Sunday, November 25, 2007

A silk purse from a sow's ear: Making a rug from umbrellas and shower curtains / Intro to using plastic bags of all sorts

I like to say that toothbrush rugs are essentially making a silk purse from a sow's ear... here I prove it. I use two umbrellas to add on to a rug started from a shower curtain.

As usual, mixed in with the action I give tips and tricks of the craft, and a special feature of this series is Tess is in the room off camera and we have some nice flirty badinage.

Part I: Finishing off an umbrella done in by a recent wind storm in Chicago

Wind... in Chicago... how could that be?! *grin*

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Part II: Destroying for rug making purposes an umbrella which we have no intention of using because it triggers bad memories for us...

So not only are these rugs a way to preserve GOOD memories, but a way to redeem bad ones... its fun to take something which reminds you of a bad experience, cut it up, and put it in a rug!

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Now we move from DEstruction to CONstruction

I cut a strip from the black umbrella, and add it to a rug I'd started from a shower curtain. Now, usually rugs made from plastic materials are pretty bland looking- think about the colors grocery bags come in!- but this one will come out very lovely I think.

Other people have been known to use bread bags and newspaper bags, including my own dear mother. More power to them! These bags tend to be stretchier and have more friction, so you need a looser stitch than I am wont to use. But if you want to do it... why not! Just be aware that if you pull too tightly, the bags will stretch out, and when you do the pull through, it'll tend to "seize up" on you.

Still... my mother made a huge square one (that's for another series of tutorials, probably NEXT YEAR!) from yellow newspaper bags, and it was lovely. It worked as her doormat for about 10 years instead of the usual 40+, but hey, this is all about using things which would be wasted otherwise, and having fun... so if that floats your boat... anchors away!

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Friday, November 23, 2007

Making a memory rug using the toothbrush rug technique

One the best things about this craft is you can use it to make a "memory rug" using clothes which are no longer usable, but which have sentimental value.

This is one I'm making from the clothes (including lingerie) my wife and I wore when dating and when newlyweds... its my largest in years, and IMHO my most artistically spectacular

Part 1

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Part 2

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Part 3

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Discussion and demonstration: Blue Jean Rug

These three videos discuss the blue jean rug I've been working on, and hope to sell. As usual I mix demonstrating, teaching, and general wry commentary.

Part 1

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Part 2

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Part 3

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Thursday, November 22, 2007

Needle making lessons- Guest video tutorials& my expanded commentary on them

Well well, there seems to be one other person out there on the web talking about this! I found these video tutorials on Youtube. They're nice as far as they go, I've added my additional comments below them, but kudos to her! Her site seems to be part of some class project, but whether she's the teacher or student I've not figured out.

My additional comments

I've used the same kind of toothbrush for one of my needles! I like to finesse it a bit by using angled wire/tin snips to make two angled cuts.

I'll also sometimes use a fine toothed saw such as one would use on metal to create guiding grooves, so the brush doesn't splinter (as has happened to me on several occasions when I've tried to "brute force" it like this.

I especially love then sticking it in an old fashioned pencil sharpener, the kind with a handle you crank, not the shoddy little razor blade ones, to do the rest of the sharpening. This has yielded my best needles, and saves a LOT of work. But kudos to you for putting this up here, this is a grand old craft, and so "green" too, since you make it out of things which would otherwise be discarded.

Next, her tutorial on sanding the toothbrush

My comments:

I usually use a knife (if I don't have access to one of those wonderful old pencil sharpeners) to hone the needle to the general shape I want or the person for whom I'm making it desires first, then sand it.

Enlarging the hole (assuming you started with a brush which had one.)

My comments:

That's a great idea, BTW, for how to enlarge the hole. I've never tried sandpaper, I usually use one of the specialty craft knives I have to enlarge it. I almost always do enlarge my holes since I use such a wide range of "fabrics"- from blue jeans to old shower curtains to plastic bags.

