Weaving Rugs the Easy Way

“BRRRRRRRR, I’m cold! Guess I’ll get going on another rug.”

Of the dozens of reasons for pursuing a hobby, perhaps none sounds more peculiar than mine: I first started weaving rugs to get my cold blood circulating. When the temperature slides and the wind howls through our house in Reedpoint, Montana, lifting the linoleum in billows along the floor, out comes my rug frame and up comes my foot temperature. And since the product turned out is either sold or given as a gift, I warm my pocketbook as well as my feet!

If I chance to mention I’m weaving a rug, the girls immediately start talking about high-priced looms and expensive materials—and how they wish they could afford that kind of a hobby. Or if there is an authentic weaver within hearing, she may question the kind of warp I’m using and proceed from there to get me all tangled up in technical language far over my head. I’m no weaver. As far as I’m concerned, “warp” is what a board does when left out in the rain and “woof” is what a dog says. Consequently, where the weaver might say she “warped” a rug, I say I’m “stringing” a rug. And instead of weaving I’m “twisting up” another rug. But for descriptive purposes, we’ll call the process “weaving,” which I suppose it is.

NOT ONLY are the rugs simplicity itself to make; but the frame on which to make them costs very little and the weaving material nothing at all. Of course, if I were to concentrate on quantity, I would need a source of more used material: rummage sales, Salvation Army, Goodwill Industries. Because new material is neither necessary nor advisable, this paying hobby could never become too expensive.

And then again, a loom (how I wish I could afford one) takes up a lot of space of which there is none to spare in our two-by-four house. My rug frame needs only a few feet of wall space against which to stand when weaving; and when through for the day, I slide it under the bed out of the way.

Rug frameA duplicate of my rug frame can be made of one-by-two boards, two that are five feet long and two more that are three feet in length. Add four round-headed, quarter-inch bolts, 2½ inches long; oversized thin washers, and a quantity of meat skewers or quarter-inch dowels cut four inches and that is all you’ll need. Perhaps you have some of this stored in the garage or basement.

Construction tools needed are a saw to cut boards and dowels to length (unless your lumber dealer will do it for you); a drill for boring holes; pliers to tighten bolts at the corners; and some sandpaper. And even the proverbial woman who can’t hammer a nail straight is able to put the whole thing together in an hour, plus a few minutes for sanding rough edges to keep strands of cloth from catching.

The frame goes together by placing the short board on top of the long boards and bolting them tightly into a rectangle. Leave a few inches of board sticking out past the bolted lap so the frame will not buckle as you weave. Also, the frame is more convenient to stand against a wall when there are short “legs” on it.

Next uncomplicated step is to put a quarter-inch bit into whatever type of drill you have and bore a series of holes an inch apart along the center of the short sides of the frame, being sure to go all the way through the board. There should be twenty-eight holes—but if there are more or less, don’t let it worry you, so long as they match at both ends.

While you are at it you might drill holes in the same manner along the longer boards, the upright part of the frame. This is a versatile frame and by adding the side holes, you now have a waffle-weave frame for making bath mats, table runners, place mats—but that is another story. Or if you want to make a small rug, the extra holes will make this possible, as I will explain.

Now the four-inch dowels are hammered into holes of the short sides of the frame. Don’t be too enthusiastic about cleaning sawdust from the holes. If you weren’t too particular, dowels will fit snugly. But if you are a neat carpenter, dowels may have to be shimmed so they cannot pull out or break. Such an accident isn’t fatal to the rug—just put in another peg—but it can be very annoying to have a piece of rug pop out into your face!

And that is the rug frame. You can add strength by morticing the corners, as I have done on the frame which I use most often. Of course, a morticed frame is not adjustable. Rug size will be about fifty-two by twenty-eight inches, a size I have found most graceful. If holes were bored through the uprights, you can have any rug size you wish simply by removing bolts and re-setting the sides. A word of caution: re-set all bolts so that the protruding “legs” of the frame are equal. In other words, the rug must be woven in the center of the frame. For some reason, the frame will buckle if the rug is not centered—something about unequal stress, I suppose. I learned all this the hard way. One of my small rugs got so “whopper-jawed” that I had to remove the whole thing and start again, but this time on center, you can bet!

