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Winter Project: Rag Rugs

Updated: Feb 27, 2023

Part 1: warping the loom

This is a project that's been a long time in the production stage. The loom, a Reed Cambridge, is new to me and this is my first project on it. Henry (the loom) lives out on a 3 season enclosed porch, and it's not always warm enough to be out there weaving. But we've had nice weather lately, and I've made great strides on weaving.

About Henry: he's old and he's solid. Exactly how old has been hard to determine. The company dates back to the late 1800's; the Henry Ford Research Foundation puts production at around 1935. He is a four harness counterbalance loom, with cast iron brake wheels, crank handles, and ratchets. In terms of 1930's industrial design, he's a beauty.

Henry is an excellent rug loom because he's so solid, which allow the weaver to get a serious bang into beating in the weft.

Anyway, I "dressed" Henry about a year ago. This was an entirely too complex a design for rag rugs, and took quite some time to put on the loom. For future reference, don't do anything so silly as this. A simple stripe pattern will work just as well to show off your colorful rag weft fabrics.

Part 2: preparing the weft

I got the warp finished in November of 2022, then started preparing the weft. The original plan was to use denim. I had ninety pairs of well worn denim jeans, most given to me by other weavers. I now understand why there were given away: preparation of denim rugs is hard on your hands and extremely labor intensive. Those weavers willing to make denim rugs deserve every penny they get — denim rugs can be (should be) more expensive than other rag rugs. I have since passed these jeans onto another weaver!

I loved the look and the colors of denim but needed something lighter and easier to use. I happened to have a large quantity of chambray fabric from vintage Woolrich sheets, and one gorgeous 1980's era Ralph Lauren percale sheet. Chambray is a "cousin" of denim, with a similar look but is a much lighter fabric.

I cut all the fabrics down into 2" strips, sewed the strips together on the bias, pressed the seams to one side, then proceeded with turning them into double-fold strips using a handy little tool that is used to produce bias binding. This is very labor intensive — every inch of many, many yards is pressed with a hot steam iron twice — and isn't done for most rugs, but the chambray was loosely woven and the edges raveled a bit too much for my taste.

Finally weaving!

The actual weaving goes much more quickly than all that preparation. Warping a loom and weft preparation accounts for about 90% of the time involved in making a rug. The weaving is now in progress, and I'll have more photos when it's off the loom, but here's a detail shot.


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