For brushes without holes, I've tried using power drills, but thats a bit dicey... I prefer to use an awl, which is the main tool I use to enlarge the hole also. That failing, a very small short bladed knife will do- to create the hole, use the point as a drill, then once you're though keep going until its large enough. You'll probably need to sand or file down the edges around the hole.

Any ebay experts out there- we need help selling the rugs so we can... oh, say, eat, pay Tess' medical copays, etc.

Tess and I hope we can get at least $150 for this... that would feed us (via Aldi's) for 2 to 3 weeks, and I can probably produce rugs of similar quality about 1x a month in my spare time, but I'm the world's worst bargainer, I know NOTHING about ebay.

This rug is 96% done- have one more pair of jeans to cut up for it, and would like to make it 2 to 3 rows larger.

When Tess learns the craft and starts selling, maybe she can do one every other month, and cover a week or two of the COPAY of her medicines.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

My old introduction to the craft- will be supplanted by combined video/text, but a good enough primer for now

Editorial comment: 11/21/07 - I've given up on renaming the craft "recycling rugs" but you'll see the term in this document. The craft been around too long, and is too well known as "toothbrush rugs" or "toothbrush handle" rugs. I 'll just find other ways to emphasize the recycling / green aspects of the craft!

I've started doing video tutorials, and this document will ultimately be supplanted by combined text/video posts of the various aspects of the craft, but I put it up because other than my silly idea that I could rename an ancient craft, its good as far as it goes.

But I'm a bit older and wiser now, and with video technology at my disposal, I think that's the way to go!

Rugs 101 By by Peter A. List
How to make a “Toothbrush Handle rug” or a “Recycling Rug” with cast offs, a needle made from a toothbrush, and a very little bit of skill

© Copyright 2001-2007 - Creative Commons License applies.

“What is this called”
To the best of my understanding (11.21.07 addition) ... the proper name is “Naalbinding,” but since almost no one out of Society for Creative Anachronism folk, avid crocheters, and lovers of Viking ways and history know of it that way, I’ll stick with the more common “Toothbrush handle rugs,” or simply "toothbrush rugs".

1) Most new toothbrush handles don’t work! Sure, they’re fine for teeth, but try smoothing one into a needle the shape of a very long canid tooth, drilling a hole in one end, and using it for several thousand stitches.
The term was always a bit humorously confusing, but its becoming an anachronism, and really means nothing to younger “Gen-Xers” and “Gen-Y.”
2) Since the old term is long in the tooth, I thought it would be good to give it a new name which would capture the beauty of the craft and the attention of people in the twenty-first century.

“Where did it come from?”
Naalbinding is a Scandinavian craft which predates the region’s written history. How it came to be a folk craft done by people in 20th century Indiana I don’t know? My family learned it from a disabled man in Valparaiso Indiana who made and sold them to survive during the Great Depression in the 1930s.

“Why tooth-brush handles?”
They make great needles. They’re just the right size, and the simple ones don’t take a lot of work to convert to a needle.
What’s great about it too is that even the needle is a reuse of a simple, common, throw-away.
The best are usually gentle tapered, but have a nice point, like a spear head.
For plastic I like the sharper and more narrow ones.

“What can be used?”
Nearly any not knit materiel can be used. Sweaters and the like are totally out- they unravel.
That being said, some fabrics and clothes are easier to start out with...

- Larger, longer clothes, or even old curtains or sheets, just because there are fewer seams etc. to cut around.
- Normal weight cotton, cotton poly– they don’t streatch too much, are easy to cut, easy to pull.
Cut them into strips about 3/4ths of an inch wide, depending on weight of fabric, and how thick you want the rug to be, and as long as you can.
- Heavier fabrics like jean or denim.
Cut them no thicker than ½ inch, and be prepared to work a lot harder pulling them through.
The results are quite impressive- my sister made a blue-jean rug that was a wonder!