IN MY wandering around in the hobby world, I’ve tried almost every sort of rag rug from seven-strand braiding to scraps wrapped on rope; but I have never found a type of rug which passed so many tests as this. The rug never curls nor loses shape. I have one that’s fifteen years old. Like the “One Hoss Shay,” when the rug wears out, it wears out all over. No tripping on ripped seams, no skid, no tear. Nicest of all, when it comes off the frame, it’s finished.

Warping a rug is a ten-minute job, once the material is ready. One may use any old color for warp, for it will be concealed by the weaving strands. When a rug is first removed from the frame, a little of the warping material may show. After a few days on the floor, the rug will flatten out enough to cover any difference in warp colors you may have used. Stout pieces of old sheets, overalls, almost anything which is not beautiful will serve. The most satisfactory material I’ve ever used was a blanket sheet because it was so easy on fingers. Material must be strong and should be torn, not cut. Medium weight muslin is torn four inches wide, heavier materials proportionately less. You can mix weights of cloth so long as the strands have the same “feel” for thickness.

Sewing warp stripsSew warp strips into one continuous length by folding ends together as shown in 1, and stitching on your sewing machine. This kind of seam leaves no raw edges on the right side of the material as 2, shows. Be thorough in sewing, stitching it at least three times. And don’t get in a hurry as I once did, and merely stitch the seams once. Those seams have the bad habit of coming apart under pressure of weaving. I had to unlace the rug and sew the warp a second time—another sample of haste making waste. From experience I find that two wrapped balls about nine inches in diameter are the right amount for one rug.

TO STRING or warp a rug, sew a loop in the warping material, hook it over the first dowel in the right top corner, and pull it down to the opposite dowel in the bottom right corner. Going around each opposite dowel up and down across the frame, you will finish with a loop over the left bottom corner dowel. Keep material evenly taut.

Almost any type of material is usable for weaving strips, but don’t mix types. An exception is spun rayon, which works well with cotton. A rayon or nylon rug is most beautiful, cotton feels nicest on bare feet, and wool is longer lasting, so take your pick. One positive rule, even for wool, is that it be washed. New material creases and cuts and generally misbehaves.

Weaving strips may be cut if material does not tear well. Strips should be somewhat narrower than the warp, or about three inches wide. Sew them into approximately four-foot lengths, no longer, or they will tangle as you weave. It’s best to have material torn and wrapped into balls before starting the rug. A better color scheme can be planned and the material will be thoroughly stretched.

I have my own easy way of preparing material. Each washday, I tear up the washed clothing which is past wearing, using only the strong parts. I sew it into proper lengths, wrap each color in a separate ball, and stick it away in a box. After a few washdays, lo and behold! the material is ready for another rug.

Weaving detailTO BEGIN weaving, take a strip of cloth, and starting at the left top corner, loop it around the first strand of warp on the frame. The part of the weaving strip which is on top goes under the next warp strand; and the part of the strip which is underneath goes over that same warp strand. The process is merely a twisting of weaving strips around each other as they are brought in and out of the warp. The figure shows how it is done.

Proceed across the width of the frame, and upon reaching the right side, wrap strands around the last warp and turn, this time weaving from right to left. And so on, down the rug. Take care not to tighten the edges too much when reversing direction of weaving or the rug may have a wavy edge. Do I need to say that you will sew on another piece of material by hand when one end or another of a weaving strip gets short?

The first few rows of weaving should be pushed up tightly against the dowels so as to leave as little as possible of the warp loops showing. After the first few rows, however, one simply jerks upward with each twist to keep the rows close together.

It is best to weave from both ends toward the middle. In the jerking and pulling of the weaving, the warp may pull off the dowels at the other end. By weaving a few inches on one end, turning the frame and weaving a like amount at the other end, the rug will be alike from end to end.

At the finishing point of the rug, toward the middle, it will be impossible to pull weaving strands through the warp with your fingers. Here you will need a rug crochet hook. I have found this the only tedious part of the process—but it doesn’t last long! When there is room for no more weaving, the rug is done.

Pull the rug off the dowels. The warp that was looped over the dowels will still be visible. With rug yarn and crochet needle, put a ten-strand fringe through the loops to camouflage them. This will have to be renewed every few years, but does give a finished look to a rug. I seldom do this with rugs for myself as I know that with use, the exposed loops will soon disappear. For sale, I would advise the small extra cost and trouble. One skein of yarn will be more than sufficient for the fringe.

I’VE MADE about every possible mistake in calculating pleasing color schemes. To save you some of my errors, here are a few things to avoid and rules to follow which make rugs that cause people to say, “What a beautiful rug!”

