Finishing the Rag Rug: What I have learned

I first began working on the rag rug just shy of a year ago. (You can read all about the humble beginnings here) I had never woven anything before, on a loom or otherwise, but I wanted a way to use some material I had laying around and wanted to try out the technique. I always get excited to try something I’ve never done before, I always jump into these big projects head on and learn as I go… I’m actually kind of surprised I even managed to make a small practice swatch! That being said, I ran into several points of frustration that resulted in long periods of walking away from the rug to work on other things, which is why it took me so long to finish. This is how I learn though, through experimentation.

Trial and Error Learning

Experimenting with dye:

I knew I wanted to make my rug black and red. I also knew I didn’t want to have to go out and buy a lot of new fabric either (as that would be expensive as well as defeating the purpose of utilizing old material), so I thought it would be wise to dye some old white bed sheets to the colors I wanted. That should be easy, right? Oh boy was I ever wrong! Not only did I spend hours cutting and dying fabric (note: dye first, _then_ cut!), but I made a mess and all I had to show for it in the end was some pink and grey fabric. For all the other dye noobs out there: Rit is no good if you want strong colors. Do some research before jumping head first, which is what I should have done.

Types of fabric:

While most of my material came from old bedsheets (cotton is awesome), I wanted to use what I had handy as well. This meant cutting some strips from old pants as well as an old satin sheet set I’d had for some years that was worn from cat claws. Satin frays like a mother and, while it certainly made use of the material, using it was a giant pain. The fabric from my old pants was thicker than the other material, and while that’s not really a problem in itself, I should have cut them into thinner strips, as the difference in thickness contributed to the my other major problem…

GAUGE!

Notice that pink/ grey piece in the center, I wanted to make sure my dying efforts weren’t for naught, and it serves as a reminder of my journey in making this rug.

 

Just as with knitting or crochet, gauge is important. Gauge, for those readers who may be unfamiliar with the term, is the tension and tightness or looseness of a knit, weave, etc. When you are following a pattern and knitting asweater, you want your gauge to match that listed in the pattern or the sweater will be too big or too small. The problem with this rug is that the gauge is not uniform. The gauge is super tight at the top and very loose toward the middle. So, how do I fix it? I do not want to unravel all my hard work and re-do it. I can either tighten up the lower rows or I can add some material to the upper rows or some combination to even it out. However, no matter how I go about it, there is no getting around that this is going to be another time consuming process. It’s quite aggravating when I really want to be done with it and get some use out of it, not to mention, I’d like to move on to other projects.

 

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What I’ve been up to: The Rag Rug

Working on the rag rug

Where does all the time go? Is it really near the end of September already? This month has seemed to just fly by me. While I have been keeping myself busy this past month catching up on reading, spending time with family that came to visit and other endeavors to stay social offline, I hate to admit I haven’t done much in the way of crafting or creating. Oh, I’ve worked some on this project or that, but not enough for me to really feel I’ve been productive. Having said that, here is a glimpse at one of the projects I currently have underway:

Each warp is made from 4 strands of yarn, tied to the pole in the middle, making the warps 8 strands thick. There are in the neighborhood of 60-70ish warps.

I would say this is my major project right now. For those of you who know me on Facebook, you’re already familiar with it. For the rest of you, this is new info.
I’ve had the book Twined Rag Rugs by Bobbie Irwin in my possession for a few years now,  and, part wanting to experiment with something different and part needing a rug for my living room anyway, I decided to begin this project.
I don’t have any kind of a loom frame, and I don’t have the tools, space or woodworking know-how to create the kind of frame Irwin uses. I went to a hardward store and purchased an 8ft wooden closet pole. To this pole I tied long strings of yarn.
For the wefts, I cut strips of fabric about 3 inches wide. I wanted to start of using what I already had. This includes an old satin bed sheet set that I’ve been keeping for a few years. I admit, I’m a bit of a fabric hoarder – some of my fabric I have been toting around since I was in middle school, never sure what to do with it, but feeling I could do _something_ with it. However, I didn’t quite have enough black and red fabric to complete the rug, so I did have to acquire more, which I got from secondhand sources. Not being able to find enough of what I needed, I attempted to dye strips of white using Rit. Epic Fail. Rit sucks.
To create the repeating design pattern I made use of another book sitting unused on my reference shelf – Gold and Silver Needlepoint by Maggie Lane. I bought it at The Book Rack in Springfield, IL a couple of years ago. (support local/independent sellers!) I took one of her repeating designs used in a section of background and expanded it. Not so secret Secret: Any design that uses graph paper can be used for knitting, crochet, weaving, or needlepoint.
The weaving technique I am using is called taaniko, sometimes spelled with only one “a”. Irwin introduces in on page 64. This is a twined weaving technique perfected by the Maori in New Zealand.

After the completion of 5 rows...

As beautiful as taaniko work is, this was almost a lost art only 20-30 years ago. Indeed, twining in general is a craft trying to survive. Considering that it takes considerable time (each row on my rug has taken me approximately an hour), I can see how some might be dissuaded from even attempting it. To quote a good friend of mine from a comment she wrote on my Facebook, “…just sayin, there’s easier ways to do those things…”. Indeed, in this day and age there are faster, easier ways to do a great many crafts. Sewing machines have become increasingly computerized, most of your store-bought knitted items use a knitting machine, and some weeks back I rented a DVD on fused art quilts (essentially making use of fusible web to bond fabrics together). While I’m certainly not about to knock any of these things, I kind of have this love and respect for the old traditions of craft. Maybe it’s the anthropologist in me… but, when I do this kind of labor intensive work, I feel a sense of connection to all the people who have gone before me. I love feeling like I’m helping to preserve methodology, or bring something back from the dead.