Rag Rugs Tour
Braided rugs are one of the three types of traditional rugs that have
well known. (The other two are hooked rugs and loom woven rugs.)
it is only the 3-strand standard braid which is still in widespread
There are a wide variety of braids:
#15 Braided Rag Rugs
With standard braids, the outermost strands are brought to the center
of the braid. The common 3-strand braid is a standard braid.
there is no limit to the number of strands that can be used with a
braid, except how many strands can be held in each hand. Up to twelve
standard braids were made to make rugs. The virtue of these braids is
a nice thick braid can be made of fairly light weight fabric strips.
of the older braided rugs made with cotton strips have multiple strands
in a standard braid, and unless you look closely at the rug you will
that the 3 strand braid was used because all standard braids have more
or less the same shape and appearance. In
the photo, at left is a standard 3-strand braid, and at right is a
With flat braids, the more strands used, the wider the braid becomes.
Flat braids of 4 to 12 strands were used for rugs made with cottons or
wools. The flat braids (except for the 4-strand) all work the outermost
strands over and under various combinations of one or two other
This allows various striped, chevron or diamond patterns to appear in
Four strand standard braid and five strand flat braid combined in a
rug, by starting from a doubled center.
Multi-strand flat braided rugs have a
characteristic 'swirling' pattern.
still getting questions about the difference between standard braids
flat braids, so hopefully another photo will help to clear things up a
bit. The is a picture of a 10-strand braid, begun at the top as a
standard braid, and in the middle changing to a 10-strand flat braid.
braid is made with cotton strips, and the standard braid section is
about an inch wide. The flat braided section is about 2-1/2 inches
Notice that using the very same strip, two substantially different
are created: the thicker, narrow standard braid, and the wider, but
Right hand (or left hand) braids for
These were flat braids worked only from one direction. The strand away
from the center of the rug was the 'active' strand for the braid, and
the braid sequence was complete the strand was laced into the previous
round of braiding. It is these braids that were used for "braided-in"
(See the letters at the end of this page for basic instructions for a
rug.) See the "Rugmaker's
some braided-in rugs from Nebraska.
Plaits are made of 4 to 12 strands and are all made by working over
and under one strand at a time. These are really just a straight
weave of the strands. Plaits can be patterned just like flat braids but
were less commonly used for rugs since they are thinner than the flat
(See our "Rugmaker's Exchange" for a
of an 8-strand plaited braid rug.)
of the false
braids are made by wrapping fabric strips around stationary cores. The
most common false braid has two cores (usually cotton clothesline or
One or two fabric strands are wrapped in a figure eight around these
This 'braid' is often used in machine made rugs with yarns but was used
for handmade rugs as well, most often with thin cotton strips since the
cores gave the rug body. False braids can also be used to join rounds
standard or flat braids into a rug. This gives the rug a superstrong
(much stronger than laced or sewn) and the false braids can be made to
accent a rug design since they are raised on one side of the rug (see
Round and Square Braids
These showy braids were used for rug making, though they were not
Square braids of four strands and round braids of 4, 6 and 8 strands
be found in examples of old braided rugs. (I've heard the 8-strand
braid called the "Swedish" braid, but since that name is also used for
a completely different type of rug, I don't use it.)
In ladder braids, there is one strand which doesn't 'move'. It is
in the center position. Ladder braids were very seldom used in rug
except to 'frame' a light weight rug like a hooked rug. Ladder braids
be made of 4, 6 or 8 strands, and can make quite effective frames
where the stationary strand is selected to accent the colors of the
The effect is something like matting a picture. (See our Articles
for instructions to make a 6 strand ladder braid.)
Related articles on the "Rugmaker's Homestead":
Braided Rug Instructions
Rag Rugs Article
Braiding Projects with Cotton Strip
Jane Marie has braided rug instructions for making
rugs with sewn joints at:
LETTERS ABOUT BRAIDED RUGS
BRAIDING WITH OLD TIES
My gram asked me to find direction on using old ties to
with since each end is a different width. Do you have any suggestions?
