Although it is simple to create a functional rug with purchased fabrics, it can be more resourceful and economical, and even more rewarding, if done with recycled materials.
Recycling worn clothing and other home fabrics may seem like a no-brainer, but in fact there are a few considerations to keep in mind.
Just as proper preparation and storage of your canned goods ensures a larder stuffed with what you need, organizing and caring for your recycled textiles means they will still be useful when you are ready to make something new. Choose your fabrics carefully, and store them properly, and you will be more successful in creating the final project according to your design.
Recycling and Storing Fabric
As clothing and other soft goods are worn out, stained, or otherwise taken out of commission in your household, you will need to establish a system for your recycling. Wash the garment, being certain it as is free of oils and odors as possible, and allow it to fully dry.
Remove all buttons and other closures and save them — sorted by type in a button box is best. If you know you will not use a portion of the fabric, such as an embellishment, cut it off and discard it or save it in a sewing box for another purpose. Store the fabrics in mothproofed containers, such as a cedar chest, or plastic containers with tight fitting lids lined with cedar balls or lavender sachets.
Store fabrics by type, thus making it easier to see if you have enough cloth for a specific project. Woven fabrics are characterized by threads that overlap in perpendicular lines, and are generally sturdier fabrics with little stretch. Knit fabrics have threads which interlock in loops, and are usually used in stretchy garments like T-shirts, jogging pants or sweaters. Of the two, woven fabrics will have the most applications in reuse, but knit fabrics can be used separately and are still worth preserving. Never mix woven and knit fabrics in rugs, as one has stretch and the other does not, and your rug will buckle and not lie flat.
Read the original garment label to find the fiber composition of the fabric. Plant fibers like cotton, linen, hemp and bamboo are absorptive and can be hardwearing for rugs, especially in heavier woven fabrics like denim and canvas. Wool and mohair are part of a class of fiber known as animal fibers that also includes silk, alpaca, angora and cashmere.
Animal fibers each have their strengths, but wool reigns supreme for warmth and durability in rugs; the trouble is, wool clothing will wear out infrequently so you may have to wait a while. Synthetic fibers like acrylic and polyester are fine for outdoor use, although a small amount of synthetic fiber in a blend can add durability indoors, too.
One other thing to consider while storing fabrics is your ultimate design for the project. You may need a red rug, for example; in this case, sort your fabrics by type first and then by color, so you’ll know when you have enough of the color you need. Sentimental value is a way to sort, as well, as you can make a treasured heirloom from fabrics that hold special memories.
Preparing Fabric for Use
When you have enough fabric, spend several evenings preparing balls of fabric strips for the rug. Remove all seams and edges from the fabric, and cut strips about two inches wide, using the first strip you cut as a cutting guide. Cut strips along the grain of the fabric. Knitted fabrics will begin to unravel immediately after cutting, and will stretch a lot more in use, so you may want to cut them an inch or two wider. Fold each strip in thirds lengthwise, and sew it end to end with the last strip on a 45-degree angle, trimming off excess after sewing. For a more rustic look, you can knot strips together; however, this creates more waste and more bumps in your rug. As you attach new strips, roll a ball to store for your rug-making evenings.
Making rag balls is an excellent family activity; everyone old enough to operate scissors and needle can take part. It’s a great opportunity to spend time together and tell stories about the work that was done in the clothes, or the people that slept under the blankets, and to remind one another how you are working together to preserve your resources and add comfort and beauty into a room. Soon you will be ready to begin braiding or weaving the rug, and enjoying something not only made by you, but also saved by you—and you are sure to feel satisfied with each step!
You can brighten your home, economize on heating, and increase comfort almost immeasurably by some well-placed braided rugs, and believe it or not — even a beginner can make them! Rug braiding is a time-honored skill for a reason; more than just a creative tradition from our forebears, it is a practical and simple way to improve your surroundings with no cost but time.
We’ll start with a small rug, suitable for a space beside your favorite chair, or to solve a problem area such as near an entranceway or by the kitchen sink. The rug will measure 2×3 feet oval when complete. When your zeal for rug braiding takes hold, and your skill increases, you can make larger rugs: 6×9 or even 9×12 feet.
Once you have gathered fabric and prepared strips in rag balls measuring at least three pounds, you are ready to start braiding. (Read previous Off The Grid News story on this step here.) Don’t make the individual balls too big; you will need at least three balls in each color you want to use for the rug, so the long strips can be braided together. The purpose of rolling them into balls is only to make them more manageable.
Design your Rug
Give some thought to design. Even a first project will be more than a utility item, as rugs are a prominent item in interior décor. Bright, vibrant colors and high-contrast patterning will draw the eye toward the rug, while muted colors will allow the rug to fade into the background in favor of other furnishings.
Choose fabrics in colors that will coexist peacefully with those of the flooring, larger furniture, and walls, but do not shy away from making your rug a statement piece. A brightly colored floor covering can bring almost as much warmth into a room as the hearth it’s near. Lastly, you’ll be braiding from the inside of the rug out, so if you want to create a spiral or pattern of rings, you can choose your colors accordingly and easily create a very handsome effect.
Choose three strips of fabric to begin the central braid of your rug. Sew together the ends in a T-junction, with the fabric strip that comprises the center bar of the T inside the other two, and the right strip inside the left, so that only one fabric strip has exposed ends. Begin braiding in the usual manner, with the outside strip being moved to the middle and alternating left and right, until your central braid measures the desired length. To know how long to make your central braid, subtract the desired width of the rug from its desired length; for our 2×3 foot rug the central braid length will be 1 foot.
You have a choice when turning the first three or four corners. You can continue braiding normally, sewing the braid into place, or you can make braided corners for a flatter rug. If you want to make braided corners, you will need to braid the fabric strip that will be on the inside of the corner into the middle twice, instead of alternating as in usual braiding. After the first few corners, you can braid as usual.
When you have a central braid of desired length and have turned the first corner, you are going to continue braiding, following the outer edge of the central braid around in a spiral. As you complete each consecutive half-loop, use rug yarn and a large needle to stitch it in place by sewing around the outside loop of the inside braid and the inside loop of the outside braid. Do not sew too tightly or you will cause buckling in your rug; a medium, even tension is fine. It is much easier to sew as you go than to leave all the sewing to the last — plus, you will be finished more quickly!
Finishing the Rug
Once you have braided the rug to the desired width, you can sew the ends of the strips tucked into the underside of the braid. For a more finished look, wrap the last braid with bias tape and sew in place. Wash and dry your rug as you plan to for daily use, and consider adding a non-slip pad for beneath the rug.
Pour yourself a mug of coffee, grab a book, sit in a chair, and enjoy a warm feel on your feet and a sense of satisfaction: You made your first braided rug! (It won’t be long before you’ll see more spots on the floor that need a little something …)