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AROUND HOME : Braided Rugs

May 07, 1989|JUDITH SIMS

I GREW UP ON a braided rug: a big brownish one, so old the colors had faded and the surface had smoothed, making the braid just a pattern and not a texture. I think my grandmother finally threw it away, not because it wasn't usable but because she was sick of looking at it.

Braided rugs like ours were very popular in pre-Revolutionary New England, where they were used to cover cold slate or wood floors. Like quilts, braided rugs used up fabric scraps and old clothes, so nothing was wasted. And best of all, a well-made braided rug was reversible, so it got twice the wear of, say, a hooked rug. Many braided rugs, though they were used every day, have lived longer than the people who made them.

So it's only fitting that braided rugs require more than a casual investment in time and determination. Fortunately, the basic technique is easy, but there are a few tricks essential for constructing a masterpiece. Such as turning tight corners at the beginning so there are no unsightly lumps and lacing the braids together so that the threads are invisible. The most time-consuming task is the preparation: cutting long strips of wool, then folding each strip three times until it is a tight, fat ribbon ready for braiding. You will need a lot of wool: about 12 pounds for a small 3x5-foot rug, about 75 pounds for a room-size 9x12.

Often, modern braiders use cotton; it's lighter, more colorful and less expensive than wool. A cotton rug probably won't last for generations--but it won't take a lifetime to make, either.

Classes in rug braiding with cotton fabrics are regularly offered at Piecemakers Country Store in Costa Mesa (two classes start on May 25 and June 17). Piecemakers also publishes "The Calico Braided Rug Handbook" and sells rug-braiding tools.

"How to Make Braided Rugs," by Sally C. Carty (Peter Smith Publisher, 1983), is an excellent manual.

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