Hi Linda, Braiding with ties which are left whole can be a
though not as tricky as you'd think. The ties are all used going the
direction (narrow end first usually), and then the other ties are
along the braid so that a wide section, a narrow section and the middle
section of a tie are always together. That keeps the braid fairly
in width. The tricky bit actually comes when sewing one tie to the next
as you continue to braid. This is done with the wide end of the tie,
wrapped around the narrow end of the next tie, letting the 'point'
(Don't try to do a regular seam or there is a real mess.) Of course,
ties can be opened up and recut to be uniform as well, but braiding
the ties whole creates a neat effect. My best to your gram, and if she
has any other questions feel free to pass them along. Diana
A "DALMATIAN" RUG
Dear Diana, I recently ordered a get started braiding kit
the black and white wool and made a nice chair pad. My 5 year old
took one look at it and declared it a Dalmatian rug! I have promised to
make her one for her bedroom as my winter project. Can I buy more of
black and white wool only (not the solid black)? How much would I need
for a 2X3 rug? I want to lay the braids side by side since I am just
and this will be my first rug. Any suggestions? Thank you, Doris
Dear Doris, Leave it to the little ones to come up with
a "Dalmatian" rug! Sound fun.
Yes, you can buy the black and white wool by the yard. The
wool in the
braiding kit is the same as the Snow-on-the-Mountain wool that is
by the yard. For your 2' X 3' rug, you will need 4 yards, but I would
buying a little extra. Since it is going to be a bedroom rug, I would
washing the wool and drying it in the dryer before you cut the braiding
strips. That will shrink it up some and soften it. (Use a softener
in the dryer.) Since it is wool and will shrink, you'll need to get an
extra half-yard or yard to make up the difference, but I think your
daughter will like it much better.
The Snow-on-the-Mountain wool is easy to cut for braiding
the pattern is in straight lines across the wool. You can use good
and cut following the pattern lines for the 1-1/2 inch strips which
work best in your braiding cones.
I would also suggest that you don't make a whole lot of 3-foot
separately, since there is a lot of extra time in piecing the strips to
come out to exactly 3 feet. Instead, make one long continuous braid,
then cut it into 3-foot sections. That is also the most efficient use
the wool (as well as your time).
Happy rugmaking, Diana
BRAIDING & FOLDING COTTON STRIPS
I bought the beautiful rag rug book from you a couple of
ago - can't remember the name and I'm not at home - so I am excited to
get started. But. The book I bought recommends only wool rugs and the
I had in mind is converting a trunk full of old cotton curtains etc
a couple of small rugs for my bedroom. I know you say I have to use
than 3 strands to make a cotton rug, but there are no instructions in
book for more than 3.
You don't *have to* use more than 3 strands if you're working
It's just that the more strands used in a standard braid with light
the thicker and more durable the rug is. That's why the old-time rug
used the multiple strands with cottons.
The other thing you can do with cottons to make a heavier rug
strands is to cut the strips wider (3 inches). Then the strips are
folded or triple folded, and then braided. Some people just fold them
half, and then use them in braiding cones like the 1-1/2 inch wool
shown in the book. My own preference is to double-fold cottons and then
braid with the prefolded strip. The work just seems to go so much more
quickly than fussing with the braiding cones while braiding.
What tools do I need (bias makers etc)
The "Smooth Strip folding set" is designed to double-fold
into 1-1/2" strips, and we also have a deluxe version which will double
fold those strips and up to 3 inch wide cottons. You don't *have to*
the folders-- your strips can be folded and ironed for just the same
but the folders do speed up the process.
There are folks who want a more rustic look in their rugs who
with 3 inch strips that they just bunch together as they braid. The
do look rustic, but are quite functional.
