Historically, braided rugs are uniquely American, dating back to the early waves of settlers on the "New Continent" across the pond. Winters were(and still are!) cold and harsh and industrialization had not yet occurred, so these new inhabitants had to make due with what they could produce on their own. Scraps from worn-out woolen clothing and blankets were re-purposed, cut into strips and braided into rugs, which provided good insulation on the cold floors.
Because these rugs were both beautiful and practical, the settlers used them in their homes, their churches and public buildings – anywhere that could use some warmth and color. They also bartered rugs with the Wampanoag and other Indian tribes for tools and other goods. These rugs were hand sewn by women and were found throughout the colonies as a preferred rug choice in the homes of the working and middle class. With the Industrial Revolution and the advent of large looms other types of rugs eventually came into fashion, but braided rugs remain popular because they are still attractive and warm.
Wool is warm and naturally repels water because of the lanolin the sheep produce, and even when damp, wool will still hold warmth. Dust mites dislike wool, and sparks from fire will most often smoulder and die when they land on wool. Wool is also mildew and stain resistant. It’s an excellent fabric for many purposes.
My Trade is sewing, and over the years I have accumulated many scraps and even bolts of fabric. Whilst cleaning out my fabric inventory it occurred to me that I have a lot of lovely wool in harmonious colors just calling out to be combined. I decided to challenge myself to re-create a wool cloth braided rug. Growing up as a little girl in New England, I spent many hours sitting on my Nana Bea's braided rugs, some of which were passed down to my mother, which I have fond memories of playing upon with my Fisher Price people. I thought it would be lovely to create an heirloom that I and others could enjoy, and then pass on to my offspring.
Read on to learn how I created my first braided rug...
Step 1: Cut Wool Into Strips, Fold and Roll.
I used a T-square, rotary cutter and cutting mat to create long wool strips 2.5" wide.
I used 8 colors that I thought would work well together. These colors should be found in the draperies and furnishings of the room the rug will be in. A certain combination of light, dark, neutral and bright colors, will make for a visually balanced rug.
Most of my wool fabrics were of the same weight, one that was thinner I cut a 1/4" wider. Ideally, you want all your strips to be of the same weight/hand.
To prepare your strips for braiding, fold edges toward the center then roll into coils. Pin to hold in place. These keep your strands short to prevent them from tangling with each other while braiding
Step 2: T Start
1. Attach two colors together by laying one over the other at a right angle and sewing on the diagonal, similar to when you are creating bias strips. This reduces the bulk when folded. Trim away seam allowance and refold. Fold in half, creating a strip of 4 layers of cloth. Place third color up into fold to the left or right of this seam so as to not create a bulge.
2. Sew this assembly together, locking everything in. I pre-pinned my folds so that I could just unpin and focus on braiding, rather than uncoiling, folding over, and then braiding. You can uncoil 2 strands a lot and leave the third a manageable length so as not to get tangled while braiding/plaiting.
3. Start braiding! There are two ways to braid: one is similar to the way you braid hair, bending the outside strands in, overlapping the center strand; and another way (actually referred to as plaiting), which is flipping the strands over, and overlapping the center strand. Plaiting produces a flatter edge and different effect on the other side. This is the method I used. You can hook the beginning of the braid over the finial of a chair, safety pin it to a couch or weigh it down with a heavy object.
4. The fourth photo shows the reverse side of the braid with the plaiting method.
5. The last photo shows an addition strip sewn on to continue the color. Trim the seam allowance to reduce bulk.
Step 3: Lacing Braids Together to Create the Rug
My Nana Bea used this cast iron iron, to hold down her braid while she worked on it, so I asked my Mom if she'd give up her door stop for a month or two while I made the rug. I think there are 5 or more coats of paint on it. : ) Lovely piece of history!
1. You'll need carpet thread, which is very thick and strong, and a blunt needle/yarn needle.
2. In creating an oval rug, the length of your center braid will determine the overall size of the rug. I made mine 19" , and when I stopped the dimensions were 40" x 54.5". The general formula is the length of the center braid should be the difference between the length and width of the finished rug plus one third to one half because it widens faster than it lengthens. For example a rug 4 feet by 6 feet needs a center braid from 32 to 36 inches long.
Lacing is a method of rug sewing that allows to rug to be reversible, with no thread showing on either side. This is achieved by feeding the needle through the alternating braid loops.
3. This photo shows a few inches laced, with no thread being visible.
4. Progression of rug, with color changes. Change colors only one a time for continuity, and never add more than one strip at the same spot or a bulge will form. Keeping the rug weighted on a flat surface will assist in sewing the rug flat. As you round corners lacing is not as exact and feeding the needle halfway through a loop will maintain proper balance so the rug doesn't cup.
Step 4: Progress Photos of Rug
I found having a flat-bottomed pin cushion at hand indispensable while braiding. Generally, I would braid a yard or two, then lace that into the rug. I created many combinations of braids using the eight colors. I felt this would help to tie everything together.
Step 5: Finishing the Rug
1. When I was ready to end my rug, I tapered the ends of my strands.
2. I then refolded and pinned.
3. Braided for about a foot, leaving strands uneven
4. Laced last of braid then wove strands within parallel braid, locking in with several stitches.
Step 6: Pillows!
I thought it would be lovely to make quilted pillows edged with braids to complement the rug.
I made a Dresden Plate, a Hexeganal Flower(fit for a Bee!) and a triangular flower which humorously resembles the trefoil, or radiation symbol - accidental but I'll learn to remember it as intentional. ; ).
Step 7: Final Ensemble Plus Historical Photos
I hope this instructable inspires you to make your own rug, or chair pad! The sky is the limit with colors and patterns, even a variety of interesting shapes can be achieved beyond the circle, oval or rectangle. If you have some old wool coats and blankets or even want to purchase new wool, you too can enjoy the craft of authentic wool cloth rug braiding.