Thursday, August 30, 2007

Rag Rug

I made a rag rug out of all my old maternity dresses and the dresses my mum adapted for me so I could breastfeed wearing them (you wouldn't believe how breastfeeding limits your clothing options). I feel I should be able to say something meaningful about the symbolism of that, but I can't. Perhaps it's as simple as this - they weren't any use anymore so I made them into something else instead. This is how I did it.

  1. Cut each dress into one long continuous strip. Each strip should be roughly two inches wide, but for heaven's sake, don't measure it - just do it by eye. You might be able to cut all the way around the dress in a long spiral, like peeling an orange. Or you might have to cut in a sort of zig-zag, as in the diagram. When you get to tricky bits like sleeves etc., use your own ingenuity. If you don't have any ingenuity, just buy a damn rug instead. Then roll the strips into balls. This step takes hours and hours. Making rag rugs is not a quick project by any means.

  2. If you are a neat freak, you can press your strips so all the ragged edges are hidden. You do this by folding the two raw edges to the centre, then folding in half so the raw edges are enclosed, then press. But I don't mind a raggy look - it is a rag rug after all. If you do press them, this stage will also take hours and hours.

  3. Take three strips and stitch them together at the top. Then fasten them to something like a chair and start braiding the strips. When you run out of one colour, or you want to change colour because you're going out of your mind with boredom and you're desperate to break the monotony, sew the new strip to the end of the old strip and continue. Roll the braid up into a ball until you have enough to start stitching the rug. Guess what? This stage takes hours and hours.

  4. Coil the braid into a spiral and sew it together with the toughest thread you can find, such as upholstery thread. Work on a flat surface such as a large table or your rug won't lie flat (we didn't do this and had to "block" the finished rug with steam and then stitch it to a hessian backing - if you work on a flat surface these stages will not be necessary). If you have a friend or a sister to work with, one of you can braid whilst the other coils. Funnily enough both stages seem to progress at approximately the same rate. Needless to say, this stage takes hours and hours.

I can't remember exactly when Steph and I started the maternity dress rag rug, but it was about two years ago. We've worked on it in fits and starts, sometimes quite intensively but often putting it away for months on end. I don't know how many hours we spent on it altogether, but it's a lot. This is no weekend project, it's much longer than that, but the end results are worth it.

It's finished now and is on the floor of my bedroom. It looks lovely, and is warm on my feet when I get out of bed. It's also full of memories - memories of my pregnancies, memories of breastfeeding the babies, and memories of working on the rug together with Steph. To me it's better than the finest Persian carpet could ever be.


Bill of Ballaugh said...

Absolutely bowled over by your rag rug. Not only beautiful and practical but full of memories for you too. And Becky looks so charming and innocent, doesn't she? How does she do it?

Steph in Roker said...

I loved helping with the rag rug. It was great sitting with it on my knee, stitching it up, heavy and warm in the winter. It did take a long time, but it was fun to do together because we could swap roles (cutting, plaiting, sewing, making pots of tea) when we got bored.
It was also fun cutting up those horrible maternity dresses you used to wear!!!!!

Joanna said...

I've always loved rag rugs, but never thought about making one. The ones I've got are all oblong, and - now that I've had a close look - made on some kind of loom, clearly a simple loom, because they're all very small.

I am filled with admiration for you finishing such a time consuming project - the easy part is starting! Well done


Mildew said...

That's amazing! You've reminded me of a patchwork quilt my Nan made. Well she made most of it, but Ma, myself and my sisters helped out and all the fabric used were old dresses of ours. Like your rug it took years to make, but the results are more than worth it. Then some bugger stole it when they burgled Nan's house.

But I love your rug, it's just brilliant. I may have to do something similar, but maybe start off with coasters or somethng..

Lesley said...

Gosh! that brings back memories!
Towards the end of the war, and a bit after it ended, my Mum (with my help) made a big rag rug, well it was really more of a carpet, of clothes that had more than had their day
We used it for yonks and it was really cosy and full of memories.

To use your old maternity thing was a brainwave... they'd be useless to recycle as anything else after all, but will still keep the happy Mumsy memories alive. Good thinking!

melanie said...

What a great idea - I have about 4 or 5 metres of this green tie-dyed fabric that just doesn't look good as anything - but would probably look great all torn up and turned into a rug. Thanks for the inspiration, I've been holding on to it hoping something could be done with it.

*melanie from

donna said...

love the rag rug! the ones I've made are the sort where you poke strips of rag through hessian- that also takes hours and hours!!!!might have a go at this technique though, i've definitely got plenty of fabric in my stash. thanks for including the instructions.

Linz said...

Oh, how lovely! I was thinking you were going to give instructions for a proggy rug, since Mum's family called those rag rugs too, and it took me a moment to work out what was going on with the huge ball of material!

Hedgewizard said...

That's fabulous, and would be a great project for us. Lost in admiration!

Marci said...

What a great idea. I had a friend who scoured the thrift stores finding sheets. She made a rag rug. It took her forever too, but then it was room size and she uses it. It is such a big deal and her kids all fight over who will get it, that she said she will use it for her funeral shroud. =)

Susan said...

Wow really nice collection of Kids Rugs...

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