Monday, January 28, 2008

Q&A on how to start a rug, and which materials to use, carried over from Youtube

Over on Youtube, a person on viewing both my starting a rug from a braid and starting a rug using the half hitch method had this to say on the braid video when I suggested the half hitch as better:

I saw that one first but didn't strike home until I saw this one. Couldn't quite figure out where you were going with the half hitch.. why it was "easy". Makes sense now. (scurries away to find hubbies old t-shirts to practice with)

First off, some historical background: This being a folk craft, the way it was taught and handed down in the past was by expert rug makers mentoring novices. This usually involved the mentor MAKING the first half dozen or so rug starts. The logic was... once you get comfortable with the stitch, once you get used to the fact that you can make "mistakes" and it will self-correct, you can better cope with making that great leap from a chain stitch or a braid to a regular row. I was making these rugs for almost 10 years before I did my first start.

I still think this is sound and is the best way, but over the years I've been teaching this, even though I can knock off a start in the time it takes me to walk the two blocks to the grocery store (and yes, I do stitch and walk at the same time... one of these days we'll have video of it) and have offered them to anyone who wants them, I found that anyone who wanted to learn the craft wants to know how to do it from start to finish.

I've struggled with how to teach this for years (I've been making these rugs over 30 years, and teaching the craft over 20, and mind you... I just turned 40), and its only recently that I decided it was plausible. To key things went into this:

1) The advent of inexpensive high quality video cameras (and if you've only seen the Youtube versions, wait till you see the Veoh versions below... Veoh streams at full D1 analog TV quality!)
2) I made a concerted effort to forget what I knew in terms of how its "supposed" to work, and come at it fresh.

Now... on to the issue at hand about starting rugs. While I do think the series of half-hitch knots is the best way to make an easy and strong start, really the best way for anyone is the one you can "grok"- grasp and put into effect. (Objectively speaking though, braids and half hitches will give a stronger center than a chain stitch.)

Which ever method you use, the trick is always the point at which you go from your start method... which ever it is... to doing the stitch. And that is pretty much the same which ever you use. You need a thumb loop and a base or bottom loop. How you get the thumb loop and how you decide which is your base loop is utterly irrelevant.

  1. For the first stitch, just go through the first base loop and twist the thumb loop over.
  2. You'll probably need to go through the same bottom loop for your second stitch, and after this, it should look almost like a normal stitch.
  3. By the third stitch, which you can probably do on the next bottom/base loop, it will look and act like it should.

The other tricky thing is, for the first few times around the ends, you'll need to do triple or even quadruple stitches, and early on in a start, especially for a round rug, its not uncommon to need to do a double stitch every second or third stitch. When I learned, I asked my mother and grandmother for a mathematical ratio (so many doubles per row, decreasing at at a given rate for each succeeding row) because I always mix science with my art, and art with my science.

And if you would find that helpful... then here ya go... until the rug is well established, do a double stitch every other stitch for the 2 rows, then every third stitch for the next 2 rows, and so on. If doing an oval rug, that only applies to the ends.

That's not as exact as it sounds... it depends somewhat on how tightly you stitch and whether or not you use fabric with give, but I'm assuming (and dearly HOPING) a beginner isn't going to try using old pantyhose for his/her first rug! (Old hose make lusciously beautiful rugs which feel like you're walking on moss, but they are a devil to work with... you can't overpull or underpull or else it cups and pulls and ruffles...)

And speaking of fabrics with some give... my correspondent spoke of using T-shirts.
They make fine rugs, and they're the sort of clothes most people have a pile of which should be recycled. (I'm wearing one such at the moment... the armpits are stained and are starting to come open, but... I digress.) Two major things to keep in mind when using fabrics which either have spandex or an open weave such they stretch is...
  1. you will need to cut your strips up twice as wide as if you were using- say- an old dress shirt or bedsheet.
  2. you do need to be careful to not pull the stitches too tightly, or else the rug will cup up into a basket. If you do find yourself pulling tightly, you can compensate by adding more double stitches.
When possible though, the best material for a beginner to work with is an old bed sheet or an old shirt or dress made of a cotton poly blend with NO spandex. You can cut nice long strips with these, you don't have any tension issues to worry about, they slide through the loops easily, etc.

(I thought my poor wife was going to stick her needle through my septum when she came to her next fabric and it was cut from a lovely purple pair of corduroy pants! Cords are as heavy as jeans, but the nubbies make it stick to itself like velcro! )

Here's the high res Veoh versions of all my recent toothbrush rug tutorials and stories:

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