You can create a sturdy rug at almost no cost by using worn-out items that would otherwise go to an over-loaded landfill.
Besides being easy and economical to make, a braided rag rug is almost indestructible. I still use rugs which I made 30 years ago. I’ve only had to make minor repairs when the string I used to lace them had worn through.
To begin, gather the materials. Faded curtains and worn out sheets have good fabric along the edges. Backs of pantlegs and bottoms of skirts are good resources. Check your scrap bag. You can use pieces left over from sewing projects.
When you have a good pile of rags, cut the strips. Wide strips will make a thicker rug but the braids are harder to handle. I like to use four-inch strips. I try to organize colors before I sew and roll the strips. I use a dark color at the center of the rug and try to use a similar color again further along in the project. As the rug gets larger, I need longer strips of each color in order for the braid to go all the way around the growing rug.
Bright green, blue or red usually retain their color, pastels usually fade to a non-descript tan or gray. Bands of black or dark colors, such as blue denim, define the shape of the rug and enhance the brighter colors. A strip of print with two plain strips of the same color makes a satisfactory braid.
After I’ve cut several strips, I cut ends diagonally so the seam will not make such a big lump in the braid. I sew these ends on the sewing machine, then roll the strips. (Later, as I need to add to the strips while braiding, I sew the ends with a darning needle and #8 thread.)
When I have several rolls of fabric strips, I start the braid. Some people press in the raw edges, but I have learned to hold the strip so that I can fold in the edges as I braid.
To begin making the rug, fold in edges of three strips and sew their ends together.
To braid: Bring the strip from the right side across the center strip and under the left strip, catching it between the index and ring fingers of the left hand. With thumb and forefinger of the right hand, grab what was the left strip, draw it over the left, and under the center strip, catching it between forefinger and index finger. Use the thumb to push the center strip into the left hand. Catch that strip between the fingers of the left hand while pushing the left strip over the center strip and under the strip in the right hand.
When you have a braid two or three feet long, start lacing the rug. Use strong cord for lacing-not fishing line-which would cut through your fabric. I had my grandmother’s rug-lacing tool which was a flat piece of metal, about three inches long, rounded at the ends, with a hole at one end. I misplaced the tool and haven’t been able to find another. I use a needle which I bought to sew yarn projects; it has a blunt tip and large eye.
For a round rug, start a tight spiral and sew the end with strong thread, I use #8 thread to tack the ends.
To start an oval rug, fold back about 10 inches of the braid and start lacing at the fold, working back to the end. Bring the braid around and lace along the other side.
To lace: Push your “needle” into the loop of the inside braid, then pull the string through, and push the “needle” through a loop on the outer braid. You are not sewing, but lacing, just like lacing shoes. Continue to lace back and forth around the perimeter.
For an oval rug, ease the rounded ends to keep the rug flat. For a round rug, ease at intervals around the rug.
When I come to the end of a strip, I sew on another strip and continue to braid. I work on my lap until the rug becomes too large to handle, then I lay it on the floor and sit beside it or on it to continue lacing.
I alternate braiding and lacing. When I have about three or four feet of braid, I lace that onto the rug. This allows me to see how my colors are working and when I have done enough to make a strip all the way around, then I may attach a different color to continue the braid.
When I’ve used all my materials, or the rug is large enough, I tack the end of the braid, using a darning needle with heavy-duty thread. To make a nicer finish, I trim the last few inches of the strips so they make a narrower braid that lays nicely along the side of the finished rug.