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Rag Rugs Tour
1. Tambour
2. Shirred 
3. Standing wool

4. Knitted
5. Flat Wrap
6. Amish Knot

7. Chain Braids
8. Broomstick & String Crochet
9. Crocheted

10. Fabric Tapestry
11. Anchored Loop
12. Hooked, Poked, Prodded, Bodkin

13. Needleworked
14. Toothbrush rugs
15. Braided rugs

16. Knotted & strung shags
17. Loom woven
18. Patched (penny rugs) & sewn shags
19. Frame made rugs
20. Wagon wheel & frame braids 
21. Odds 'n ends


 

 

Rag Rugs Tour
#15 Braided Rag Rugs

Braided rugs are one of the three types of traditional rugs that have remained well known. (The other two are hooked rugs and loom woven rugs.) However, it is only the 3-strand standard braid which is still in widespread use. There are a wide variety of braids:

Standard braids
With standard braids, the outermost strands are brought to the center of the braid. The common 3-strand braid is a standard braid. Theoretically there is no limit to the number of strands that can be used with a standard braid, except how many strands can be held in each hand. Up to twelve strand standard braids were made to make rugs. The virtue of these braids is that a nice thick braid can be made of fairly light weight fabric strips. Many 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 think 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 4-strand flat braid.

Flat braids
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 strands. This allows various striped, chevron or diamond patterns to appear in the braid itself. 


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. 

(Note: I'm still getting questions about the difference between standard braids and 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 10-strand standard braid, and in the middle changing to a 10-strand flat braid. The braid is made with cotton strips, and the standard braid section is just about an inch wide. The flat braided section is about 2-1/2 inches wide. Notice that using the very same strip, two substantially different braids are created: the thicker, narrow standard braid, and the wider, but thinner flat braid.) 

Right hand (or left hand) braids for braided-in rugs
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 when 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" rugs. (See the letters at the end of this page for basic instructions for a braided-in rug.) See the "Rugmaker's Exchange"for some braided-in rugs from Nebraska.

Plaits
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 'tabby' 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 braids. (See our "Rugmaker's Exchange" for a picture of an 8-strand plaited braid rug.)

False Braids
Most 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 similar). One or two fabric strands are wrapped in a figure eight around these cores. 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 of standard or flat braids into a rug. This gives the rug a superstrong structure (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 photo). 

Round and Square Braids
These showy braids were used for rug making, though they were not common. Square braids of four strands and round braids of 4, 6 and 8 strands can be found in examples of old braided rugs. (I've heard the 8-strand round braid called the "Swedish" braid, but since that name is also used for a completely different type of rug, I don't use it.)

Ladder Braids
In ladder braids, there is one strand which doesn't 'move'. It is always in the center position. Ladder braids were very seldom used in rug making, except to 'frame' a light weight rug like a hooked rug. Ladder braids can be made of 4, 6 or 8 strands, and can make quite effective frames especially where the stationary strand is selected to accent the colors of the rug. The effect is something like matting a picture. (See our Articles for instructions to make a 6 strand ladder braid.)
 

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Books & Supplies for 
Braided Rag Rugs 



Related articles on the "Rugmaker's Homestead": 
1932 Braided Rug Instructions
1907 Rag Rugs Article
Fun Braiding Projects with Cotton Strip

Jane Marie has braided rug instructions for making traditional rugs with sewn joints at:
http://www.greenlightwrite.com/braidedrugcraft.htm

LETTERS ABOUT BRAIDED RUGS

BRAIDING WITH OLD TIES
My gram asked me to find direction on using old ties to braid with since each end is a different width. Do you have any suggestions? Linda 

Hi Linda, Braiding with ties which are left whole can be a smidge tricky-- though not as tricky as you'd think. The ties are all used going the same direction (narrow end first usually), and then the other ties are staggered 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 uniform 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, being wrapped around the narrow end of the next tie, letting the 'point' show. (Don't try to do a regular seam or there is a real mess.) Of course, the ties can be opened up and recut to be uniform as well, but braiding with 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 with the black and white wool and made a nice chair pad. My 5 year old granddaughter 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 the 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 beginning and this will be my first rug. Any suggestions? Thank you, Doris

Dear Doris, Leave it to the little ones to come up with something new--- 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 available by the yard. For your 2' X 3' rug, you will need 4 yards, but I would suggest buying a little extra. Since it is going to be a bedroom rug, I would suggest 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 sheet 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 grand daughter will like it much better. 

