5 Questions a Rag Rug Beginner may Have

The latest member of the Ragged Life team is the lovely Emma from Hitchin. Emma is completely new to the world of rag rugging, so we thought we’d take advantage of her fresh eyes to find out what burning questions a rag rug beginner may have when they first start out. But, before we get started on answering those questions, here’s a little bit about our latest recruit…

Welcome to Ragged Life, Emma:

Hi everyone! I’m Emma. I’m really passionate about looking after the planet and I love being creative, which is why rag rugging has really captured my heart since learning all about it from Elspeth.

This is Emma…

When I’m not working at Ragged Life, I run my own business as a life coach, video calling with women all over the world, which I love.  And when I’m not working at all I love nothing more than long walks in nature (especially the windy beaches of Norfolk where my Mum lives) with my boyfriend, Rob.

Emma and Rob enjoying the great outdoors!

Before teaching Emma properly how to rag rug, she watched some of our YouTube tutorial videos to get a vague feel for the craft. Although I like to think of myself as pretty thorough, sometimes it’s easy to forget to answer some of the most obvious of questions. These are the rag rug beginner questions that came to Emma…

Emma’s Rag Rug Beginner Questions:

  1. I’d love to know more about materials that can be used in rag rugging.  Are there any definite no-no’s? What would you say are some of the easier / harder materials to use?
  2. Where would you recommend sourcing materials for rag rugging? I want to use old clothing mainly but as I’m also hoping to make a large rug, I know I’ll need large amounts of the same fabric. I want anything I buy to be recycled though!
  3. How can I clean my rag rug creations once I’ve made them? Can they go in the washing machine?
  4. How long does it take to make a rug once I’ve got the hang of the technique?
  5. Do I need to do anything to secure the ends of my fabric strips once I’ve rag rugged?

So, with the rag rug beginner questions out in the open, here are my answers…

Elspeth Jackson Rag Rugging

Elspeth’s Rag Rug Beginner Answers:

I’d love to know more about the materials that can be used in rag rugging.  Are there any definite no-no’s? What would you say are some of the easier / harder materials to use?

Where rag rugging is concerned, you can use absolutely anything to rag rug with. Over the years, I’ve used everything from old towels and sweet wrappers to silk and chunky wool. However, historically rag rugging was all about the “make do and mend” attitude of using up everything you had, so traditionally old clothing was used. To this day, that’s still the main source of our material. In terms of old clothing, you can use almost anything, but certain fabrics are harder to use than others. There are a few factors that play into how easy a fabric is to work with:

  • The thickness
  • The stiffness
  • The smoothness

Specifically, the thicker, stiffer and more jagged a fabric is, the harder it is to use, and the thinner, softer and smoother a fabric is, the easier it is to use. This means that the hardest materials to use for a rag rug beginner are things like thick upholstery fabric (like offcuts from curtains or sofas), sturdy denim, jersey with stiff vinyl print on it and loose weave lace (which has jagged edges when cut). I never actively avoid any of those fabrics, but I wouldn’t do a whole rug in them.

Harder fabrics to make a rag rug with including lace, denim, embroidered fabric and upholstery material

These fabrics are slightly harder for a rag rug beginner to work with…

The easiest fabrics for a rag rug beginner to work with are things like soft jersey, lycra, fleece and blanket yarn, which pull through the hessian smoothly and easily.

Easy rag rug fabrics to work with including jersey, lycra, fleece and blanket yarn

As well as the ease of use of a fabric, another factor to bear in mind when selecting old clothing to cut up is whether they will hold together or not when they’re cut up. Certain fabrics will fray and shed a little, where as others will simply fall apart. Fabrics made out of larger strands, more coarsely woven together are more likely to disintegrate. For example, you can use certain knitted fabrics to rag rug with, but only if they are woven tight enough…

Loose and tight weave woven woollen fabrics

Loose weave fabrics will fallen apart when cut into, where as tighter weaves with stay together.

Sometimes if you boil-wash knitted fabrics, the weave will tighten up enough for them to be cut up successfully.

I like to use fabrics that fray a bit (like cotton) in my rag rug pieces, as they add texture. However, I don’t like fabrics that shed too much, like upholstery fabrics or towelling material, which sheds a fine dust that gets everywhere. If you’re unsure how a fabric will react to being cut up, try a small amount first before cutting up the whole garment.

Most importantly though, whatever fabric you choose to rag rug with, it still needs to be thick enough to pad out the holes of the hessian and tighten it up. This means that if you’re using a thin fabric like a chiffon, you need to cut your strips wider, where as thicker fabrics like denim need to be cut narrower.

Cutting strips for rag rugging

Thicker fabrics need to be cut narrower.