Any other advice for a beginner. (I could start with a wool
rug if that
would be easier, for example)
I wouldn't suggest starting with a wool rug, rather I'd
with some of the cottons you have (and especially that you don't really
want to use in a finished rug) and doing some experimenting. Try out
widths of strip in different braids to see which combination suits you
best. Then when you've decided that, braid a small project like a
to get some practice with the lacing and try out different lacing
to see which you like. *Then* you can get started on your rugs with the
confidence that the finished result is going to be what you want.
Happy rugmaking, Diana
ENLARGING AN EXISTING BRAIDED RUG
Hi! My problem is that I already have a solid-colored
rug that I love, but I would like to add to it to make it larger. Is
possible? How would I do it, and where would I begin? Thanks for your
Hello Karen, Yes, you can make your braided rug larger, by braiding
more rounds. First, make sure that the rug is thoroughly cleaned. Then,
look carefully all around the edge to find where the older braid ended.
You will need to extract the ends of the strips where they were tucked
in, and unlace the existing braid for about a foot or a little longer.
You will want to make sure that you braid with the same weight of wool
that the original rug was made with. Cut the existing braid strips so
they are different lengths (so the seams with the new wool are spaced
and sew on the new wool to begin braiding. From that point, it will be
following the same procedure as if you were working a new rug. Hope
MAKING A HEART SHAPED BRAIDED RUG
I received my order (great fast service) and am beginning
make a braided rug. I have been working with jeans and have done a
circle for practice. Do you have any pointers on makinga heart shape. I
want to make it for my niece's graduation. I need to know how to start
exactly and what length to get about a 2 1/2 ft finished width. Thank
for your help. Gail
Hi Gail, So glad you are getting started already. Yes there is a
to making a heart shape braided rug. The center needs to be about 18-20
inches long, but in the middle of it you want to put a 90-degree bend
right angle). If you have a carpenter's square or a drafting square
the house, use it as a guide to hold the angle in the center. Then with
the braids work around the curves just like making an oval rug. At the
point of the heart, you'll want 3 braid loops of the outside braid
to the 1 braid loop at the point (maybe 4 depending on the heaviness of
the jeans). At the top of the heart, reverse the process, with 1 braid
loop on the outside braid laced to 3 braid loops at the dent in the
Hope that helps. Your neice will be delighted I'm sure. Diana
MAKE A FLOOR-STANDING BRAIDING CLAMP
Dear Diana, I am going to attempt my first braided rug from
jeans for my cabin. I once saw a tool to use to make it easier to keep
the braid tight. It sat on the floor in front of the braider and kept
whole thing tight, the braid went through a hole at the top but I don't
know much else about it. Have you heard of such an apparatus, or can
tell me where I can get plans for one? Also any tips would be greatly
Hi Bonnie, The device you describe is one type of braiding
aren't commercially made anymore, but you can make your own without too
much difficulty. (Actually you really don't need a clamp per se, you
shut the braid in a drawer to hold it so that it stays tight and even.)
On to your clamp. The main thing in being able to use a floor
clamp is that it must be heavy enough so that you don't pull it over
you tug on the braid. For that reason, it needs a largish base so that
you can stack books or some other weight on it. The base should be
a 2 foot section from a 2"X8" piece of lumber. Mount a vertical board
the center of the base. The vertical piece should also be fairly wide
will also work nicely). Drill a hole through the vertical piece (about
an inch from the top that is large enough for the braid to slip through
easily (at least an inch wide hole). In the top end of the vertical
drill a 1/2 inch hole that intersects the other hole at right angles.
this last hole, you'll put a "keeper"-- either a 16d nail or a 3/8
The point of the keeper is to slide down the top hole and hold the
in position. When you want to reposition the braid, pull the keeper up,
slide the braid through, then push the keeper down to hold the braid.
that you don't want the keeper to poke holes in the braid, it should
between strands of the braid.)