- Plastic bags, especially grocery bags.
Cut the handles off, and the bottom seam. Then make one cut through what’s left to make your strip.
For bags with “ribs”, cut off the handles and make two cuts along the side of the bag to create the strip. This will work OK, but the seam in the strip can catch and make the pull-through more difficult.
I’ve not found that any other type of plastic bags work so well- newspaper wrappers are a bit sticky, and stretch out too much. Thicker bags like the ones we use in the bookstore also have a tenancy to stretch out, and are hard to pull.
So initially, until you’re used to working with plastic, I highly recommend that you stick with normal grocery bags.

[Way Advanced]
- Hosiery [men’s or women’s], clothes with Lycra® or other stretchy materiel.
Mind you, the results are phenomenal, these make rugs that your feel can’t wait to walk on, and the dark and neutral colors most of the items come in almost always work very well together, but...
Since these fabrics stretch out, special care has to be taken when using them. You need to make sure that when you do the actual stitch, even though you’re pulling the fabric through, you’re not stretching it out. Otherwise, the rug will tend to cup up, you’ll have to use a lot of double stitches [see below], and so on.
My advice is very much to make a few “normal” rugs so you get the feel of how it should go before venturing on to this.
Cut shorter strips, no more than 2 feet long, and wider- 2 inches or more, depending on the thickness of the garment. Spiraling down a sock or piece of hosiery is fine, but I’d still advise cutting it into shorter segments until you really have the feel for how these behave.

So from here on out, I’m going to assume we’re just using normal weight cotton or cotton-blend fabric. This is easiest to start, there’s a lot of it around, and once you’re used to working with it, you develop a feel for how the rug should be going, so you can experiment with other materiels and fabrics.

I’m going to assume we’re starting with a “rug start”, a small rug that has a few rows done. That way, you can concentrate on the stitching, and get used to how incredibly easy and forgiving this craft really is!
How to do it!
The stitch
The loops:
There are three loops you will always be working with:
1) The “bottom loop” is the top edge of the row that you’re sewing along.
2) The “top loop” is the top loop of the advancing row.
Each row has two loops. Don’t worry about the middle one- if you put the needle through it though, it will be OK, its just not what you want to do most of the time.
3) The “thumb loop” is the fabric that goes around your thumb as you are sewing each loop. To complete the stitch, you will twist this over the needle.

The stitch:
1) Always start with your thumb in the thumb loop.
2) Put the needle up under the bottom loop.
3) While the base of the needle is still in the bottom loop, put the tip in the top loop.
4) At the same time as you push the needle through the top loop, twist the thumb loop over the tip of the needle.
Advanced: If there is a joint in the loop, and twisting it one way, say, clockwise, puts the joint in front, just twist it the other way, that way the joint will be on the back.
5) Now put your thumb on the loops you just made, and pull the fabric through with the other hand, until you have a new thumb loop.

That’s pretty much it! There are just two other things you need to do, they’re easy.

Doubles & Joints
If you have to angle the needle very much between the bottom and top loops, then it is time for a double stitch. This is easy, but its important unless you want to make a hat or basket instead of a rug. Without double stitches, a rug will cup up.

Advanced: So if you want to make a hat or basket, put fewer or no doubles in, then let me know how it works, I’ve always thought that would be a fun thing to try!
This will happen a lot more often on early rows and on round rugs. As you get more rows done, you’ll need fewer. .If you are doing an oval or [very very advanced!] squared rug, there will be long stretches where you won’t need any at all
Some people count how many stitches they do between doubles, and decrease that as they go out each row. That’s OK, its how I started, but it isn’t necessary to bring math into this. To keep it easy, just follow my “rule of thumb.”
The rule of thumb: Hold you hand out normally, fingers together, thumb extended to its farthest natural position. See the angle your thumb is at compared to your fingers? If the needle looks that way compared to the rug, its time for a double stitch. (Or lay it flat, and if the needle pulls back at more than 30 degrees, its time- 11/21/07.)

