I finished my rag rug. It’s a slightly different shape than it was originally intended and it took about eight months, but it looks and feels like what I was after. My false start back in January or so used only a fraction of the flannel scraps I had laying around, so I started braiding more coils. I tore apart all the flannel bits I had leftover from backing baby quilts and braided them together while in meetings or on conference calls. For a while I toted them around in the False Start Bag, until the coil overflowed the bag. I took the pile over to my sister’s and she and her man draped themselves in the coils like the Laocoon.
I started sewing the coils together in a long oval. Initially you just double the braid in half on itself for whatever length seems good. My sister gave me a spool of thread used for sewing blue jeans, assuring me that it was strong enough to use as a garrote, so it would hold the rug together. Then I carried my growing rug around with me for several weeks, sewing loops around it. A couple of times my oldest tried to help. I took it to my brother’s house and worked on it on his kitchen floor. I took it into the car when we took the kids ice skating. That last was the genesis of The Problem. I didn’t realize that you have to keep the work flat for the whole time. So while I was avoiding the problem of it turning into a bag, it started to develop differential tension, which I couldn’t work around. I also failed to develop a good technique for securing the thread lengths when I ran out and had to rethread the needle, so the threads tended to come apart. I figured out a better technique when I switched to waxed cord.
It got too big to carry, so I started setting it on whatever clear floor space I could find in my house. (Clear floor space in my house isn’t actually easy to find). When I sewed all the braid I had onto the expanding mat, I braided more onto the free end. I ran out of flannel and used old sheets, old shirts and bits of other old fabric projects. I found a piece of rayon check that I had cut off the hem of a dress I wore to my sister’s college graduation in 1996. I found an ancient curtain that I swear was hanging up in the bathroom in my parents’ house when they bought in 1974. Where I had large enough scraps from quilt tops, which were much brighter colored, I’d braid those in too. I remembered all the projects I’d made with those fabrics: quilts that I wouldn’t see again and might have been used, or discarded and given to goodwill. I didn’t always have a good measure of who would appreciate my efforts.
During the dying days of winter I usually get into a funk where the darkness overwhelms me. This March I spent hours after the kids went to bed, stitching the gradually expanding loops of the rug and binge watching The Wire. My spouse said later that I was sewing the rug as if my life depended on it. Maybe I was. I did feel like sitting in the middle of it, adding a circle an inch at time around me, was pushing the darkness outward a bit.
My mother came to visit and told me how her aunt used to make rag rugs for extra cash. My great-aunt Maisie was wheelchair bound from multiple sclerosis (a tough go in 1940s and 50s rural Appalachia) and living with my grandparents. She had a big table she used so she could lay the rug out. People would bring her piles of old fabric for her to make up into rugs for them. Part of how Mom and I got to talking about that was because she explaining how much of a drag it was to try to fix puckers in the rugs. Because sure enough, I had a number of insoluble wrinkles in the rug where the loops bulged up over top of each other, creating humps that were not only ugly as hell and annoying to look at, but were trip hazards. Mom showed me how to cut loose the coils where the bulges begin re-sew it, working back inwards.
By this point the rug was laid out in its intended final home (the dining room floor) because there was no other place for it. I kept the unsewn coils stuffed under the china cabinet when I wasn’t working. My spouse would throw it off into a pile to one side when he practiced hockey on the wooden floor. (As one does. In the dining room.) This was the point I ran out of steam for a time. My carefully built rug, which was probably about 4 x 6 feet at this point was split in two parts, an outer ring and an inner disk. It soon became apparent that I would have to resew not just a foot or so of the loops, but rebuild it all the way back to the center. It sat on the dining room floor for several months, kicked and shuffled around and every now and then I’d manage a desultory couple of feet of resewing.
A month or so I got my game back and began resewing it. Instead of growing outward, it spiraled inward gradually, until I finished the inner disk with one of those curved carpet needles. Taking out the wrinkles had freed up about 15 feet of extra braided cord that I cut off and resewed onto the outer edge. By this time I’d actually bought a couple of pieces of “new” fabric, meaning cotton from the Bins. I incorporated a size 2X skirt, a set of Tommy Hilfiger blue and black tartan sheets, an old crib sheet with sheep on it, a red and gold napkin used as table decor for our wedding rehearsal dinner, and my daughter’s worn out leggings. One morning I decided the pajama bottoms I had were really uncomfortable and took them off and tore them into strips on the spot. I got a “new” slip cover for our dining room chair and used pieces of the old one for the final lengths of braid.
Now it looks likes as I think a rag rug should, mottled and bumpy where I used different widths and weights of fabric. As you can see, it is more circular and less oval than it started out, which I regret slightly. Parts of it are already a little matted down from being walked on for months, but it feels nicely nubby on the soles of my feet. I took it outside and my old man helped me shake the dirt out of it and put it back, with the stitching side down for the first time. He looked at it and said, “It looks good. It’s an honest rug.” Asked to clarify he explained that it didn’t look like it was a prefab idea, but that it grew from actual scraps. Which it did.