Using a toothbrush handle to make rugs from scrap fabric came to the United States with Scandinavian immigrants and grew in popularity during the Depression and World War years. Rugs made with toothbrushes look similar to braided rugs, but offer more durability. While the original craft used a sharpened toothbrush as a needle, specially-made rug-crafting tools are available today.
Toothbrush weaving, also known as nalbinding in Scandinavian countries, originally used old toothbrush handles as sewing needles to intricately weave fabric strips into rugs, pot holders and other functional or decorative items, according to the South Dakota Traditional Arts website.
The oval rugs start with a braided centre strip around which interconnecting stitches of fabric strips are made using a sharpened toothbrush instead of a needle or crochet hook, according to the Springfield, Mo., library collection website.
Depression-era crafters in the Works Progress Administration in Minnesota adapted the complex Scandinavian rug-making process to use up scraps for floor coverings when fabric and money were scarce, according to the Toothbrush Rug website. The thrifty technique was also popular during World War I and World War II. Crafters rediscovered toothbrush weaving in the 1980s, when the rugs became popular items in the back-to-basics lifestyle.
Traditionally, needles were made by cutting off the bristle end of a toothbrush and filing it to a point, according to the Springfield, Mo., library collection website. The hole on the non-bristle end became the needle's eye through which thin fabric strips were threaded. Crafters used files and knives to increase the size of the hole to as much as a 1/2 inch in length to accommodate the fabric strips. Because contemporary plastic toothbrushes no longer include a hole at the non-bristle end, sewing supply manufacturers now sell special toothbrush-style needles.
Fabric should be torn into long strips about ¾-inch wide, according to traditional directions listed in the Springfield, Mo., library collection. Strips are then folded in half lengthwise and pressed with a hot iron. Strips of fabric can be sewn together before the rug is made or they can be added to the rug as the weaving progresses.
While a toothbrush rug looks similar to a braided rug, it uses about half as much fabric, according to the Toothbrush Rug website. The technique produces a softer finished product than crocheted rugs.
Fabric strips are braided to form the centre of the rug onto which a complex series of loops and interlocking stitches add rows to the original braid until the desired rug size is reached. Fabric is threaded through the braid or previous row, looped over the thumb, threaded back through and tightened.
Uniform pressure and stitches create a rug that lies flat on the floor. The tighter the stitch, the more durable the rug will be, according to the Springfield, Mo., library collection website.
Most fabric types can be used for making a rug, but the Toothbrush Rug website recommends learning with cotton fabrics as they are easier to use. Velour and fleece produce soft rugs while wools create more durable products. Sheer fabrics or satins are not recommended.
The same type of fabric should be used throughout the rug so that it is uniform and wears evenly. Using colour-fast washable fabrics produces rugs that can be machine washed. Repeated use and washing give the rugs a soft appearance.
When making needles from toothbrushes, use very fine sandpaper to file them to a smooth finish, according to the Springfield, Mo., library collection website. Rough edges will snag fabric.