The Snow-on-the-Mountain wool is easy to cut for braiding strips since the pattern is in straight lines across the wool. You can use good scissors, and cut following the pattern lines for the 1-1/2 inch strips which will work best in your braiding cones.

I would also suggest that you don't make a whole lot of 3-foot braids 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, and then cut it into 3-foot sections. That is also the most efficient use of 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 weeks 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 project I had in mind is converting a trunk full of old cotton curtains etc into a couple of small rugs for my bedroom. I know you say I have to use more than 3 strands to make a cotton rug, but there are no instructions in that book for more than 3.

You don't *have to* use more than 3 strands if you're working with cottons. It's just that the more strands used in a standard braid with light fabrics, the thicker and more durable the rug is. That's why the old-time rug makers used the multiple strands with cottons.

The other thing you can do with cottons to make a heavier rug with 3 strands is to cut the strips wider (3 inches). Then the strips are double folded or triple folded, and then braided. Some people just fold them in half, and then use them in braiding cones like the 1-1/2 inch wool strip 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 cottons cut 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* use the folders-- your strips can be folded and ironed for just the same result, but the folders do speed up the process. 

There are folks who want a more rustic look in their rugs who braid with 3 inch strips that they just bunch together as they braid. The rugs 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 suggest starting 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 different 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 chairpad to get some practice with the lacing and try out different lacing patterns 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 braided rug that I love, but I would like to add to it to make it larger. Is that possible? How would I do it, and where would I begin? Thanks for your help! Karen
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 that they are different lengths (so the seams with the new wool are spaced out) 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 that helps, Diana 

MAKING A HEART SHAPED BRAIDED RUG
I received my order (great fast service) and am beginning to make a braided rug. I have been working with jeans and have done a small 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 you for your help. Gail 
Hi Gail, So glad you are getting started already. Yes there is a "trick" 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 (a right angle). If you have a carpenter's square or a drafting square around 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 laced 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 heart. 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 denim 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 the 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 you tell me where I can get plans for one? Also any tips would be greatly appreciated. Thanks Bonnie 

Hi Bonnie, The device you describe is one type of braiding clamp. Those 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 can 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 standing clamp is that it must be heavy enough so that you don't pull it over when 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 about a 2 foot section from a 2"X8" piece of lumber. Mount a vertical board in the center of the base. The vertical piece should also be fairly wide (2"X8" 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 piece, drill a 1/2 inch hole that intersects the other hole at right angles. In this last hole, you'll put a "keeper"-- either a 16d nail or a 3/8 dowel. The point of the keeper is to slide down the top hole and hold the braid 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. (Note that you don't want the keeper to poke holes in the braid, it should pass 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 another 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 smoothly, so there isn't a line in the rug. When you're ready to start the transition, 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 that round, change to the third strand of the new color and the transition is complete. Happy rugmaking! Diana 

BRAIDED RUG WITH COTTON FABRICS 
Hello. I have been checking your web site out and have a couple 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 because 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, which you don't see much of anymore. I don't have a lot of money for expensive tools and such but I do want to make a good rug. 

I'd really appreciate any help you have to offer. I can find no information around here - I guess rugs aren't popular in Southern California which have wall to wall carpet! Thanks for all of your help. Connie 

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 so that you don't have to go to a laundromat and use a double or triple size machine. For most cotton rugs that means about a 3 foot maximum. The book "Multi-strand braids for flat braided rugs" is what I would suggest, since it has braids that will let you use cottons to the best effect *and* because it has instructions for 'cloth' lacing, rather than using linen or cotton cording, which makes a stronger rug and will stand up much better in the wash. Hope that helps, Diana 
 

BRAIDING WITH DENIM
hello, I just found your web page and I am very interested in making rag rugs. I never have tried it however, and since I have barrels 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 just experiment? I have enjoyed the tour and would like to return, thank you. Lynn 

Dear Lynn, You'll need to do a bit of experimenting to get an even braid, because the jeans may be worn down differently. The more worn the jeans, 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 with a 2 inch cut and see if the strips have about the same heft as the newer 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 of braides to sew together. I started to sew them together and the ends are 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 braids are because for at least 3 rows of braids, they have been sewn too tightly, not allowing enough 'ease' around the curves. You'll need to pull out at least those rows, or the rug will never lay flat. 

