A Twist of the Fist : Making the Grade on Your Braid

‘Old Braided Rug’ – Poem by Linda Winchell
I found an old hand-made braided rug
At a thrift store the other day.
It was quite a dirty sight to see
With some of its edges frayed.

I bought it up and rushed it home
To give it a much-needed bath.
And when it was cleaned, there t'was seen
Braided memories of someone's past.

One braided rope weaved into another:
A child's pajamas, or perhaps a robe? 
Then an old flour bag, 'Velvet Flour', 
Was the logo in this rug twas sewed.

Then what looked to be a small center piece 
Remnants of someone's wedding gown?
I think they placed it there on purpose
Sort of like this rug's jeweled crown.

Memories of someone's life
Braided into this useful little rug.
To place in front of a sink or bed
Giving where ever placed, a hug.

Does anyone still make them?
These puzzles of someone else's past...
This braided rug's now mine to treasure
To be enjoyed as long as it will last.

Well, yes, Linda – someone DOES still make them.  I’ve made a few smallish ones myself, years ago, and the easy way – from strips of old woolen rugs, and just one-sided.  But my mother, not only a spinner and weaver of rugs, etc. has now turned her hand(s) to braiding rugs.

Joy is a terrific braider.  When she was young, her own hair was in ‘pigtails’, which we still have in a box from when she finally got them cut off, pre-teens.  And until I was old enough to become “Chip”  ( early teens – see post from two weeks ago: “Hill-billy Hootenanny”) with my hair boyishly cut by the one and only Shirley Robinson (no one else dared do it EXACTLY as I asked – which was essentially like all the boys my age in the early 1970s) I, too, had a pair of two long braids, expertly twisted up each morning by my mother. She would French braid the part near my scalp, then quickly do regular braiding until near the ends.  These went along with my grandfather’s nick-name for me, “Annie Oakley”, esp. when I mounted my steed ‘Sugar’.  (Gail Davis, as Annie, DID wear pigtails, although the real Annie Oakley seemed to prefer to wear her long, thick tresses DOWN.)

tomboy on sugar

Once I gave up both rocking horses and hobby horses, (age about 14 – yes, seriously) and gave up riding Western (had my first pony from age 10-13, but Western horses are rarely braided) I then had to become an expert braider, as show and “3-day event” horses (the dressage portion at least and sometimes the stadium jumping portion) are always braided neatly, and often the braids are SEWN or rug-hooked in with yarn, and sometimes, if they are dark manes, wrapped with white medical tape to make them ‘pop’ out and show the line of the horse’s neck better. Here I am with some of my darker-maned geldings, with the white tape wrapped around the braided knot.  For the forelock, like my mother Joy had to do on my own ‘plaits’, you must first FRENCH braid before braiding regularly to keep it tightly pulled:

My sister Jennifer’s husband, Boyd, is from the west side of Newfoundland, and he inherited an old family farm there, (in whose orchard he proposed over a decade ago).  They, like us, are turning the farm into a renovated cozy home – for them, their summer home only- and Jennifer asked Mom to please BRAID her a rug with her bright ‘newfie’ colours.  Jen and I are lucky enough to both have a number of Mom’s beautifully-designed and custom-requested-coloured loom-woven rugs scattered about our homes, but Jennifer wanted a good braided one.    I had one of my great-grandmother’s making for years, until after all my travels with it, it essentially dilapidated beyond repair.  But Jennifer had never had a hand-made one.  If you have been faithfully reading this blog since before Christmas, you’ll have seen Mom/Joy at work on this particular rug, which she finished a few weeks ago:

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She and Jennifer chose most of those fabrics from 2nd hand stores in St. John’s when Mom was last out there in the fall, so none of them are sentimental or familial, as described in the poem above.  But they DO match the colour scheme Jennifer requested, and they are of various textures and material, so it was quite a challenge for Mom.  Jennifer ALSO requested that it be neither circular NOR oval – ??? so THAT was another challenge with which Mom had to try and contend, cutting out the middle part several times in order to shape it to those specifications.  Here is the lovely, cozy result, and I’m sure Jennifer and Boyd will enjoy it, as well as son Sydney, for many decades to come, as it is equally the same on one side as the other (the real trick in making a braided rug from rags!).  I ‘made’ Joy get in her jammies and ‘sleep’ on the rug, as a special photo for Sydney to show him that we want to think of him enjoying it the same way in his cozy farmhouse.  We did NOT specifically plan for the model to ‘match’ the colours of the rug, but she does indeed!

I guess she felt badly for us, or just enjoyed making this one so much, that she has then offered to do one for Richard’s and my own ‘meeting room’, as we call our livingroom-cum-diningroom-cum- musicroom-cum-communitymeeting room! (It’s held 18 people around the fireplace at one meeting!)  This one has fabrics she and I picked out to go with the earthenware dishes (my ‘good’ set) I so love -the Nut-tree Franciscan.

nut-tree-franciscan

She’s already got a good start on this, although I hope it doesn’t keep her indoors too much as the warmer weather begins to settle upon us!  Here are the beginnings, and I did ask for an oval shape, so hopefully it won’t be such a challenge for her:

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Here are just a fraction of the various fabrics we’ve chosen, from which she may then apply her artistic skills in co-ordinating each long braid:

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All but one of these were purchased by the bagful, or at least armful, at 2nd hand stores and charity shops.  The one piece that WASN’T, Mom picked out herself and I thought it had too much white in it, so she promptly went and tea-dyed it and now it’s much less ‘flashy’.  Good old primitive technique I use all the time for my prim-dollies and stuffed animals, (and even my mother’s bridal veil when I also wore it in 1988)  but I didn’t expect Mom to just run to the sink and do this on the only brand-NEW piece of material! Yay, Joy!

When I braided my small rugs with the wool blankets, I used the good old homesteader’s bible that’s been in our home since the  1970s when it was first published – the Reader’s Digest’s BACK TO BASICS “A Practical Guide to Old-fashioned Self-Sufficiency”.

However, Mom was guided more by several online sites, and then just trial and error experimentation.  Here are a few links if you’re interested in doing this fairly simple technique for having a rug that could incorporate either your chosen room/accent colours OR some sentimental pieces of clothing from loved ones – OR both…

http://pioneerthinking.com/learning-how-to-make-braided-rugs

http://www.littlehouseliving.com/how-to-make-rag-rugs

http://inhabitat.com/diy-learn-how-to-make-a-beautiful-braided-rug-from-old-fabric/

Life is always spiraling around us.  Why not boldly say so with something you see each day, and have it add comfort and cheer to your room as well?

sprial poem

And P.S. – watch for an upcoming link to all of Joy’s fibre artwork, with photos of her in situ,  in the spring/summer edition of Created Here, a New Brunswick online magazine!

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