A beginner should make the first rug with an identical border at each end. For example, if you had quite a lot of blue material, and some solid rose color, you might make borders like this: the first two rows of black or dark blue, both weaving strands of the same color; then three rows of light blue followed by three rows of medium blue. The center of the border could be four rows of rose color. Reverse the colors for the remainder of the border, that is, three medium blue, three light blue and two of the black or dark blue with which you started the rug. Such a border will be about nine inches deep and requires a considerable amount of material of the same color. For that reason I don’t always make such deep borders even though I believe they make for a prettier rug.

There are endless variations for borders and they are a great deal of fun to experiment with after one gets adept at weaving. I’ve always thought that any rug should be started with a few rows of solid color, even when a large border is not planned.

I learned that, except for borders, one weaving strand should always be dark and the other light. By sewing light color to light, and the darks to dark, the general effect is best. A very dark strand now and then gives personality to the rug.

Lovely tweed effects can be had by using every color on hand so long as one color is not used too much. In this case, the border of the rug is the color of the rug, for the varicolored middle always appears to match the borders.

Consideration should be given to the over-all effect that colors have on each other when taken as a whole. I once had the bright idea of making a light blue-and-red rug. There were shades of red for one weaving strand, and the other was the faded blue of an old cotton blanket. And, of course, the rug turned out to be purple! It appealed to someone because it readily sold; but it was not what I had visualized!

I also fell on my face when I made a red rug (I thought) for my husband on his birthday. It was composed entirely of one red strand and one of buff. You guessed it, the rug was a beautiful pink orange, not to be confused with the bright red that he requested. My best success in getting exactly what I wanted was in making a blue aqua rug. Using one strand of soft green and one strand of varied, but rather bright blue, I had the blue-green I wanted. It had a rose and black border.

If you wish to make a rug twice as large as the frame, insert dowels down one side of the frame and loop strands of weaving over them at the end of every row where dowels and row match. Make two rugs with identical borders. It’s an easy matter to lace the two rugs together into one. To wash, just unlace them. Incidentally, these rugs wash well, but never put them through a wringer! I dry mine on the lawn.

FOR MANY years my hobbies, including this, were used strictly within the true meaning of the word, “an occupation engaged in just because one is having a good time.” I pursued them for various reasons: to calm my nerves, to learn to make something I could not afford to buy, or sometimes to attain near perfection in some small art, only to quit it for something new. But one day company dropped in as I was in the midst of another rug. As I moved away from weaving to sit down and visit, the woman protested, “Don’t quit. I want to see how you’re doing that.” And, after a few minutes, “Would you sell that rug?”

I was startled at the idea. In truth, the rug was of no use to me. The color didn’t suit the house; and nobody was getting married that I’d heard. It seemed so ridiculous to sell something which had cost nothing but pleasure to make.

“But after all,” I told myself, “she did ask to buy it; and you have no reason for just giving it to her—so why not?” And with tongue in cheek, I said, “You can have it for $7.50,” and then held my breath for fear I’d quoted too high a price.

“I’ll be over after it next week—you’ll have it done by then, won’t you?” she said, and I had made my first sale! Did I feel smart! I didn’t remember until later that the rug sold itself without my help.

From that time to now, I’ve sold every rug I wanted to make. Usually a woman sees a rug somewhere, asks about it, and another rug is on order. I’ve had women ask to buy a rug off my own floors because it was “just what I’ve been looking for.” The proprietor of a little gift shop in our small village begs for the rugs for sale. Every one she has put in her shop has sold immediately; and she has more requests than I have time to fill.

People become so fascinated by the rugs that when I don’t make another immediately, they want to know how they can do it themselves. I’ve drawn so many pictures of the frame that finally, in self-defense, I put the design on a stencil and mimeographed copies.

As further method of sales, the owner of a hobby store in one of our neighboring tourist towns asked for rugs on consignment. I had to refuse the opportunity, but believe that outlet would be satisfactory.

I now get $10 for the rugs; and that, for me, is just so much gravy for a few days’ work. (In a pinch, I’ve made them in a day.) Rugs made from purchased material would be sold at a higher figure.

For a hobby that started as a cure for cold feet, I think it all turned out very well. Only complaint hereabouts comes from the boss who says he never has any scraps for wiping grease in his shop. That’s a little like the old story of the husband’s new tie that turned up missing in wife’s new rug!