Also, sewing isn't the best way to put the braids together. You should 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 lace 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. Especially 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 helps, Diana

BRAIDING WITH COTTON FABRIC
What a pleasure to stumble upon you on the net! I am a completely 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 made 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 mother how she made it, so I am going to you, the experts! I would like to make a very large rug, measuring approximately 3-1/2 feet by 6 feet if possible. 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 actual braid material itself. I also have no idea how long it will take. I just know that seeing my friend's rug reignited my desire to get back into craftwork.I live in Brooklyn, NY, and would welcome any information you have about local resources for the materials, books on the subject (for complete novices), etc. Jacqui
Hi Jacque, Yes, cotton braided rugs are wonderful--and actually easier for the beginner to handle because the strips can be folded ahead of time, 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. I've 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 get the feel of the technique. 

If you work with cottons, you really don't need any specialty equipment (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 makes the strongest type of rug-- or use heavy cord, like a very heavy crochet 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 have 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, but didn't find what I am looking for. Two weeks ago I met a woman -also from Idaho - who was showing a group of us how to make "4-braid rugs", the 4th braid becomes the connection and there is no sewing at all involved, she 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? It might be called by another name, which I didn't see on your website, which I will spend more time exploring - thank you so much. 

Good Morning, What you saw was a demonstration of braided-in rugs. They 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 connections are strong and the rug can't come apart. It is a bit more difficult than 'regular' braiding because you have to really have the feel for how many increases it takes to make the rug lay flat. If you want to try it, start 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 increases to keep the rug laying flat, you'll need to lace twice in the same spot-- several times, evenly spaced around the edge of the rugs. 

The 4-strand braid is worked the same way from the outside strand---over 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 rugmaking! Diana 
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 into a rug for our living room. I have yards and yards of it completed (a big rug obviously) that I have begun to sew together. However, after completing the sewing together about 8 inches, it is bulging out in the center. What am I doing wrong? It is kind of like making itself into a cap or something. 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 all! This is my first rug so any help you can give would be very much appreciated. 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 allowed 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 are sewn, rather than laced together. In lacing you work under each braid loop so you know that you're matched up properly, and can be sure of your increases (when two loops on the outer round are laced into one loop on the inner round).

You'll need to pull out the sewing you have done, and restart, or the 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 Sturges, called the "Braided Rug Book", and since it is currently in print the library should have or be able to get a copy (if you want your own copy, we carry it also).The small "Braidmastery" booklet also has rug lacing instructions. Hope that helps,Diana

MAKING AN OVAL LAY FLAT 
I have made two oval braided rugs from following instructions 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. What am I doing wrong?

Well the easy answer is you aren't making enough of them. The standard 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 count (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 number.

If you're using more than a 3-strand braid, it is best to do the dinner 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 and it is all laced together but the ends. Do I sew a machine seam across both 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 the ends... 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 ends. To finish off a strip piece without back braiding at the ends you'll need to do two steps of hand- sewing. First, with a matching thread and using '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 closed (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. Anyway, when 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 makes an extra heavy duty quilting thread (poly cotton--"Dual Duty") which works just fine too. 

There is a second option, which uses a machine seam and a wool edge-cover 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, but I don't think it's as attractive.....Best, Diana

A FALSE BRAID
Dear Diana, This type of weaving was introduced to me about three years ago when I was running a temporary craft boutique that featured old time crafts. The woman I asked to join me for a day made round rugs with a pair of over sized wooden sewing needles that she had made from dowels. 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 strip 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 have made for their rooms all I can say is that they are wonderful hardy rugs. I've used old socks and leftover yarns. I don't know if you have ever seen or heard of such a thing. Part of me thinks you have. Thanks for your tour and your web site. For a while I thought I was the only one alive who is interested in tracking the past methods of living frugally and creating beautiful things with what you have on hand. Thanks for reading this letter. Sincerely, MaryBeth 

Dear MaryBeth, It was wonderful to hear from you and, believe it or 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, and was also done with rag strip over clothes line (slightly different approach, but with the same false braid created). Diana
NEW BOOKS?
Q. Also, when are you coming out with your next braid book: Right hand braids and braided in rugs!

A. Yoiks! I don't know. Right now I've got a list of books needing written 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, Diana

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