Braided Rugs

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My mother had a copy of the Reader’s Digest Complete Guide To Needlework sitting on our living room bookshelf, and when I was young I would sit quietly and pore through its pages imagining all the things I could one day make.

(Oh, yes, weirdness epitomised … )

One of the sections in the book deals with various ways-and-means of rug-making, and I remember that this subject held particular fascination for me. Although I was well-acquainted with the process of hooking a rug (because hello, it was the 70s) I didn’t know that one could make a rug by braiding strips of fabric together:

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Hmmm … yes, but that looks SO time-consuming … and hand-stitching it together? Yikes.

I’ve always loved textiles, a propensity that seems to walk hand-in-hand with my half-Dutch sensibilities. To my eye, rooms are immediately made cosier when hard surfaces are softened by textiles. A kitchen table, for example, looks homier when covered by a cheery tablecloth; a simple linen runner on a sideboard can be transformative; a small rug set before a sink adds colour and comfort. And for me — a person who grew up drooling over a needlework book, a person whose hands were always supposed to be busy — the idea of having handmade textiles … ? Well, that was all the better …

Growing up, I was taught — and dabbled in — nearly every imaginable craft: embroidery, cross-stitch, knitting, crochet, sewing, darning, macramé, rug-hooking … and of course, that other seemingly ubiquitous craft-of-the-70s: spool knitting.

I still own two …

(Does anyone else out there have fond — or otherwise, as will soon be revealed — memories of spool knitting?)

I confess I once-upon-a-time imagined, that like Sister Bear (in the Berenstain Bears Too Much TV) —

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— I could produce a rug of the sort pictured in my mother’s book, not by braiding, but by spool knitting. But sadly, however much staying-power I exhibited for other crafts, spool knitting utterly defeated me.

Excruciatingly slow —

(And here I simply must interrupt this post to say two things. Firstly: Stan and Jan Berenstain — shame on you for perpetuating the spool knitting myth; there is NO WAY IN HELL that Sister Bear could make that kind of progress in one afternoon! And secondly: Sister Bear — I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you are, in all likelihood, on a fool’s errand; your illustrator is clueless, and you will be lucky to emerge from the ordeal with a pot holder.)

— I remember sitting there, spool and stick in hand, wondering if I would EVER see the fruits of my labour emerging from the bottom of the spool. And when — finally! — those first-wrought stitches DID peep out, it was nothing short of a eureka! moment … only to be quickly replaced by the painful realisation that it would likely take YEARS to produce sufficient length in order to make a rug!

(I swear, spool knitting is THE craft to give a child if you want to torture them school them into developing the patience of a saint.)

When I got married, my mother gave me my own copy of the Reader’s Digest Needlework book, and although it’s come in very handy over the years (I used it to re-teach myself knitting, for example, when I was pregnant with our first baby and suddenly craved some tiny-sweater knitting), it’s also sat there, tauntingly, with all those “one day” projects — most notably the braided rugs — whispering quietly to me.

Fast forward to this house, and to the (first-world) problem of finding an area rug of a suitable size/shape/colour/material for my daughter’s newly hardwooded room. I searched high and low* and bought several** (only to return them all) and then suddenly thought, WHY NOT MAKE ONE?

Hand-stitching a braided rug still seemed like a crazy thing-to-do, but thankfully it was no longer the 70s, and I had access to a little thing called the internet.

I ended up using a slightly modified*** version of this tutorial to make this rug for my daughter’s room:

This is a close-up to show you that this rug was MACHINE-STITCHED! It’s quite large — about 4X6 feet — and was made entirely from stashed fabric.

I ended up so in love with both the process and the results that I’ve since made several more. Six altogether, to be exact, although I won’t bore you with photos of all of them:

This one is in the powder room and contains fabric from chairs I (like an idiot) made for my kids when they were very little … and which they didn’t actually enjoy sitting in.

 

This rug was made for my now 18-year-old son. It contains stashed fabric, an old shirt that had belonged to my husband, a threadbare pair of lightweight denim pants, and several bits of leftover fabric that I had used to make clothing for my kids. (Shhh…don’t tell him, but there are teddy bears in that rug…)

 

This one is in our bedroom, made using leftovers from our quilt and duvet.

