Rags to Riches

Turn rags into handwoven riches.

Anita Osterhaug Dec 17, 2016 - 4 min read

Rags to Riches Primary Image

Close up of Beverly Weaver's Hit and Miss Runner with Sari Strips from Handwoven January/February 2014 Photo by Joe Coca

When I think about rag weaving, I always think of a project in Handwoven a few years ago. A weaver had submitted a lovely vest woven with fabric strips, but when I sent her the article for author review, she was highly offended that we had referred to the project as “rag” weaving. She said, “I did NOT weave with rags. I bought lovely new fabric for this vest!” I’m guessing she grew up with relatives who, like mine, had lived through the Great Depression of the 1930s, and she had internalized that association between rags and poverty. (When I would put together funky, eclectic outfits back in the 1970s, my grandmother would say “You look like you got dressed out of the missionary barrel!” I don’t think Grandma Osterhaug would have appreciated today’s “boho luxe” looks mixing velvet shirts and tribal vests with jeans and army boots.)

Rag Rugs Tom Knisely

In fact, rag weaving has a long history in America and elsewhere. Our pioneer ancestors would never have thrown away precious cloth. They sewed worn cloth into quilts, braided it into mats, and wove it into rugs well into the twentieth century. In Japan, the tradition of sakiori, weaving with strips of worn-out cotton or silk garments, goes back hundreds of years. So while today’s rag weavers often buy new, colorful fabrics to make rugs, mats, and even garments, we also often use recycled jeans or other fabrics, carrying on a very old and eco-friendly tradition.

  • It’s fast! With thick weft picks, you can weave up a rag project in no time flat.
  • It can be eco-friendly: you can recycle everything from quilting scraps (for a small project) to blue jeans and old silk scarves or cut-up felted sweaters.
  • It’s not just for rugs. Check out Tom’s beautiful sakiori silk scarf on the cover of the new video.
  • It offers amazing opportunities for color play. The interaction of warp and weft in a rag project can yield surprising and sometimes stunning results.
  • Ripping fabric is fun . . . Especially if you do it with a friend. Tom has a great technique for preparing yards of fabric strips literally in seconds. Cheaper than therapy!

I have a whole box of bright fabric inherited from my mother-in-law, and I am no seamstress. So over the holidays, I’m thinking about a fun session of fabric-ripping with my grandson, and maybe weaving a nice rug for his room. I hope you’ll check out Tom’s inspiring new video and think about how you, too, can start turning rags to handwoven riches!

Happy Weaving!