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Making and loving rag rugs

I simply love a good rag rug. I love everything about it. I love that it's made of recycled textiles. I love the way the colors play out in its woven texture. I love that it can be filled with memories, looking at the patterns from some childhood piece of cloth can be more powerful than going through a photo album.

I love that when it's finished it will be one of the most durable design features you can have in your home. Some rag rugs will outlive many of us even! It is actually typical in Finland that rag rugs get handed down from one generation to the next; once woven they last lifetimes!

I love that it is sustainable.

I love the fact that it is the result of frugal color innovation; making mismatched sheets and curtains into something new and interesting. Designing with scraps!!

Making a rag rug consists of several work processes from ripping to sewing then ripping some more. Let me talk you through the process, step by step.

The first step is choosing the right textiles for the job. I go through flea markets on a weekly basis, often looking specifically for old linens, table cloths and old curtains. They give the most material to work with, and they also leave the least leftover waste and are the fastest to process into weft.

I sometimes also use clothes like T-shirts and skirts, but because I remove all seams from the textiles before making it into weft, with clothes it is often more work than what it's worth to make the quantities I weave.

Jeans, however are a different story! Denim looks amazing when woven into a rag rug, and it gives a nice thick texture with warmth and depth. Jeans are great for this purpose.

At this point, I might have a design in mind already, a color scheme or thoughts on where the rug will be placed. In the project of this story, I had a color swatch for wall paint to go with.

After I've washed and possibly dyed the textiles I plan to use, I start by ripping all existing seams from them, so that I just have big squares of fabric.

I then sew them back into a cylinder shaped piece with the edges slightly mismatched; I want to have the piece sewn so that I can start ripping the weft from the cylinder-shaped fabric into one long spiral of ready-to-be-used weft.

If the fabric I'm using doesn't rip well, I use scissors to cut it. That is far more tedious though, and I prefer ripping.

The ripping results in some threading of course, but most of it is fairly easy to get rid of later. What is left by the time I get to the weaving process is removed or wears off when the rug is used. In any case, very little material is left over from the entire work process, one more reason to love it!

As a whole, the entire process leaves very little leftover waste from the fabrics.

Now starts the fun part which is mixing and matching the colors, in other words designing the rug.

Here, I need to keep in mind limited editions of recycled colors, which is especially important if I'm making a symmetrical piece. In that case, I usually I split the colors in half according to weight. Here's a close up of the texture, isn't it neat! I usually use two thirds of recycled textile weft and one third of industrial weft (made of recyled fibre, of course) for a better overall look, a design element which I will tell you about in my next post.

As for the warp (the yarn that holds the whole thing together!), its high quality is equally important as the quality of the weft, if not more important even. I always use finnish "Liina" cotton yarn (15/30 tex). It comes in several colors, but the classisist in me thinks it ought to be either black or white. Black brings out colorful weft better, while white can look too wishy-washy.

After the rug is finished, I leave 10-15cm ends of the warp and tie them into knots, or for a more designey rug i make them short and sew the to the back of the rug. (Above they are still unfinished, fresh off the loom).

​When a rug is woven tightly enough, very little of the warp is showing anyway, except at the end knots of course. In fact, it is a good sign of a high quality rag rug when very little of the warp is showing in between the rows of weft.

This particular rug was a rewarding project, a rag rug with decent measurements of 90cmx280cm, and will get a very good home I'm sure. Stay tuned for more adventures in the rag arena!!

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