 

And this is the latest, but not likely the last …

So … I admit I may be slightly obsessed with making these! The reasons these rugs make me happy are severalfold:

  • They’re great for stash-busting — they provide a good use for leftover lengths of fabric as well as fabric bought with Good Intentions or Just Because.
  • They can be made using clothing or linens that are too worn to be donated to charity, and which would otherwise only be useful for rags or would be destined for the landfill.
  • They’re fully customizable with regards to shape and size.
  • They provide a means of incorporating sentimental textile items back into daily use.
  • They’re useful, providing warmth and cosiness to a room.
  • They’re a (mostly) mindless project, which means they make one feel productive and less guilt-ridden about Netflix binges.
  • They come along surprisingly fast (take THAT, spool knitting!).

*Not really; I hate shopping.

**Two equals “several”, right?

***I made my strips of fabric thicker (about 4 cm) as the suggested 2.5 cm (1-inch) width seemed too narrow.

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6 thoughts on “Braided Rugs

  1. Those are GORGEOUS. My favorite might be your sons. Especially since you snuck teddy bears into it. 🙂 I’m also going to have to find myself a copy of that Reader’s Digest Complete Guide…because one can never have enough copies of beautiful craft reference books! So glad to see a post from you too!!

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    1. Thank you, Kate!! The teddy bear fabric was leftover from a jacket I had sewn, one which all three of my kids wore as toddlers, and every.single.time I see my son’s rug — and catch those bits of yellow — my mind’s eye immediately goes to a photo we took when our now 18-year-old son was less than one year old. He’s sitting in a stroller and has a huge smile on his face, and (sentimental fool that I am) his sweet happiness at that moment still just makes my heart sing.

      As much as I have loved that Reader’s Digest book, I do have to admit it’s not perfect — besides being VERY dated at this point (the garments are painfully 1970!) it’s actually let me down on a couple occasions. When I was teaching myself to knit in the round, using double pointed needles, I found the illustration confusing and ended up with the right side of my knitting on the INSIDE of the work. Luckily, the owner of my local yarn store was able to sort me out! And the second failing of the book occurred when I wasn’t able to make sense of how to do the Kitchener stitch for toes of socks. And here, the internet came to the rescue 🙂 .

      Looking forward to seeing a post on your kids’ finished sweaters!!

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  2. I was so excited to see a post from you! I’ve been wondering how you’re doing… (As you can see by how long it took me to discover this, I’m off my old reading habits.)

    I love these rugs. They are gorgeous. I’ve thought about trying to make a braided rug before, but it seemed like too daunting a task. Your eye for color and how to put them together is wonderful. I think what I’d like more is for you to make me a rug. 🙂

    And although I was a child of the 70s also schooled in needle arts, I don’t think I’ve ever heard of spool knitting. Sounds like that wasn’t a bad thing!

    SO good to see what you’re up to.

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    1. It’s so nice to hear from you, Rita! I’ve been thinking of you too …

      Thank you for the very kind compliments on my rugs 🙂 . Incorrigibly encouraging you to “one day” make your own 😉 , I wasn’t stretching the truth when I said they come along surprisingly fast — I can braid at a rate of around 3 yards an hour, and if a small rug takes around 30 yards, then that’s really only ten episodes of Suits before I have to go sit in front of the sewing machine.

      Gasp — how did you manage to escape spool knitting? In my childhood neighbourhood, it seemed as though every.single.girl was handed one and was busily working away at producing … not much of anything …

      (And … I do want to apologise to you, Rita, for not taking part in your reading project. My reading these days has been (of necessity, it seems) pure escapism (with some environmental stuff thrown in because apparently I’m like a climate change ambulance chaser; I seemingly cannot look away), and although that’s honestly all I can manage right now, I do feel that I dropped the ball on this and that I let you down.)

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  3. Oh, please don’t feel that you’ve let me down! I feel I’ve been letting the project down. I’m having a hard time doing the reading myself, and I haven’t done nearly what I hoped in terms of the other parts of the project. Have been drafting a post about that in my head–which is as far as it’s gone. And I haven’t written anything on my blog. I understand the desire for escapism. Completely. It’s a strange, funny (not in a ha-ha way) time we’re living through.

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    1. Thank you for understanding, Rita. Perhaps the spool knitting is the perfect metaphor for what we’re both experiencing — instead of going around and around with stitches, we’re going around and around with words, with nothing much to show for in the end 😦 . And yes, things are becoming quite surreal …

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