More Resources:

If you’re a rag rug beginner and you’d like to learn more about fabric usage or to see how certain fabrics look when rag rugged, read my “Rag Rug Fabrics – What can and can’t be used” blog post or watch my Fabric Usage YouTube video.

What Fabrics can be used to make a rag rug video

Where would you recommend sourcing materials for a rag rug beginner?  I want to use old clothing mainly but as I’m also hoping to make a large rug, I know I’ll need large amounts of the same fabric.  I want anything I buy to be recycled though!

As the ethos of rag rugging is all about recycling, I’d always recommend sourcing second hand clothing or textile waste where possible. This means that we’re reducing textile waste, rather than contributing to the problem. Whenever I’m making a new piece, my first port of call is always my own wardrobe or stash – making a rag rug is great incentive to do a little clear out. After rading those areas, I normally turn to friends. Ask a couple of good friends (particularly patchworkers, quilters and sewers) if they have any bits lying around that they were thinking of getting rid of. You’d be surprised how much stuff comes your way.

Old clothing in wardrobe used for rag rugging

Which of my items of clothing in the wardrobe will be next for the chop…

Although that’s normally a good start, sometimes you’re looking for exact colours to bring a piece to life. This is where the good ol’ charity shops come in handy. I look for items which will give me the most amount of fabric with the least number of seams. In particular, maxi dresses, bedding sets, XXL t-shirts and tunics are great. Dresses with lining fabrics give you two complementary fabrics for the price of one and the beauty of rag rugging is that an old sheet will do just as nicely as perfectly pristine fat quarters. In fact, using a variety of different fabrics will make your piece look more interesting as you’ll have different textures throughout.

Charity shop with bunting

Need a certain colour, why not go into your local charity shop?

In terms of how far the fabric will go, it’s hard to calculate, but a good rule of thumb is, if you fold a piece of fabric in half four times, that will roughly show how much that piece of fabric will cover in area in the shaggy technique. If you fold it three times, that’s roughly the area covered in the loopy technique. This is only a rough estimation though as the area covered depends on a number of factors including, the thickness of the fabric, the tightness of the rag rugging and the height of the fabric pieces.

Rag Rug Beginner Tip: If you’re worried that you won’t have enough of a certain fabric to cover an area, mix the fabric with similar fabrics to begin with. This means you won’t be left in the lurch and it will deliberately look like part of the design. 

Cream short shaggy rag rugging

Rag Rug beginner tip! Mixing similar shades of colour together from the beginning of a design means you won’t be left with unblended patches of colour.

How can I clean my rag rug creations once I’ve made them? Can they go in the washing machine?

Cleaning a rag rug is a lot less bothersome than you might think. There are a few ways you can go about it…

1. Give it a quick vacuum. Rag Rug Beginners are very surprised when I tell them that I vacuum my rag rugs, but that’s how I keep them relatively clean on a weekly basis. As long as you’re carefully not to snag the loops of loopy rag rugs, it’s one of the most effective ways of keeping your rugs in good nick.

Vacuuming a Rag Rug with a dyson vacuum

Yes, even a powerful Dyson vacuum doesn’t suck all the strips out!

2. Give it a good beating. The traditional way to “clean” a rag rug is to give it a good shake outside or, better yet, a beating on the line. Not only does this shake loose any small bits of debris that have got trapped in the rug, but it also fluffs the rug up again, which gives it a new lease of life. We never back our rag rugs, as doing so, traps the dust been the backing and the rag rugging. This means that dust can’t pass through the rug.

3. Put it in the washing machine. If your rug is in a high footfall area, it will need the occasional deep clean. I wash mine approximately once a year in the washing machine. As long as your rug has been rag rugged into the correct weave of hessian at the correct tension, it will stand up to a washing in the washing machine, but if in doubt, don’t do it. If your rug fits easily in the washing machine, wash it in a pillow case or old duvet cover on a 30 degree wash with non-biological washing powder. Larger rugs can be washed in the same way in commercial washing machines at your local laundrette. Rag rugs take a while to dry out fully, so we recommend hanging them out to air dry on a sunny day. Never dry clean or tumble dry a rag rug.

Rag rug in washing machine how to wash a rag rug

Rag Rug beginner tip! You can put a rag rug in the washing machine, but put it in a pillow case or duvet cover first to protect it.

4. Re-rag rug a section. If something terrible has befallen your rug… a glass of red wine for example, don’t panic. Firstly, remember that it’s fabric. Spot cleaning with something like Vanish will often fix things. However, if that doesn’t work, you can actually pull some rags out of the hessian and re-rag sections. It can be difficult to match to the original colours, but it’s worth trying if nothing else has helped.

