I’ve been meaning to re-cover my kitchen chairs for awhile now and independently also cutting up old shirts for an eventual rag rug. So, when I luckily came upon some extra hessian via the club’s stash a few months ago a synthesis of sorts presented itself: rag rug seat covers.
There are a couple of ways to make rag rugs, including braiding and a kind of weaving, but the way I have made these new covers is the simplest as long as you have the right tool. Because this is a traditional folk craft there a several names for the tool (I purchased it as a “bodger”) which has a round-handle and pointed pincers and can be easily found online. When I learned how to make the rugs at a workshop*, one of the other students was using her grandmother’s, so I think that they’re pretty durable objects. All you really need apart from the hessian and bodger are the rags, however some people find it easier to use an embroidery hoop or tapestry frame to keep a taut surface while making the rug. Personally I vary between using one and not, and I would recommend using a hoop that is almost as large as your hessian if you can.
Now for the virtuous, but time-consuming, part of rag rug making: cutting up the fabric. If you can get help with this – don’t turn it down! You will need used, even hole-y or stained, clothing and linen. Lightweight cottons are easiest and old t-shirts feel the best for rugs, but any fabric will work as long as it’s thin and flexible enough to pull through the hessian. The point though (and tradition dictates) that you re-use fabric and I think that very small scraps from your stash count. All you need to do is cut the fabric into rhomboids roughly 3/4″ wide and 3″ long. It is important that you have a sharp point at either end so you can grasp it with the bodger. To give you an idea for the amount of rags you will need: a small wreath I made used a very full grocery bag.
Once you have your cut rags you can start with the rug! It’s really easy. Start in the middle and work out in a spiral if possible, poke the closed bodger through 2-3 strands of the hessian, open the bodger and grasp a corner of the short side of a rag, close the bodger, pull rag halfway through, release and your done. Told you it was easy!
Finally, apparently it goes against the rag rug ethos not to pick out rags at random, but I don’t think it’s the end of the world if you have a design in mind. As for the density of the placement, the denser the better, especially in the case of the seat covers – I packed the rags tightly enough that I didn’t need any cushioning at all.
Embroidery needle (optional)
Staple gun (for the seat covers)
Enough hessian for your project, plus allowance (2-4″ in the case of the seat covers)
Loads of old textiles not suitable for the charity shop (linens, clothing, etc. light woven cottons in the form of used t-shirts feel best)
Binding (if you want to make a rug) or you could just use twine/embroidery thread to finish the hem
With all of the cutting you need to do before you can start the rug this is a project best done while watching a series of The Wire. At least.
* Which was held at the Birmingham Back to Backs, a National Trust site in the city centre and a great place to visit if you haven’t been.