I have always loved the look and feel of braided rugs. It's one of the many items that pulls me to the colonial era. Large, quality (not to mention handmade) rugs are expensive and so like with everything else I want that I can't afford, I simply learned how to make them for myself.
I buy flat sheets at the thrift store. I never pay more than four dollars and the average is two dollars. Normally I just grab sheets whenever I see a color I like and the price is low. I also make it known to family and friends to pass their sheets on to me instead of throwing them out. It doesn't matter if they are faded, worn in spots or have bleach stains. All that can be cut out.
As for colors, you can choose all one, or two strips with an accent color or three different complimenting colors. The one I'm working on right now has tan, cream and sage green.
I start by folding a sheet over twice. Bring the bottom corners up to the top and then again, bring the bottom corners up. Smooth and straighten as best you can. It helps to have a good sized table to work on (one you don't mind getting scratched from the scissors) but you can do this on the floor if you need to.
For my braids, I use 3-4 inch strips. You don't need to measure and it doesn't have to be perfect. I will cut the seam off the edge of the sheet, then eyeball three to four inches and then cut up. Use the first strip as a guide for the rest. Lay the folded strip on top of the sheet and make a snip. I normally make eight to ten snips at a time, then remove the original strip and start cutting.
You can also use old t-shirts (though you'd need a lot), jeans, or store bought fabric. I am hoping to make Lisa a large rug for her living room for her birthday and I'll have to buy some of the fabric because I can't find sheets in the vibrant green that I want.
Some people like to tear the sheets and it certainly goes faster. But I've found it makes for very uneven strips and some of my braid will be really thin and other parts really chunky. Cutting makes it more uniform.
After all your strips are cut, you can start braiding. I tie the end of three strips together with a tight knot and then stagger the lengths. Leave one strip long. Cut the second strip 1/3 of the way up and the last strip 2/3 of the way up. This way, you can add strips of fabric without three knots clumping up in one place making an ugly bulge in the braid. It also makes it easier to work with as you'll need to pull through a strip every couple of braids.
Then, just start braiding. I find it helpful to hold it like this, so it stays uniform and doesn't get away from you. I hold it still with my left hand and do most of the braiding work with my left pinkie and the right hand.
When you get down to the last six inches of the first strip, add another strip. I used to stop and sew these together. This was very time-consuming. Luckily I found a better way. I'll describe it but you'll probably be able to better see with pictures. Cut a snip in the end of the strip coming from the braid. (Like you're making a hole. Don't cut all the way through the end.)
Then cut a snip at the end of the fabric to be added.
Push the fabric (snipped end) a few inches through the snip in the attached fabric.
Bring the tail of the fabric to be added up and through its own snip.
Pull gently until it forms a snug knot. I like to pull each of the edges of the fabric to be added because it leaves less extra side fabric poking out.
Then, keep braiding. After a while, you'll reach the end of your next strip and simply add on more fabric. Keep with the same colors or change up your colors for something unique. Watch your braid for uniformity. It should be tight, but not so tight that you can't get a large needle through it later when it's time to construct the rug.
I normally do all my braiding and then assemble. You can choose to braid ten feet, bind it together and then braid more. This is helpful if you want to get a pattern out of it. Here's one I did that way. I needed to know exactly where to stop and start new colors.
This one I braided and then just put it together to see how it would turn out. I like it just as much.
To construct the rug, you need to decide what size you want it to be. I only do oval and circle so if you're interested in doing square or rectangle, I'm sure there are tutorials on youtube. The one time I attempted a square the corners kept curling up. I decided to do it the old way and keep it oval.
When I decide what size I want my rug to be, I take the different between the length and width and that tells me what size of my center braid should be—my starting point for lacing it together. So if I want to end up with a six by nine-foot rug, I'll need to have a three-foot center braid. If I want an eight by ten, I'll need a two-foot braid. Eight by twelve foot rug...four foot center braid.
Here is where I am going to link to a youtube video that taught me how to lace. It's much easier to watch it than to try to explain it with words and pictures. The only difference is she forms her starting knot differently. I simply tie it off as tightly as I can and snip the edges.
One more thing before the video. Some people fold and sew their strips down the middle so there are no fraggles sticking out from the braid. I did this once. ONCE. It was time-consuming and mind-numbing. I found that after the rug is finished and in use, these fraggles will break off and the braids will look smooth and pretty. Frequent vacuuming will help this along. The rough look has never bothered me but if it bothers you and you don't want to wait for the rug to break in to look smooth and perfect, there is one alternative to sewing each strip. You can use quilt edging binders. Simply run each strand through and keep the binders about six to eight inches below the braid you're building. You will have to take each one off when you add fabric as it won't slide over the knot and then put the new strip through. Personally, I have never felt the need to take this added step or spend the money for the binders.
Here's the video that will show you how to lace the rug. Good luck and have fun!!
M. L. Gardner is the bestselling author of the 1929 series. Gardner is frugal to a fault, preserving the old ways of living by canning, cooking from scratch, and woodworking. Nostalgic stories from her grandmother’s life during the Great Depression inspired Gardner to write the 1929 series—as well as her own research into the Roarin’ Twenties. She has authored eight books, two novellas, one book of short stories and a serial. Gardner is married with three kids and three cats. She resides in northern Utah. Find the first book in her epic series here.