Handmaker's Factory

Rags - From Bag to Rug

My next home will have stained concrete floors. Carpet holds too much dirt (have you ever ripped up old carpeting? The amount of dust, dirt and who-knows-what-else is in there is sneeze-worthy and gross). Hand-scraped wood floors, while beautiful, also come with a hefty price tag. Tile, linoleum and laminate are all possibilities but the most cost-effective, easiest to maintain/clean option (two very important criteria for my next home) is to just use the concrete foundation. The one drawback is that it is cold and sometimes hard on your feet. Of course, this can be avoided with some well-placed rugs and thus began my obsession with rug making – specifically rag rugs.

Rag rugs are not new. Generations have been saving scraps and re-purposing old clothes and feed sacks into household items. Techniques have changed little over the centuries – the most common being braided, hooked or woven and more recently crochet. I decided to explore my options.

I decided to try locker hooking first.


Locker hooking uses rug canvas, a specialized tool that has a crochet hook on one end and blunt needle on the other. It uses fabric scraps like quilting cottons and you’ll also need a sturdy cotton cord to thread through the fabric loops. Whenever I find rug canvas at the thrift store I always buy it and I had plenty of fabric scraps and cotton cord so all I had to buy was the hook, which is inexpensive. You could do it with a regular crochet hook and a needle and thread but the hook/needle combo does make it easier. 


You can find tutorials at www.loophooklock.com. While a pleasant enough project to work on, locker hooking requires a HUGE amount of fabric; you will need to save a lot of scraps. Just to give you an idea, I used color coordinated strips I had planned to use in a quilt but the colors no longer worked for me. I'm sure I could have made a quilt top with the same amount of strips I used in this small rug. I think weaving them would get you more mileage out of your fabric scraps.  However, this project sparked the idea of crocheting on the canvas with a thick yarn.  I've seen plenty of crochet rag rugs but using the canvas would give your rug more stability and hopefully durability. Using the canvas also opens up design possibilities since you can draw on it.

For my next rug I used a bulky reclaimed yarn (i.e. I unraveled two thrift store vests) in two colors – brown and a creamy white. First, I folded down the edges of the canvas and single crocheted all the way around.



Then all I did was crochet a chain stitch through the canvas, starting on the outside working my way to the center and going all around until I ran out of the brown yarn. About every third row I actually doubled up – chaining two rows in one square – to fill it out. If and how often you do this will depend on your yarn.  When I ran out of brown yarn I used the creamy white. Working from the outer edge toward the center created a miter effect. While this rug lacked the loft of the locker hooked rug, I prefer it. It did not take up as much materials and I didn't have to worry about constantly adding new fabric strips or re-threading the needle, like I had to do with locker hooking. The rug is about 2’X 2.5’, I wouldn't go any larger than that, as it would be too cumbersome, especially if you are working from outer edge to center. If you wanted a larger rug, I would work it in smaller pieces or squares - leaving a couple of rows on the outside undone and then joining them up by overlapping the canvas and crocheting through both. Then I'd finish with the single crochet or edge design of your choice. 

Spurred on by my success with these projects, I decided to explore other possibilities. I've been interested in making tarn (t-shirt yarn) and this was a good excuse to make some. I went to the thrift store and bought the largest men’s t-shirts I could find. You want to make sure that they have no side seams (i.e. are knit in a tube). After washing, I cut off the hem and placed the shirt out on a table, making sure there were no wrinkles or folds under the armhole. Then I cut straight across underneath the armhole so I had one big tube. I am saving the top half for another project. I took my tube and placed it in on my cutting mat with the cut edges at the sides and the folded edges on the top and bottom. Then I cut about ½” strips (the strips can be anywhere from ½ inch to 1 inch wide) making sure to leave about one inch uncut at the top. Then you make a diagonal cut to create one continuous piece. There are plenty of tutorials on how to do this. Since I recently moved and the majority of my stuff is in storage, I just used scissors and eye-balled it. I imagine it would go quicker with a rotary cutter.

After the shirt is cut, wind it into a ball, giving the yarn a good tug before you do so to stretch out the knit.


Now you have a recycled yarn for knitting or crocheting rugs or other heavy household projects like crochet baskets. You’ll need to experiment with needle and hook sizes. I used a size 10.5 (U.S.) knitting needle for my sample but if you made your strips wider, you might want to use a 13 or 15. You could work your rug back and forth or in the round. I've been collecting interesting doily patterns to use for a round rug. For this yarn though, I will knit a garter stitch stripes runner. 

The other type of rug I am really interested in making is a woven rag rug. I've seen frames made from wood picture frames, mattress frames or you could use 1” x 4” pieces of lumber. I'm keeping my eye out for a solid 2' x 3’ wooden frame. I quilt and think a woven rug would be a great way to use up those long strips, like when you are squaring up your fabric. You’ll want to make them about an inch wide. 

The iconic rag rug is the wool braided rugs but they hold the least interest for me. It seems like it requires the most work (cutting the strips, braiding them and then sewing them all together) and material and I'm not a big fan of the way they look. I like clean, geometric lines and find the other methods better suit my style.  

One word of advice though, make that two - rubber mat. Rugs can be a slipping hazard so get a rubber mat to put underneath them (unless they are anchored by a piece of furniture).


Lynn Burdick is a designer, author and Kaizen Muse Creativity Coach who loves the thrill of the (thrift store) hunt. When she isn't playing with yarn/fabric or helping others follow their bliss, she can be found jogging, cooking, drawing, reading, dreaming of her own garden or plotting her next adventure. You can learn more about her at www.LynnBurdick.com.