Friday, 2 March 2012

Rag Rugs - How to... Part 1

(please note: I learnt this technique through research therefore I make no claim to be the inventor or even an authority, I'm just an enthusiast) 

I refer to them as rag rugs but they're also known as toothbrush rugs (additionally there are other rag rug  forms and other tutorials available if you hunt them out), its a technique I've been using a lot lately (not least because I'm in the midst of making an 8ft wide one, but I've also done workshops teaching it and I've found it suitable for both children and adults alike.

 There are three especial reasons why I think making rag rugs is awesome:
1 - because its so versatile, you can make basket type containers, coasters and all sorts of interesting fabric things using this technique, as well as great looking rugs (as the name suggests).
2 - once you've got your head round it, the half hitch knot used to create them is so simple you can just sit and do - much like knitting and crochet its great for repetitive creation that feels really satisfying when completed.
And 3 - its sustainable: scraps of fabric, up-cycling, clearing out wardrobes of old clothes ... all that we're really starting to embrace in the creative world applies to this technique.

But enough of my rambling, lets get on with how its actually done...

If you want to print off any of this tutorial for reference do it, 'cos starting off can be a little tricky to get your head round (but when it clicks: look out forgotten t-shirts your days are numbered), plus feel free to question me using comments or email or even better show me some of what you've created using this technique, I'd love to see them.

Before You Start: 

Gather some fabric - colour, texture and type are up to you but personally I find it easier to avoid really stretchy fabrics unless they're being used on there own ( I like to have a real wacky mix so I tend to be wary of anything with more give than jersey)

Cut your fabric into strips, roughly an inch wide and a manageable length (as a rule of thumb I avoid lengths longer than my arm span, it takes less effort to pull through as your working that way), fold the end of each strip back on itself and cut a small slit-like hole - do this at each end of the strips - this is part of the method used to join fabric strips together (see below section on joining)

(TIP - you don't need to cut all the strips at once, especially if your not sure how big you want the finished product to be, its quite alright to cut a few at time as you need them) 

You will also need to make (or purchase) a tool, which will act a bit like a needle. To make mine I cut a piece of thick wire (floristry wire normally) to a length of about  20cm, then bend it to have a big loop at one end and a small loop at the other, with tape (pvc, duct tape etc) around the middle, ensuring the sharp ends are covered. 
 I've seen other rag rug makers use coat hangers or even a sharpened toothbrush with a hole drilled into it to make their tools (hence the term toothbrush rugs) 

Joining Fabric Strips:

Step 1 - push one end of the new strip through the slit (hole) in the strip you want to join on to.

Step 2 - take the bottom end of the strip you just used and push it through the top end (like a snake biting its tail)
Step 3 - pull on the end you’ve just threaded through, the loop should get smaller... 

 keep pulling until its a tight little knot

And thats all it takes to join fabric strips together, you'll need to join fabric strips as each run out.

Attaching to tool:
This is the easiest way to attach your fabric to the tool, which enables you to push through tight stitches, its particularly useful since if you reverse the below steps you can detach the strip without losing the slit in the end - meaning you can add the the next fabric strip with the method above, re-attach to the tool and carry on rag rug making for as long as you like! ( the alternative is to tie lots of knots)

- First put the end of the strip through the large loop of wire

- Next put the small loop through the slit in the fabric strip

- Then pull the short piece (the bit above the slit) down to the bottom of the large loop

To undo gently pull the short piece back up and over the top of the tool.
Coming up in Part 2 - 
Next this tutorial will demonstrate how to start off a rag rug,  carry it on (the half hitch knot) and finish it off. I'll also add tips on expanding, some variations/ experiments to try and pictures of things I've done using this technique...

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