That's all there is to it. Hope that helps, Diana
CHANGING COLORS IN A BRAIDED RUG
Greetings, Would you please tell me how to transition into
color when braiding my wool rug. Many thanks, Marge
Hi Marge, I'm assuming you're working a 3-strand rug, with a general
color plan for your rug, and want to make the changes of colors
so there isn't a line in the rug. When you're ready to start the
change 1 strand of your braid to 1 of the colors in the new set. Braid
one entire time around with that setup. Then change a second strand to
the new color and braid all of the way around with it. At the end of
round, change to the third strand of the new color and the transition
complete. Happy rugmaking! Diana
BRAIDED RUG WITH COTTON FABRICS
Hello. I have been checking your web site out and have a
of questions. I would like to get a book or something to help remind me
how to make braided rugs. I need a style that will be very durable
it will need to be laundered very often due to severe allergies. Do you
have any suggestions? I really like the rag rugs I saw as a child,
you don't see much of anymore. I don't have a lot of money for
tools and such but I do want to make a good rug.
I'd really appreciate any help you have to offer. I can
information around here - I guess rugs aren't popular in Southern
which have wall to wall carpet! Thanks for all of your help.
Dear Connie, What you want is to make a rug with cotton
fabrics so you
can throw it in the washer. The trick will be to keep it small enough
that you don't have to go to a laundromat and use a double or triple
machine. For most cotton rugs that means about a 3 foot maximum. The
"Multi-strand braids for flat braided rugs" is what I would suggest,
it has braids that will let you use cottons to the best effect *and*
it has instructions for 'cloth' lacing, rather than using linen or
cording, which makes a stronger rug and will stand up much better in
wash. Hope that helps, Diana
BRAIDING WITH DENIM
hello, I just found your web page and I am very interested
making rag rugs. I never have tried it however, and since I have
of old jeans, I would like to make a simple 3 strand braid with denim.
Do you have any information on how wide to cut my strips or should I
experiment? I have enjoyed the tour and would like to return, thank
Dear Lynn, You'll need to do a bit of experimenting to get an
because the jeans may be worn down differently. The more worn the
the wider the strips you'll need to cut. Start with strips 1-1/2 inches
wide on the newer jeans. Then when you cut the more worn jeans start
a 2 inch cut and see if the strips have about the same heft as the
material. If not you may need to go to 2-1/4 or 2-1/2 inches. The trick
for an even braid is to have all of the strands with the same amount of
bulk. Hope that helps. D.
GETTING A BRAIDED RUG TO LAY FLAT
my mother braided many rugs she passed away . Leaving a box
braides to sew together. I started to sew them together and the ends
starting to bend up. I need to know if I am sewing this together right?
please tell me how I can get this right.
Dear Katie, The curl that you are getting at the edges of the
are because for at least 3 rows of braids, they have been sewn too
not allowing enough 'ease' around the curves. You'll need to pull out
least those rows, or the rug will never lay flat.
Also, sewing isn't the best way to put the braids together.
at least lace the braids together, working underneath each braid loop.
Laced rugs will last a lot longer than sewn ones.
I'd really suggest that you get a book that illustrates how to
the braids. Try your local library, or we have two that show how. It is
much easier to learn when you have the illustrations to follow.
since these are your Mother's braids, and are irreplaceable, you should
take the time to put the rug together so that it will last. Hope that
BRAIDING WITH COTTON FABRIC
What a pleasure to stumble upon you on the net! I am a
novice to rug making but have been taken over by the need to create an
area rug for my bedroom. I saw a friend's braided rug that his mother
for him, and it was made of cotton. It was rather small, but very well
and prettily put together. I am allergic to wool and when I saw that it
was cotton I got very excited. I was never able to find out from his
how she made it, so I am going to you, the experts! I would like to
a very large rug, measuring approximately 3-1/2 feet by 6 feet if
I want bright colors, a simple, but fun pattern, and of course, cotton
strips. I took the tour and really liked the flat braid design (the one
that fanned out in a swirling pattern from a central point). I have no
idea what type of construction materials I will need aside from the
braid material itself. I also have no idea how long it will take. I
know that seeing my friend's rug reignited my desire to get back into
live in Brooklyn, NY, and would welcome any information you have about
local resources for the materials, books on the subject (for complete
Hi Jacque, Yes, cotton braided rugs are wonderful--and actually easier
for the beginner to handle because the strips can be folded ahead of
unlike the wool strips. Also, T-shirt knits make it easy for beginners
because they naturally want to curl up in a cord for easy braiding.
