Making a Rag Wreath
Join Visitor Guide Hannah Ferguson in learning how make your own rag wreath with techniques inspired by rag rugging.
In the spirit of Making Christmas, our skilled Visitor Guide Hannah Ferguson made rag wreaths with a traditional technique and with an adapted technique. The adapted technique, using tied knots of scrap fabric, is easy to do yourself at home. Rag wreaths are a great way to recycle textiles or make a keepsake from sentimental clothing.
Try it out yourself at home using pieces of fabric from old clothes, blankets, or any other textile you can reuse and recycle.
A Brief History of Rag Rugs
At least once a year, a family's clothing would be ‘picked over’ by an eagle-eyed mother or grandmother to weed out what was too damaged to wear. The resulting scraps of clothing would then be cut into small pieces for patchwork, or narrow strips for making rag rugs with.
The fabric strips would be pieced onto a backing of hessian or sacking, either machine stitched in rows or more often knotted or tied into the background fabric.
Once made, the rag rug would be placed by the bedside to take the chill off standing on a cold floor. When the rug became a bit worn there, it would be moved to the fireside or the front door. When it became too bedraggled there, it might have been thrown down in a byre for an animal or used to cover a box of spuds.
The rag rugs in the Ulster Folk Museum collection date from the late 1800s to early 1900s. The making of rag rugs was usually associated with lower income houses. As mass-produced clothing became more widely available and cheaper in the twentieth century, and firms began to manufacture doormats and rugs commercially, the traditional craft of rag rug making started to decline.
Materials and Methods
Any piece of clothing or fabric could be recycled into a rag rug. Wool skirts and trousers made excellent rug materials, while shirts and aprons were better used for patchwork quilts.
There are various methods for making a rag rug. By far the most common is to push the rags through a sacking material. The back of the rugs could then be futher protected with a layer of material, like the rag rugs below. In our collection, we also have a rag rug that was made using long strips of material sewn together to make a striped rag rug.
A recent revival of interest in rag rugging has grown out of current discussions around both the retention of traditional skills and the awareness of recycling and environmental concerns. Making a rag wreath yourself at home is a great way to connect to old practices of reusing and recycling - and a great introduction to the heritage skill of rag rugging!