How to do a double stitch
After you’ve done a stitch and you think its time for a double, instead of putting your needle through the next bottom loop, put it through the same bottom loop you just did. Then proceed as normal.
Advanced: Tips on plastic rugs and stretchy rugs
Plastic: With normal cloth, having too many doubles isn’t a huge problem. With plastic, it is. Plastic rugs don’t stretch as much as cloth ones do, so too many doubles can be a serious problem, causing the rug to buckle.
Instead of using many double stitches, try making larger, looser, ones.
Stretchy materials [hosiery, Lycra®, etc.]: Just the opposite. Since these tend to pull together a lot anyway, you’ll want to be more generous with doubles.
Again, a looser larger stitch will make this less of a problem.

How to add a new strip
One of the reasons these rugs are so durable is that they are totally held together with strips of cloth. That is even true when you join a new strip to an old one.
If you want, when cutting your strips, you can cut small slits in each end, running length wise, starting about 1/4 inch from the end [Advanced: for plastic, silk, or other less strong materiels, double the end over, and start the cut ½ inch from the end.]
In any case, the way you are going to add a new piece to the old is with these slits, so you need them there at some point or another.

Thread one end of the new strip through your needle.
Lay the other end on top of the old one, making sure that the slits line up.
Then bring your needle up under both strips, pull the new strip through, give it a good hard yank to make sure it is tight, and a joint will be formed between the two. That’s it! The worst that will happen is that you’ll forget to put the strips in the right order, or pull the needle from the wrong way– in which case, you just do it again the right way.
Advanced: The joint formed will be very strong, and if you’ve pulled it nice and tight, should slide easily through as you sew. Some people don’t like the look of a joint on the top of the rug, since it isn’t as smooth as the normal strip. You can trim the excess fabric, but you run the risk of the joint coming undone. Much better is to use my “reverse thumb twist” trick, above, to make sure the joint is on the bottom.
If you really want to get picky, you can even make sure the joint will be inside the loops by how tightly you pull the last few stitches of a strip, or by cutting it off so that all that is left outside of the rug is the tip and the slit of the old piece. That method produces the cleanest, most consistent results, but is also the most work. If its worth it to you, then do it, otherwise don’t worry about it.

More Thoughts
Round, oval, square?
Most rugs (or chair mats or hot pads) people do are round ones. They come from a short start (a braid or chain stitch under 4 inches long) and are visually very nice.
An oval rug isn’t any harder to make, it just comes from a longer start, much longer. To get a yard long oval rug, you’ll want your start to have been 10 to 14 inches. Besides that, though, they are actually a bit easier to make because when you aren’t on one end or the other, you don’t have to worry so much about doubles.
Square and rectangular rugs are several orders of magnitude harder than any other kind. No one I knew even attempted it. After 10 years of making the rugs, when I finally started making rug starts, I figured out how it could be done.
Since this is “Rugs 101" I’ll not go into details, but the basic concept is that you double back on the row, instead of spiraling around. When that makes sense to you, you’re ready to try it.

Why not start with starts?
Because they are the hardest thing to do, hands down. They’re really the only tricky part of ever making these things. Everyone I know who has learned had someone else make the first starts they used. I was doing it 10 years before I tackled it (of course, I had three expert rug makers always willing to make me a start, too!)
The reason way the start is so hard is, until you know how a normal stitch should go, its awfully hard to know if what you’re doing is likely to produce one.
Again, this is “Rugs 101" I won’t go into the details, but the basic concept is:
You start with a chain stitch or a braid.
Once that is long enough (see “round/oval” above), you just arbitrarily pick a thumb loop, a bottom loop, and a top loop, and start sewing. The first row, especially the ends, involves a lot of double or even triple stitches.
If that makes sense, you’re ready to try it.

Caring for these rugs is as easy as making them. Vacuum them, throw then in the washer, what ever. One thing that ought to be obvious but I just learned the hard way 2 years ago is- if the fabric in your rug wasn’t color fast before you made it into a rug, it won’t be color fast in the rug either. If you throw it in the washer, the rug will come out a nice new tint. Likewise, if you wash it with something that isn’t color fast, you can expect that color to become part of your rug.

