Making a handwoven rug may seem like a daunting project, but rugs weave quickly and are not conceptually difficult to weave. A simple rug can be very handsome and effective in a room. A little knowledge about what makes rug weaving different from other sorts of weaving should help the first-time rug weaver.
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Types of Rugs
There are basically three categories of rugs: weft-faced, warp-faced and rugs with both warp and weft on the surface. For weft-faced rugs, perhaps the most common and easiest for beginners, choose a strong warp that can be stretched tightly without breaking; this could be cotton, wool or linen. The weft is most likely wool or cotton rags. For a warp-faced rug, choose a strong warp thread, but a shiny long-fibered wool is your best bet. The filler, or weft, is invisible and could be a thick cotton. For warp and weft-faced rugs, such as many rag rugs, any fibres can be used, but if you want the rug to be stiff and lie flat easily, some fibres must inherently be very stiff.
A weft-faced rug can have a sett of three to six ends per inch. If you want a very thick rug, choose the wider sett and double or triple the weft to fill between the warp threads. For a thinner rug, use a closer sett and a less-thick weft. A warp-faced rug has a sett about twice as close as the same warp threads, if they're for a balanced weave. A good rag rug sett is 10 to 12 ends per inch.
Beating in the Weft
For a rug, it is likely you need to beat the weft in harder than you normally do for napkins or tea towels. You need a sturdy loom that does not "walk" across the floor when you beat hard. Some weavers put rubber bumpers under the legs of their loom to keep it from moving when they beat. It's a good idea to use a temple to keep edges even and selvedges neat. For wool, you will probably find a normal boat shuttle works best, but for rags, you need stick shuttles wound with rags. These are slower than boat shuttles, but necessary with rags.
Special Considerations for Rag Rugs
When making rag rugs, the easiest way to prepare rags for weft is to tear them across the width of the fabric. You can just lay them end-to-end in the shed, without necessarily attaching the ends by sewing. A more sophisticated way to prepare the weft strips is to cut bias strips, either with scissors or a rotary cutter. By sewing a parallelogram of fabric into a bias tube first, you can cut one long continuous bias strip with scissors. Bias strips are stretchier and make a springier rug. You can sometimes buy pre-cut bias strips. In Finland, these strips are called poppana. A rag rug with visible warp and weft is not as stiff as a wool weft- or warp-faced rug, so you may need to put a non-skid rubber rug pad under it.
Edge Finishes for Rugs
Rugs can be finished with either a hem or a fringe. If you weave a hem, use the warp threaded doubled as the weft, or simply use a thinner weft than the regular weft, so the hem can be folded under and stitched when you take it off the loom. Fringe is also a popular edge, but it eventually frays and wears away unless you braid the fringe ends together before knotting.
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