Craft Basics: Rug Weaving On A Loom

Learn the basic terms and methods needed to weave a simple rug on a loom. Special emphasis is given to rag rugs.

A rug is a perfect first project for learning to use a simple loom. A hand loomed rug can be made from heavy rug yarn or from rag strips. Rag rugs enjoy a rich and varied history, and are good for the ecology, as they reuse and recycle readily available materials.

In weaving, two types of fiber are usually used together. One is the warp string, and the other is the weft, or filling material. The warp is the fiber that runs up and down, and the weft is the material that is woven across, into the warp. The warp and the weft can be made of the same type of fiber, but very often, they are not. The warp is usually a strong string in a neutral color, but the weft can be almost anything. In rugs, this is where rags are used.

A simple type of beginner loom is called a rigid heddle loom. These small looms range in width from 12 to 24 inches. A rigid heddle loom that is 24 inches wide could be used for a small throw rug or runner 24 inches wide. Or the weaver could make two identical pieces and sew them together for a rug 48 inches wide. The length can be any length.

The first step in loom weaving is to place the warp on the loom. This process consists of cutting warp threads the length of the finished fabric plus 9 inches or more for fringe and warp that might be lost when removing the rug from the loom. If weaving several pieces to sew together for a wider rug, the weaver can increase the length of the warp, so the warping of the loom only has to be done once.

For instance, if you have a small loom which is only 18 inches wide, and you wish to make a rug that has final dimensions of 36 by 48 inches, make the warp strings 48 times 2 plus 18 inches for fringe and waste. That amounts to 114 inches of warp, or 9 ft. and 6 inches. This is the length you would need for each warp thread.

There are warping boards available on which you can wind the warp threads to the length you wish so that you only have to make one cut. If you don't have one of these boards, you can lay your threads side by side on a large table or the floor. Most looms use from 4 to 12 warp strings per inch. Assuming 6 strings per inch, if you are making a strip 18 inches wide, you will need 108 warp strings. If your rug is 24 inches wide, and being woven on a 24-inch loom, you will need 144 strings.

These are general examples for doing the math required. Your own loom is probably different. You might want to leave a little more length, just to be on the safe side.

If the loom comes with instructions, follow those for warping the loom. Otherwise, the loom probably has notches on the front and back bar on which you tie the warp. Count those notches and cut that many warp threads. The threads then need to be tied to the front bar. Be careful not to get them tangled.

When attached to the front bar, each thread in order needs to be threaded through the heddle. This is a comb like frame which has a slot for one thread, then a hole for the next. The warp threads will alternate between slots and holes for the width of the rug.

Finally, the warp threads need to be tied onto the back beam of the loom. Be careful not to cross them over each other. When they are all tied, the back beam can be loosened and turned to roll up the warp until it is tight. This will be loosened as the piece is woven, and the finished work will be rolled on the front beam. If you want fringe on your rug, you will need to roll the warp onto the front beam a little way, too, perhaps 4 inches.

Now the weft must be wound onto shuttles. A shuttle is usually a flat stick with a notch in each end. The weft is wound lengthwise onto the shuttle. If using rags, they can be cut or torn into ¾ inch strips. By varying colors in the weft, you will create horizontal stripes. Traditional rag rugs were woven in the "hit and miss" pattern, which is really no pattern at all, but just a random assortment of colors. Tie or sew the strips together end to end as you go.

Weaving is accomplished by raising or lowering the heddle and sliding the shuttle through the resulting space in the warp threads. When the heddle is raised, the strings through the holes will go up, while the strings in the slots will stay stationary. When the heddle is lowered, the threads in the holes will go down, while again, those in the slots stay stationary. In this way, the weaver is able to create a "shed" through which the shuttle can be placed.

Slide the shuttle through alternating sheds, unwinding the weft material as you go. After each row, take a wide toothed comb, fork, or other similar object, and beat the weft down close to the preceding row so that the weaving is tight.

To make a rug with symmetrical stripes, reverse the order of colors and widths of stripes after you get half of the length of the rug woven.

To make a rug with two or more widths of your loomed material, finish off the first piece as a narrow rug, and make another identical to it on the same warp. Sew the finished pieces together.

To finish the rug and remove it from the loom, carefully cut the warp from the front beam, leaving enough string to tie each two strings in a hard knot. Hopefully there are long enough threads here to form the fringe you wish! If not, you can unravel a little, or individually tie strings on to form the fringe. In the same way, cut and tie off the back end of the rug, leaving enough for fringe.

If you have enough warp left on the back beam to do more weaving, bring the warp threads up in order and tie them onto the notches on the front beam. You will also have to do this step if you are weaving more than one piece to sew together for the final rug.

Any type of cloth can be used in the making of rag rugs. Old clothes of cotton, denim, corduroy, or even satin can be used. If you vary the width of the strips so that the rag strips are narrower for heavier fabrics and wider for lightweight fabrics, the overall rug will be more uniform in texture. Or you can use the same weight of fabric throughout.

If you don't have a simple loom, and are itching to get weaving, you can make a simple wooden frame a bit larger than the rug you wish to weave. Attach pegs or screws along each end - about 2 per inch. Use these to wind the warp thread around back and forth until you have the desired width. Weave your rag strips or other weft material through these strings, beating down after each row. Cut and carefully tie off the ends when finished. This rug will not be woven as tightly as one on a loom, but will still be charming. Take care to keep the outside selvages even.

Wash your woven rag rug gently in mild soap when soiled. It should give you years of wear.

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