A rag rug is made out of your leftover fabric scraps, or old tarnished clothes and rags! It’s a great and fun way to recycle and repurpose. You’ll fall in love this old homesteading tradition. I know I have! That’s why I’m sharing it with all of you so you can have fun, and keep your doorstep clean all the time!
Homesteading Tradition: Rag Rug Tutorial
The Story Behind My Journey
Lately, it is highly practical for everyone to recycle. It’s just a smarter way of living, not to mention the dwindling landfill space and non-renewable resources such as fossil fuels like gas that we use daily in vehicles. However, recycling is not a new concept.
I remember practicing recycling in my home when I was a kid, too, only I was not aware that it was known as recycling. During my childhood years, I always flattened tin cans and bundled newspapers at home. Every Saturday, as if routine, my mom would put on a pot of soup from the week’s leftovers. Nothing ever went to waste in my home.
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My parents are pretty phenomenal; they survived the Great Depression and knew how to stretch a buck. My mom never disposed of anything if she could find another use for it.
Why Recycling is My Favorite
When a towel wore out, or a sock was widowed, I would dare not toss it away. Instead, it became a rag for cleaning. Undershirts with holes make good dust rags, and thin old bed linens can be torn and used for a lot of things. We converted them into paint rags or tie-ups for our tomato plants and even kite tails.
My favorite memory of recycling as a child involved the rag bag. There was one summer in kindergarten when I outgrew my favorite gray and yellow plaid dress. My mother and I tore it into strips for the rugs. We removed the hem and some of the seams from the dress and pulled out the gathers at the waist. Then we removed the buttons and saved them in the button box; we did not dispose of them. My mom started to make little snips, about two inches apart along the edge of the fabric, and then we tore it.
Next Step: Tearing and Storing the Fabric
I love tearing fabric. It makes a wonderful ripping sound. It’s a very therapeutic and practical exercise.
When my mom tore it up, she placed the strips of fabric from my dress into a big brown paper bag. It was jumbled together with blue flowered apron strips, brown and white striped shirt strips, pink blouse strips, and red flannel nightgown strips. The result amazed me, my old dress was still good for something.
However, this was not the end of the project. There were some mysterious pieces of cloth that I’d never seen before in the pile of clothes she tore up earlier that day.
She stored all of the rag bags in the attic. I can still remember opening the door at the foot of the creaky wooden attic stairs where we battled our way through the cobwebs with a rolled newspaper, wielded as swords to safely enter.
The attic was as hot as a sauna, just like it always was during every summer. The sun slanted through the dirty window, filled with dancing dust mites. After shaking and blowing layers of dust from the rag bags, my mom opened the bag and immersed her hands, sifting her fingers through the cloth strips.
She would collect the rag cloths in bunches, by evidence of the quantity and array of colors in her hand. Even now, I can envision her doing this with the smell of cotton, dye, and soap that surrounded her. My mother would smirk in accomplishment after they passed her examination, and we brought them all downstairs where the real magic could begin.
Sewing the Strips
I watched her sew the strips end to end, choosing the next piece by whim or art. Sometimes the color trails shaded from dark to light, and sometimes they abruptly changed from yellow to black to green to red.
— Homesteading (@HomesteadingUSA) June 13, 2016
All you had to do was sew one strip to the next with a single straight stitch. It was very simple and very mesmerizing.
The long, exotic snakes of fabric coiled on the floor behind the sewing machine as she worked. Some years later, the old black and gold Singer treadle she owned was eventually converted into an electric portable.
But, I just cannot imagine my mom sewing in any other way but with her right foot rested on the treadle, and the left cocked so that only the toes could brush each other. She would hit the flywheel with her right hand to start the needle driving up and down. With her feet, she set a rhythm as she was working and would often start and stop as she adding in new scraps of color. She did not break a sweat.
Rolling the Cloth Strips into Balls
The next step in the project was rolling the cloth strips into balls. My father and I got to help with this one. Pieces of my dress showed up in each of the balls. When finished, my mom packed the product into May Company Department Store bags that had handles and carried them to Mrs. Rodecker, who owned the store.
Mrs. Rodecker was a widow who supported herself by doing needlework for neighbors and also weaved rag rugs. The last I saw of my gray and yellow plaid kindergarten dress, it was part of three different cloth rugs along with other scraps of our lives. The remnants were woven closely with bulky white threads and fringed at the ends. Each rug was a kaleidoscope of memories that could last for years to an individual.
Don’t forget to download, save, or share this handy infographic for reference:
You could buy a rag rug for just a few bucks at the store. But it won’t be the same. You may even opt for a cotton rag rug or even a braided rag rug but that may cost you a lot more. If you want a budget-friendly rag rug, I recommend to recycle your fabrics and make your own rather than purchase one. If you must purchase one, get it from a sustainable source and make sure the fabric used was from repurposed strips of cloth.
Have you ever made a rag rug before? Maybe this story sounds like a familiar one of your own? Let me know below in the comments!
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in April 2017 and has been updated for quality and relevancy.