Saturday, 18 September 2010

rag rugs, a new craft

I try to get along to my local "craft and chat" every Wednesday, and we got back together again after the summer break a couple of weeks ago.

I set off with my longstitch embroidery in hand, but it didn't get taken out of its bag!  No, it was thrust aside because one of the girls had taken along some squares of hessian and some rags.  Yes, you heard it right, some rags.

Specifically, she had boiled, yes, boiled, up some old woollen jumpers that she'd picked up at a charity shop to shrink and matt the fibres, then cut them up into strips about 1" x 4".  She'd done the same with old cotton t-shirts.

Some of the hessian was stretched on frames, but I remember making these rag rugs with my mother when I was very small, and we didn't use frames.  I'd been thinking about these rag rugs recently, which is why my embroidery stayed in my bag, and I was happy to join in the experimenting with the rug-making.

Here you can see on the left some of the rags, then the scissors with which to poke the rags through the hessian, and on the right is the reverse of some of the rags already prodded through.
This is the "right" side, the pile of the rug, lovely and thick, and colourful in a muted way - most of the sweaters she'd been able to obtain were mens, so the colours reflect that!
To make the rug, you poke one end of a rag strip into a hole in the hessian with either a pencil, crochet hook, or, in my case, the blunt ends of the scissors.  The other end of the strip is poked up just two or three threads away.  The next rag strip is pushed into the same hole as the first one emerged from, so that for the whole of the rug, except the edge rows, each hole is shared by two strips of rag, as I hope you can see with the red and green in the close up above, and of the reverse, below.
It's not a fantastically neat piece of work, but you get the idea.

If you try it for yourself, I'd suggest washing the hessian before you begin, otherwise you'll end up like me, covered in coarse beige scratchy fibres!!!!  Whe I was young I seem to remember the hessian originally being old potato sacks, which I'm sure my mother washed before we used it.

It certainly brought back memories for me.  Apparently, way back in the mists of time, when peg rugs were first around, they started out as bed coverings.  They would have been very heavy and warm.  When a new one was completed, the original moved down to the floor at the side of the bed.  It moved from there to the kitchen, and from thence to become a fireside rug at the end of its day, fit only to catch the embers from the fires as they tumbled out.

Fascinating stuff, history:-)


  1. Hi Christine, This looks very cool. I love how you take food/home arts from history and make them today.

  2. What any interesting project. Thank you so much for sharing it. What you are calling hessian looks like burlap to me. Do you know if they are the same thing?


  3. what a neat craft! i've never seen this kind of rug, but it looks like it would be so cozy and soft to rest your feet on! love all the different colors, too :)

  4. Ali, yes, burlap is hessian - it's been around for years used for sacking and meal bags. It's really coarsely woven, and rough to the touch, but when it's washed it softens down a little, and doesn't shed its hairs as much when you use it.

    Sara, I remember having one of these rugs at the side of my bed so that I didn't have to stand on the cold linoleum floor in our unheated house - well, I am exaggerating, there was one fire in the living room, nowhere else!! It was cozy underfoot:-)

    Malia, I think it's really interesting to revive interest in old crafts - they served a purpose in their time, and often can do so again - and it's such fun to rediscover them:-)

  5. Hi! I found you, googling for rag rugging using hessian backing. I don't like the hard plastic backing cos they're rough on wood floors. I like your ideas-what fabrics to use, especially since they're recycled! What tool do you use to push/pull the fabric through the hessian?

    Hope you have a lovely day!

  6. Hi Stefferoni, thanks for dropping by:)
    I like the hessian, it gives more fluidity to the rug, too, that plastic grid is hard and unnatural, these rugs were designed to use what was availble at the time, and I think it's nicer to stick with that feel.

    You can buy "proper" tools for poking the rags through, but I just used the scissors in the photo, they're about 5" long. You could also use a crochet hook, or, if you have a knitting machine, an old needle would be good for finer rags.

    Hope you enjoy yourself, good luck with it :)


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