Braided rugs, just like Grandma used to make

There I was at the end of August looking through Salvation Army for wool coats. 

PHOTOS: by Joan Norberg
PHOTOS: by Joan Norberg

August.

What was I thinking? I know it’s the Yukon, but we still had beautiful summer weather and I was  looking for a wool winter coat. I had to laugh at myself, maybe making rugs was an addiction. It all started when I was a kid, watching my grandmother make all sorts of things, not just rugs. But she baked bread, preserved pickles, made soap and made hand braided rugs. This all fascinated me; I wanted to be just like her.

By the time I was old enough to sit and learn from her, I had moved too far away to make this feasible. So when I came across a book on braiding rugs, I couldn’t wait to get started. That was 10 years ago. Braiding rugs is a craft that was developed in North America. When factory workers took their knowledge of making braided straw bonnets and translated it to making straw mats, it didn’t take long before rugs made from fabric came into being.

The fabric lasts longer than straw, and is warmer on the feet as well. Wool is a choice fabric because it’s long-wearing, but any fabric can be braided into a rug. The wool I use is generally  recycled from winter coats, wool blankets and even some heavy tweed suit jackets as long as they have a large percentage of wool. I want these rugs to last for a very long time. Once I get home with my treasures of coats and blankets, I start to rip them up. Sounds destructive, but it’s the beginning of making something new out of something old. 

I save the buttons and give them to a friend who uses them in her crafts. And I save the lining as well, but I haven’t much use for it although I did once make a Rendezvous costume with some. I then rip the remaining wool into two-inch strips, and sew them together end to end. I then fold in the long edges of the wool and iron it to keep it folded. Then, making a “T” with the wool, I start to braid. When I reach the point where I will make my first turn in the rug I braid two “twice  overs” and then continue braiding until I am either out of material or I have decided the rug is finished.

Often while I am braiding a rug I will also start the lacing process. This helps to show me where to change colours and gives my hands a break from the braiding. I use a type of yarn called Phentex for the lacing of a rug. For those of you who have lived through the ‘70s you may remember this as a man-made fibre that was in style for just about everything. It also lasts and lasts and lasts, perfect for a long-wearing braided wool rug. All that is left now is to blend the braid into the rug so it isn’t noticeable, and it’s done.

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