How to Make an Old-Fashioned Rag Rug
“A job worth doing is worth doing well.”
Anna with her friend the monkey.
There’s a woman I know who is a neighbor of ours. She lives across the creek from us and her name is Anna. She is in her 80s and is not in good health. In spite of that, she is still full of pep especially if you mention her favorite topics, which are crocheting rag rugs and quilting. I met her at the local craft fair when we had booths next to each other. She was selling her rag rugs and I was selling my pastel paintings. I didn’t make much money that weekend but I came away with a gorgeous rag rug and a new friend.
Anna is right out of the pages of a Foxfire book. Those are the wonderful books edited by Eliot Wigginton from the 1960s and 70s that were all about preserving the knowledge of a generation of folks whose knowledge and experience with old timey ways might otherwise be lost. By the way, Anna is a Gabrielino-Tongva Native American. Her mother taught her how to make these useful and beautiful rugs from scraps of left over fabric and worn out things. Nothing was wasted.
A beautiful rug that Anna made.
I am so lucky that Anna is such a wonderful person who loves to share her knowledge. I asked her to teach me and she happily agreed. I really didn’t know what I was getting into when I asked her though. I just knew that I wanted to learn and that I was very motivated. I decided to share what she has taught me with you. I think this will give you an idea of how to do it. If you can’t figure out how to do it from our instructions, I would counsel you to find a local crafts person like Anna and see if she is willing to show you first hand. It might seem complicated so I’ll try to simplify the instructions without leaving anything out.
Part One: The Basic Prep
What you need:
Enough 100-percent cotton or cotton blend fabric equivalent to a least 10 yards or more. Fabric can be purchased but you can also scour your closet or local second-hand stores for used bed sheets. I did both. I found fabric on sale that I thought was attractive and I also went to a couple second-hand stores and found more. I also had an old flannel sheet. However, now that I have tried to crochet flannel I would not counsel a beginner to use it. I went ahead and ripped up the sheet and started crocheting with it but found that there’s too much “tooth” on flannel. Flannel kind of sticks to itself and that makes it a bit harder to work with.
So smooth cotton is best. Colored fabric is also best. Darker colored fabric is better and patterns are fine. (See Anna’s example above.) We think a rug made in all light colors and especially white is not practical. This is our prejudice. It’s undoubtedly because we live in the country and dirt reigns supreme. So unless you have unlimited water and like to do laundry we would counsel you to limit the white and light colors that you use.
Speaking of water, it’s always best to wash and dry your fabric before you start.
Scissors to cut with.
A ruler or your fingers so you can measure 1 1/2 inches wide. (I find that two of my fingers are about 1 1/2 inches wide.)
A large crochet hook. Anna likes steel the best. She says steel won’t break like plastic might. I couldn’t find a steel one of the correct size so my plastic one is fine for now. My crochet hooks aren’t labeled as to size so I can’t tell you a size. Mine and Anna’s are about an inch and a half in circumference. Here’s a photo that might help.
In Part One: The Basics we’re going to prep the materials. Once you’re good at crocheting, the prep work takes the longest of all the process. Or so I’m told! The first step is to make strips about 1 1/2 inches wide. The longer the better.
Making the Strips
Rip strips of fabric 1 1/2-inches wide and as long as possible.
Making a Hobo Knot
This is one way to connect your strips together without the necessity of a sewing machine. Once you start crocheting you will be surprised how fast you use up a strip so you want to have at least a yard, maybe two of strip ready to go.
Lay two strips together, right over left. Overlap about 2 inches.
Fold the strips in the middle.
Cut a small notch all the way through.
Poke your finger in to see if your notch is big enough.
Take the other end of the strip and push it through the notch from underneath.
Start pulling the end through.
Keep pulling while holding the two pieces of fabric together.
You might have to pull firmly at the end. I used two colors of fabric so you could see how it’s supposed to look.
The hobo knot is easy to make. However, once I started crocheting, I experienced difficulty pulling the knots through the crochet loops so when I complained to Anna she told me how to make a continuous strip.
Making a continuous strip
Cut a little notch into the edge of your fabric so the strip will be about 1 1/2-inches wide. Rip the fabric all the way across but stop short of the edge by about an inch. Move over on that side and cut another notch so it is about 1 1/2 inches away from the ripped pieces edge. Rip that in the same way. Stop short. Notch. Rip. Continue doing this – back and forth – until all your fabric is one very, very, very long 1 1/2-inch-wide piece.
Ripping the fabric.
Don’t make a huge ball of fabric strips unless you want to make your rug all one color. You want to have a bunch of medium-size balls so you can change out the color every row or two. Here’s an example.
Winding the ball.
Now we’re ready for the next step, which is starting to crochet in Part Two. Prep your materials this week and shout out any questions you have. I will do my best to answer them and if I can’t answer, I have Anna The Expert to consult with! I will get back to you!
Anna Irene Dearing b. June 14, 1927 in Saticoy, California, d. November 25, 2015 in Elk Creek, California Anna was a pillar of our small community for 40 years and a light to my life. She was “Mom” to everyone and my special teacher. Not only was she skilled in making rag rugs but she was also a master quilter and cook. She loved to dance and sing and every time I hear “She’ll Be Comin’ Around the Mountain”, I’ll be thinking of Anna. I’m lucky to have known her and I’m happy I was able to share her with all of you. Blessings. – rb
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