Braided Rug History

Whether you’re looking to decorate a modern room or you plan to use a more traditional decor, braided rugs are a good way to add color and punch. Despite their obvious modern appeal, braided rugs have been decorating home interiors for hundreds of years. Far from today’s perfectly made commercial rugs, the original handmade versions could take years to finish.

In the late 1700s Colonial residents covered their floors with braided straw mats. When woolen fabric mills became common in the early 1800s, people switched to braided wool rugs. Like many crafts in their earliest stages, rug braiding began as a way to use up scraps. When women made clothes for their family members, small swatches or strips of fabric were left over. Rather than throw these scraps away, these women thriftily connected the strips together into long strands. They then braided the strands and turned the braids into flat, coiled rugs that became standard home decor.

Because of the time it took to complete braided rugs, some of the versions used were smaller, serving as chair cushions for hard wooden chairs, trivets to protect tabletops from hot pots and pans, coasters to prevent condensation from damaging wood side tables, and even small rugs for wiping feet as you come into a home.

The method used to create a braided rug will demonstrate why it sometimes took months or years to finish a room sized version. Fabric scraps or leftover pieces were cut into strips of the exact same width. When the rugmaker thriftily used old, worn out clothing for rug making, the garments first needed to be deconstructed before being cut into strips. All buttons and other fasteners were saved for other uses, of course. After the strips were cut, they were connected into one long strip with the use of an ingenious knot, or by sewing all the strips together end to end.

Once the long strips of fabric were created, the end of three strips were knotted together with an overhand knot. The knot was fastened to a hook or door handle to hold it in place, then the rug maker braided all three strips together to create one long braid, adding more strips to the ends of the first ones when they began to run short. Once the yards of braids were created and rolled into a ball, the original knot became the center of a spiral. The maker wound the braid around the knot and stitched each subsequent layer of braiding to its previous neighboring layer.  The longer the braid, the larger the rug.

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