Thursday, January 27, 2011

Braided Rag Tradition

Sense of Home

Making baskets or rugs out of braided rags and strips of cloth is an old tradition.  This art was brought to America by the early immigrants.  As the pioneers settled on the frontier, out of necessity they made rugs out of braided rags.  The woolen mills being out east, shipping wool rugs by train, when available, would have been expensive.  For the pioneers old clothes, sheets, or a piece of cloth left over from a dress they were sewing became part of a rug and cottons, linens and linsey-woolsey would have been the most common material used by the early pioneers.  Braiding the strips of cloth added strength, color and texture, making a beautiful and durable rug to make a shanty or new pine board house feel like home.  No doubt, once wood and money were available to build a house and move out of the sod home, rugs to place on a clean board floor felt like a luxury.  Few details of daily domestic life are given in the accounts written by the early pioneers, perhaps such things just seemed too common place.

Today inexpensive material for a rag rug or basket can be purchased at a fabric store by searching through the remainder bin, these are ends of cloth that are too small to sell for a larger project.  Second hand stores also sell material, just be on the lookout for the colors and type of fabric you want.  I used 100-percent cotton in my project and it helps to use material that doesn't fray easily, one of the pieces of material I used began to fray and I have had to do some trimming.

Finding bargains on material scraps at the store is great, but using material from worn-out clothing, old sheeting, or scraps left-over from clothes we have sewn ourselves has more meaning.  Memories are braided into that basket or rug we make, from the material we use to the color pattern or design we choose.

To Make a Rag Basket or Coaster

1.  Cut the fabric into strips about 3 inches wide.  If the fabric is stiff, like blue jean material, cut he strips a little thinner.

2.  Tightly tie three strips together at one end, leaving a short tail.  Braid the strips until you are nearly at the end.  Then wrap a twist tie around the bottom of the braid to hold it.

3.  Sew the ends of the strips to another strip of cloth.

4.  Keep braiding, removing the twist ties as you go, until you have a long braid.  You will need a 25-inch-long braid to make a coaster, a 75-inch-long braid for a 3-inch-tall by 3-inch-wide basket.

5.  When you have reached the length of braid you need, wrap a twist tie around the loose end of the braid to hold it.

6.  Now trim off the tails above the knotted end and begin to make a coil with the knot in the center.  Stitch the rows together as you go by poking the needle up from the bottom through the edge of the inner coil and catching the edge of the next coil.

7.  For a coaster, continue coiling and stitching until you reach the twist tie, then go to step 9.  For a basket, continue the coil until you have a 3-inch-wide circle then go to step 8.

8.  Now form the sides of the basket by stacking coils on top of the outer coil of the flat circle, stitching them in place as you go.

9.  When you reach the end of the braid, remove the twist tie and trim the ends of the three strips so that they are different lengths.  Continue braiding the strips as far as you can, and then twist the trailing ends so that the coil becomes skinnier and skinnier.  Tuck the end between the coils and securely stitch it in place.

Sense of Home / Homemade Living