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Melissa

Saturday’s Child: The Rag Rug

When I was growing up, I loved to visit my Grandma Betty’s house. In fact, it was more than a house; it was the family homestead and included a century-old farmhouse, out buildings, 72 acres of sage brush and sandstone hills, a creek, fossils, artifacts, and when I was quite young, the remains of a permanent mining camp. Part of my visual context for that home was the ubiquitous rag rugs. They were the type purchased for almost nothing at Pamida, woven of mill-ends from garment manufacturing and probably made mostly of polyester blend shirt scraps left over from the 70s. They were a riot of color, and I’d sit at the kitchen table or on the edge of the bathtub and just look at them; they were so interesting.

They can also be quite beautiful, in addition to being easy to create and inexpensive. In their purest form, they’ll be made out of, well, rags; long scraps of fabric left from worn-out garments and housewares. Simple looms are easy to make and easy to buy. The rugs I remember were random, but if you’re like me and gravitate to certain colors, your palette might be more sophisticated just by virtue of the fact that your rags are better-related. Or then, maybe not. Of course, rag rugs don’t have to be woven. Braided rag rugs that are then sewn into circles and ovals with planned gradients are also a popular country-style choice, and rugs crocheted in single crochet are also very traditional. Bathroom rugs knitted of absorbent cotton jersey from worn-out T-shirts are a popular modern choice.

And best of all, you don’t need to make a rug in order to get that riot of color! I’ve been looking at attractive ways to use up yarn scraps, and came across some really beautiful patterns that are reminiscent of rag rugs, but actually wind up as blankets.

Karen Janine from Mittens and Makings created a simple scrap blanket with double-stranded crochet. It’s beautiful and easy and HUGE, and I think it’s amazing.

The Beekeeper’s Quilt from Tiny Owl Knits uses tiny knitted hexagonal pillow motifs to create a quilted blanket out of sock-weight scraps that is just to die for. A more significant undertaking than the granny-style scrap blanket above, but stunning when finished.

Last, but not least, a sort of cross between a rag rug and a string quilt; an afghan from Ulli Stuttgart made of bias-knitted squares. Granted the website isn’t in English, you CAN click to a PDF that has instructions in both English and German. The finished afghan is beautiful.

So there we have it. Bringing the beauty and thrift of rag rugs back into the home, one scrap at a time! Go forth and save.

If you are a crafty person, you may already be familiar with a paper craft technique called Iris Folding. The craft is most associated with greeting cards, but is also used by scrap-bookers and mixed media artists, and even quilters who duplicate the effect in fabric. Strips of folded paper are laid in a pattern resembling the iris of a camera, to fill the negative space cut from a piece of cardstock or other base. Any light-weight papers can be used for the folding, on a base of heavier cardstock, and there are numerous templates available for free online. All right, now that, spurned by my enthusiasm, you have rushed to the WWW to thoroughly familiarize yourself with this craft…

I’m afraid I’m a sort of rebel. The precision of iris folding appealed to me from the very beginning, and also the fact that it reminded me of a type of drawing I was taught in grade school to illustrate infinity. But I’ve tried my had at various methods of greeting-card making, and the truth is, I just don’t use them, and don’t enjoy making them. Also, I found a lot of the standard free templates a little too cute. It just wasn’t my style.

Some time after my introduction to iris folding, I was leafing through a book I’d been given; an old sample book of hand-made Japanese papers. The papers are all so beautiful, but of each there was only a 3″ x 6″ sample page, with writing printed in several places and holes punched in. I considered various ways I could use this paper in a sort of patchwork effect, to get the most bang for the buck, and eventually I hit on iris folding. It uses only small amounts of paper for the folded bits and with only a few exceptions, the Japanese papers were a good weight. But if I was going to use these very special papers, so precious because of their rarity, at least in my world, then I wanted a special project, and nothing I’d seen online would do. I understood the basics of the craft, so I set out to design my own template, and what could be more appropriate for Japanese papers than a Japanese koi?

It worked. It turns out I knew exactly what I was doing. I used a wide variety of papers, even for the white bits, to lend the fish the variety of texture and color of a real koi. Rather than leave it in a flat cardstock frame, I hand-painted a coffee filter to be reminiscent of water. The entire effect is subtle and pleasing, and it does a good job of showcasing the papers themselves.

If you’d like to try the koi, I’ve written basic instructions and drawn out the template. You can download it here. But I encourage you to spend some time squirreling away a little stash of special papers (if you don’t have one of these already) and then strike out on your own in a way to best showcase what you have.

Brush Pile

This is a brush pile. It is composed almost entirely of white ash saplings, with a few elm saplings thrown in for good measure. Some of these saplings were fairly large, since we’ve neglected our South fence line something fierce over the last couple of years. I spent most of Saturday afternoon sawing these suckers down, in many cases from under the neighbor’s fence. I only got about 2/3 of the way done, and opted to complete a different project the following afternoon due to blisters.

That project? Create a small flower bed around our mail box, and move some of the daylilies from the aforementioned South fence line to said flower bed.

At about noon, I walked out my front door and stood looking at the mailbox. I glanced at the fence, then at the brush pile, then at the mailbox again. The night before I researched wattle fencing, feeling morose that I had all these lovely, straight sapling branches and would probably end up just throwing them out for lack of a way to use them. I really hadn’t even thought of putting a fence around the mail box bed, but as I stood there in the sunlight, it occurred to me that I really had nothing to lose.

A little bit of sawing, strategic use of the garden shears, some spading, about 5 hours of total work, and one injured 7 year old, and I went from a mail box surrounded by lawn and a brush pile to this:

Lilies In

You can’t see it, but there are lilies in there. I might get some more of different colors and plant them as well. These should be pretty sparse this year, but I anticipate many years of lovely lilies in the future.

My little wattle fence is made using upright pieces roughly 14″ long, pounded into the ground up to half their length. The four corner pieces are roughly 1″ to 1.5″ thick. The twelve interior pieces are in the 3/4″ range. Then I took long, skinny branches (most starting at 3/8″ to 1/2″ at the cut end) and wove them between the poles. I used 8 narrow branches per row. First on one side, then on the opposite, and then on the other two sides, one branch is woven outside/inside/outside with the ends resting on the outside of the corner poles. The second branch is then woven inside/outside/inside, making sure that the fat ends of each branch are on opposite ends of the row. I think my fence has 8 rows. It is quite sturdy, and once the wood is no longer green, I think it will be even more so, since this fence is made of hardwood (mostly white ash, as I said above) rather than the typical willow whips. I may wrap the top ends of the corner posts to secure the final row from slippage while it is curing, and also for a decorative finish.

Truthfully, this is a little more “rustic” or “country” than my taste usually runs, but I feel so good about using these materials rather than wasting them that I don’t care about style. And the process was so much fun, especially with my daughter helping me (never mind the injury, which was quite funny, actually), that I have another little plan for the too-thin and/or too-short branches left in the brush pile.