

Double binding rag rug on the Glimakra Standard loom, with 8 shafts, 6 treadles.

Double binding rag rug has two layers woven at the same time. The bottom side of the weaving has reversed colors, with the blue batik fabric on the side borders, and the green and red batik fabric in the center panel.

Wisdom is closer than we think. It’s within reach. Hidden for us, not from us, our heavenly Father offers this gift and challenge called wisdom. The delight of rosepath only happens through the threading and treadling demands. Within the challenge of two-shuttle weaving lies the secret to double binding’s appeal. The thoughtful, truth-seeking approach to life may feel like work. But it’s those very efforts that bring us to the delight and surprise of wisdom’s jewels.

May you find roses blooming on your path.

Happy Weaving,
Karen

6 Comments

  • Donna Wynn says:

    I am so enjoying your blog posts. Your love and enthusiasm for weaving comes through in every word and photo. I am so glad we connected on Instagram and that I found you. You inspire me to be a better weaver my friend!
    Donna Wynn
    (Yogiknitgirl)

  • Hi Karen
    i’m not familiar with double binding. can you point me to more information about it.
    thanks
    maggie

    • Karen says:

      Hi Maggie,

      Here are a few resources that say something about double binding:

      The Big Book of Weaving, by Laila Lundell (this has the draft for the 8-shaft double binding rug that I have on the loom now)
      Happy Weaving from Vävmagasinet
      Swedish Rag Rugs 35 New Designs from Vävmagasinet
      A Rug Weaver’s Source Book from Interweave Press
      Rag Rug Handbook by Janet Meany and Paula Pfaff

      There are other Swedish and Scandinavian weaving books that include good examples of double binding rag rugs. Many of those books are not easy to come by.

      Karen

  • Angie says:

    Thanks for the inspiration, always makes makes me happy to read your writings

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