For more details on how to wash a rag rug, read our more in depth “How to Wash a Rag Rug” blog post.

How long does it take to make a rug once I’ve got the hang of the technique?

I’m afraid that this is one of those “how long is a piece of string” questions. How long a rag rug piece takes to make depends on a number of factors including:

  • The complexity of design. Generally, the simpler a design is, the less time it takes. The more complex a design is, the longer it takes. This is mainly down to the “thinking time” it takes to decide exactly what colours to put where. It’s one of the reasons why I often recommend simple, geometric designs as a first project for rag rug beginners. Stripey rugs are therapeutic and relatively quick to make, for example.
Complicated Bird Design done in Hooky Rag Rugging

More complex designs take longer to complete…

Ladies holding partially made striped rag rugs

Rita, Tricia & Julia with their striped rag rugs.

  • The number of fabrics used. More fabrics = more chopping time. Plus, you can’t get into as much of a rhythm when you’re chopping and changing between colours.
Ragged Life rag rug in loopy and shaggy rag rugging with logo

This offcut rag rug used hundreds of different colours and patterns of fabric, all of which had to be cut up individually… it took forever!

  • The thickness of the fabrics used. Generally, the thicker the fabrics used, the further apart you can space your rag rugging and therefore the quicker you cover the hessian. That’s one of the many reasons why we love working with 100% wool blanket yarn.
Black and white random shaggy rag rug from the back on the hessian

This mixed fabric rag rug took 87 rows, which is a lot denser than the blanket yarn rug below.

Fabric calculations for shaggy rag rugging with blanket yarn

The same size blanket yarn rug only took 64 rows of shaggy rag rugging to complete.

  • The height of your rag rugging. Particularly with the loopy technique, if you make your rag rugging short then it doesn’t cover the hessian as effectively as with higher pieces. This means that you have to rag rug closer together, which takes longer.
Valentine's Day Pink Rag Rug Card made using a latch hook

I had to make the loops incredibly short for this card, but I would never make a rag rug with loops this short as it would take me forever to make.

  • Your experience level. Obviously, it goes without saying, but the more practice you’ve had rag rugging, the quicker you are at it. Generally, I would say that it takes an experienced rag rugger about half the time it takes a rag rug beginner to complete a project.

I’m aware that that wasn’t particularly useful, but as a guide, it takes me (an experienced rag rugger) three hours to rag rug a loopy cushion in just one blanket yarn… (so one fabric with a simple design).

Upcycled Blanket Yarn Rag Rug Cushion

I was so pleased with how the blanket yarn looked when it was loopy rag rugged.

Where as, I reckon it took me about forty hours to make my first ever rag rug, which had a more complicated design and colour scheme…

Blue and Coral Geometric rag rug

If you ask a rag rugger how long something took to make, you’re very unlikely to get a good answer. Chances are, they probably picked it up and put it down many times over months, which makes it very difficult to calculate the number of hours that went into it.

However, it’s worth remembering that a rag rug is a long term project that is enjoyable to make. Sometimes things are more about the journey than the end destination 🙂

Do I need to do anything to secure the ends of my fabric strips once I’ve rag rugged?

Rag rug beginners are often surprised to find out that the pieces of fabric in a rag rug aren’t actually knotted or sewn into the hessian. In fact, the only thing keeping them in place is the hessian tightening around them. Well, as long as you’ve used the correct weave of hessian and you’ve rag rugged at the correct tension (not too far apart, but not too tight) then there’s no need to secure them in any other way. This is what the tightening looks like from the back of the hessian…

Back of short shaggy rag rug on hessian made with old clothing

Around the fabric pieces, the hessian begins to tighten up.

Not sure you’ve got the correct weave of hessian? You can buy our Ragged Life-approved hessian on the shop here.

On the subject of securing ends, however, it’s worth pointing out that with the loopy rag rug technique, you should never leave ends of strips on the underside of the rug. If you do then they are not secured properly and can come loose over time (and can pull a whole strip out!) The ends of strips are completely disguised in the loopy rag rugging if they’re pulled to the top of the hessian and cut to the same height as all the loops, so there’s really no excuse not to pull them to the top 🙂

Red Tartan Blanket Offcuts Work in Progress

Ends of strips are completely disguised amongst all the loops.

Right, those were Emma’s rag rug beginner questions answered. Once I’ve properly taught her how to rag rug, we’ll see what other questions come up for a follow up post. Got questions of your own? Comment on the blog post to let us know what topics you’d like for us to cover.  If you’d like to be the first to see future rag rug tips and inspiration, why not join our Rag Rug Community on Facebook or join our fortnightly newsletter here.

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As always, happy rag rugging!

Elspeth x

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