seen cotton rugs as large as about 4 X 7 feet, but I always suggest --
no matter what type of rug-- that you make a small project first (like
a chair pad). There is always a 'learning' period while your fingers
the feel of the technique.
If you work with cottons, you really don't need any specialty
(other than an iron and ironing board), a table to work on, things like
that. You can lace the rug together with cotton strip also -- which
the strongest type of rug-- or use heavy cord, like a very heavy
cotton. As far as how long it takes, just remember it is always slowest
when you are just learning. For large rugs, most people approach it as
a 'winter evening project', figuring to work a bit most evenings and
the rug done by spring. Happy rugmaking! Diana
MAKING A BRAIDED-IN RUG
Hi, I just found your site on the 'net'. I took the tour,
didn't find what I am looking for. Two weeks ago I met a woman -also
Idaho - who was showing a group of us how to make "4-braid rugs", the
braid becomes the connection and there is no sewing at all involved,
just braided the 'rows' into each other. I didn't write anything down,
don't know where she lives, and would like to try this. Can you help?
might be called by another name, which I didn't see on your website,
I will spend more time exploring - thank you so much.
Good Morning, What you saw was a demonstration of braided-in
can be made with any number of strands from 2 to 12, and she was making
one with four strands. Braided-in rugs are great because the
are strong and the rug can't come apart. It is a bit more difficult
'regular' braiding because you have to really have the feel for how
increases it takes to make the rug lay flat. If you want to try it,
with a 3-strand braid the regular way and lace it into a small center.
Then work your braid-- working the outside strand only-- over 1, under
1, and then down into the braided center through a braid loop. For
to keep the rug laying flat, you'll need to lace twice in the same
several times, evenly spaced around the edge of the rugs.
The 4-strand braid is worked the same way from the outside
1, under 1, over 1, and then *down* into the braid loop. (You can start
with three strands and then add a strand to make the fourth). Happy
ps.See the Rugmaker's Exchange for more
on Braided-in Rugs.
THE SOMBRERO SYNDROME
Hi there. I have braided 3 strands of poly cotton to make
a rug for our living room. I have yards and yards of it completed (a
rug obviously) that I have begun to sew together. However, after
the sewing together about 8 inches, it is bulging out in the center.
am I doing wrong? It is kind of like making itself into a cap or
I am so frustrated. I love braided rugs and thought it would be fairly
simple to make one but I am finding out that it is not so easy after
This is my first rug so any help you can give would be very much
Thanks for your help. Cathy
Hi Cathy, What you are experiencing I call the "sombrero syndrome"
and it happens with all sorts of rugs when the 'increases' aren't made
properly. The reason it is bulging in the middle is that you haven't
for enough increases around the outer rows, making them too tight, and
the center is forced up. This happens most often in braided rugs that
sewn, rather than laced together. In lacing you work under each braid
so you know that you're matched up properly, and can be sure of your
(when two loops on the outer round are laced into one loop on the inner
You'll need to pull out the sewing you have done, and restart,
rug will always have a problem. Then you need to go to your library and
get a book on making braided rugs. The best one available is by Norma
called the "Braided Rug Book", and since it is currently in print the
should have or be able to get a copy (if you want your own copy, we
it also).The small "Braidmastery" booklet also has rug lacing
Hope that helps,Diana
MAKING AN OVAL LAY FLAT
I have made two oval braided rugs from following
in books. I know I'm supposed to skip stitches on the curves, in order
to prevent buckling, but try as I might, sooner or later it happens.
am I doing wrong?