Patterns & Designs
One word: Yes. You can do what ever you want. Some people have a particular image in their mind, and work from that. Others want alternating rows or strips of color. Some use math. The easiest way is to get a bunch of strips of colors which all go well together, toss them in a bag, and take pot luck, but you can put as much work and thought into the design as you want.

Other uses
Very small rugs, barely beyond starts, work great as hot pads.
Small rugs work great as chair mats.
Plastic rugs are great in the bathroom, kitchen, or as a doormat.
I’m sure someone else will come up with new uses I’ve not found. If you do, let me know!

By now, if you know anything about sewing or knitting or crocheting, you probably understand more about this than I ever will. I am totally non-gifted at those things. I can do this because it is easy and forgiving. An extra double stitch, a stitch through the middle loop, even a skipped stitch, none will matter in the long run. Every rug I’ve made has had mistakes, and I can’t find any of them to point out to you now. [Advanced: Except for the plastic oval rug I put way too many doubles in– I wound up giving it to my mother to use under her car tires in the snow, it was that rippled!]

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Video tutorial: Starting a rug from a braid

I'm VERY pleased with how this turned out, though I had to really work hard to find a site which would host it, given its file size.

Anyone with any basic sewing skills should be able to follow the instructions, and start a rug.

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Saturday, November 17, 2007

My mother and my most elaborately planned rug

Yes, this is my mother, taken in the spring of 2006. The rug is one I made for a nearby park for an arts festival. While I usually go more abstract or free form, with this, I followed an intricate design. Its a symbolic representation of Lake Michigan and environs.

  • The deep blue is the lake proper
  • The light blue is the shore waters
  • The multi tan and white is the beach. Where it extends several rows represents the dunes in Indiana.
  • The dark green is the forests of Wisconsin and the UP
  • The light green is Lower Michigan and its farm lands
  • The alternating white blue rows is the sky.

I usually go more abstract and free form, but sometimes its fun to take on a challenge.

Experiment- shower curtain hot pad shaped like a heart

A neighbor was throwing away a shower curtain, so I tried cutting it up and making a hot pad from it as a way to see if it was worth working into a future project. As you can see, it is quite lovely, but the mat'l is hard to cut, and frays a lot. I'll have to remember the "mistake" I made to have it come out heart shaped like this.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Raw Materiels- This is the ultimate recycling!

1) Old clothing or fabric scraps. (You can also make them from
pantyhose and plastic bags, but I strong don't recommend these to
beginners!) The easiest with which to work are your basic cotton/poly
blends as in a normal dress shirt.

It will take about 5 pounds of cut up clothes (that is, with
decorations and seams removed) to make a normal sized rug of about 22"
diameter. Obviously that will vary some by what kind of material you
use, but that gives a good general idea.

With my stitches, about 1 foot of strip comes out to about 1 inch of
sewn row.

2) An old flat handled toothbrush OR a small cheap paintbrush (1/2"
head is about ideal.) Either way, you'll chop off the head/brush
part, sharpen the point into a needle (as tapered and smooth as
possible), and drill a hole on the other end, or enlarge the extant
one, as large as possible without weakening it.


I've been wanting to find ways to help popularize and publicize this fine, fun, easy craft. Lately I've taken to walking around Chicago working on rugs, and its generated interest- GREAT. But now I need a way for people to find out more about it. But so far the pages I've created haven't shown up much in search engines or generated much traffic. So I'm giving this a try.

This rug is the most beautiful I've ever made, and a good example of one of the best aspects of the craft- you can take old clothes with memories, and make a rug which will last a lifetime. Most of these are clothes Tess and I wore when we were dating/courting/just married over a decade ago. Some have worn out, some don't fit, but its not as if we were just going to pitch the dress she wore when we got engaged, or the silk bathrobes we wore on our honeymoon!

Questions, comments?

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