Well the easy answer is you aren't making enough of them. The
for a 3-strand braid is 12 increases per round (in an oval, it is 6 at
each end). It is almost impossible on large rugs to make the increases
by 'feel' even if you're working on a flat surface so it pays to keep
(use small safety pins to know how many and where they have been done.)
If the buckling isn't too bad, you can sometimes ease it out by doing a
couple extra for a round or two and then go back to the standard
If you're using more than a 3-strand braid, it is best to do
plate test on your braids which is explained in the book "Multi-strand
braids for Flat-braided Rugs"
FINISHING A BRAIDED STRIP RUG
Dear Diana I have a hall runner that I've been working on
it is all laced together but the ends. Do I sew a machine seam across
ends to keep the braids from unraveling or will this kill my machine or
should I take it to the local leather shop because they should be able
to sew things like this or will that look ugly? Lisa
Dear Lisa, Whatever you do, don't use a machine seam across
it will look ugly, and call attention to itself. I've seen beautifully
braided pieces that were just ruined because of a machine seam on the
To finish off a strip piece without back braiding at the ends you'll
to do two steps of hand- sewing. First, with a matching thread and
'hidden' stitches, stitch along the end of each braid strip to hold it
in its folded shape, and tack across the end of the tube so it is
(and won't catch dust,etc.). Then pin the braid ends in place relative
to each other (so their arrangement looks neat). Beginning at one edge,
use deep back stitches going most of the way through the braid (but not
out the other side) and stitch across the end.
I use a small curved sailors needle for sewing like that.
you get to the opposite edge, turn the rug over and stitch back across
the other direction. I like to use either a "polished" linen thread (it
is smooth and fine, not like the lacing linen), or Coats and Clarks
an extra heavy duty quilting thread (poly cotton--"Dual Duty") which
just fine too.
There is a second option, which uses a machine seam and a wool
folded over like rug binding. It works and gives a solid edge, and the
wool folded across the end covers the seam. It's a functional finish,
I don't think it's as attractive.....Best, Diana
A FALSE BRAID
Dear Diana, This type of weaving was introduced to me about
years ago when I was running a temporary craft boutique that featured
time crafts. The woman I asked to join me for a day made round rugs
a pair of over sized wooden sewing needles that she had made from
Imagine a sewing needle with a threaded with a double strand of thread.
Then think about two of these threaded needles placed side by side. A
of yarn or fabric (old socks work great) woven around these two needles
in a figure eight motion. A strip is produced, basically in any length
you desire, and then the strips are woven together to make it look like
a braided rug. Although I do not have a picture of the rugs my girls
made for their rooms all I can say is that they are wonderful hardy
I've used old socks and leftover yarns. I don't know if you have ever
or heard of such a thing. Part of me thinks you have. Thanks for your
and your web site. For a while I thought I was the only one alive who
interested in tracking the past methods of living frugally and creating
beautiful things with what you have on hand. Thanks for reading this
Dear MaryBeth, It was wonderful to hear from you and, believe
not you're not alone in your interest. I've heard from people all over
the world who are interested in learning or reviving these old methods.
The rugs you are doing is the "false braid" with the two strand core,
was also done with rag strip over clothes line (slightly different
but with the same false braid created). Diana
Q. Also, when are you coming out with your next braid book:
hand braids and braided in rugs!
A. Yoiks! I don't know. Right now I've got a list of books
that seems to get longer all of the time. . I've also been getting some
nagging about doing a "complete" braiding handbook that will cover all
of the braids including false braids, chain braids, square braids, etc.
etc. So I don't quite have a good plan of attack just yet... Best,
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