Hey, kids–remember when I promised that I’d show you what happens in these adventures even if they end with a crash, an explosion, and tears? Buckle up, because this one may well be heading that way. I truly have no idea if it will work.
More than a year ago, a very kind person who knows I have a weakness for vintage needlework books passed along a sheaf of patterns from the 1930s and 1940s. Among them was a curious specimen from a now-defunct yarn company. The subject? Making rugs.
I had never made a rug before, but the concept wasn’t entirely foreign. My early childhood in rural Pennsylvania overlapped by a whisker with the end of the rag-rug era. In one or two kitchens you could still find grandmothers or great-aunts sorting, braiding, weaving, and stitching the remains of old clothes into immense coils that protected bare feet from bare linoleum, and bare linoleum from wet boots.
They were products of poverty and necessity, made from textiles too exhausted for any other use. They lacked the romantic appeal of patchwork quilts. I liked them, though.
I’d thought about learning the skill myself, if I could find a teacher. The notion of making something as large, tough, and useful as a rug holds a certain exotic appeal for a guy who knits a lot of little lace shawls. Knitting needles are not much use in rug making. Sure, I’ve seen patterns for knitted rugs. I’ve walked upon knitted rugs. They all–at best–seemed like misplaced afghans or very, very large washcloths that had landed on the floor.
I don’t like knitted rugs. Sorry. No craft is good at everything.
This little booklet from 1939 pictured, what appeared at first glance, to be the rag rug of my childhood. Closer inspection, however, revealed it to be a new-to-me combination of crochet and clothesline.
You heard me. Clothesline. This:
According to the author, the combination allows one to create attractive rugs “in a jiffy.” It says so right on the cover. Jiffy, it says.
These rugs were clearly intended to compliment a certain widely popular take on American Colonial style; without the fuss of collecting, cutting, sorting, sewing, and braiding rags.
And it wasn’t only rugs you could make, wrote the author. You could also make lamp mats
and place mats
and pot holders
which look to me like extremely small rugs that are not on the floor.
I had doubts about all this, which meant I had to drop everything and try it out.
I’ve already mentioned clothesline
as the foundation for these projects. I went to the hardware store around the corner and spent about fifteen minutes casing the different brands and varieties. This is far more time than most folks spend looking at clothesline, so the store owner came over to check on me.
He (cordially, if cautiously): Can I help you with something?
Me: No, thank you. Just looking at clothesline.
He (jovially): Gonna do your wash the old-fashioned way, eh?
Me: No, I’m going to make a rug.
He: I’m sorry, what?
Me: It’s…I’m going…there’s this old technique for making crocheted rugs with clothesline. And yarn.
He: Well, I’m afraid I don’t know anything about that.
Me: Oh. Well, that’s okay. Neither do I, really.
He (leaving, quickly): Huh. Okay then. Good luck.
I can never go back there, of course.
The booklet called for pure cotton yarn, because that’s what the now-defunct yarn company made. I wondered if I might substitute something else. For instance, Simpliworsted from HiKoo.
Judging by the size of the crochet hook the booklet calls for (equivalent, roughly, to a 3.5 mm or US size E) I had it in two variegated colorways, either of which would work as a rug in the apartment. It’s a good mix of fibers too–wool for warmth and softness, acrylic and nylon for durability; and all of it washable.
Some vintage pattern books do a remarkable job of illuminating obscure techniques within the confines of the format. Others do not. This booklet is one of the others.
The method for covering the clothesline in yarn is relegated to the end of the booklet, after the patterns but before the advertisement for Lux soap flakes. (“Precious heirlooms are the handsome crochets clever women are making. Protect their beauty with Lux!”).
As to how the method works, you get a set of diagrams
which tell you absolutely nothing. That’s all she wrote.
I figured out what I think you’re supposed to do by reading the patterns (more on that in the next installment); squinting furiously at the diagrams, messing around with the hook, yarn, and rope; and swearing at all of the above.
The basic idea is that you take a piece of clothesline and you use single crochet to entirely cover it with yarn. As the rug grows, you join successive rounds to one another as part of the crochet process.
Here we go.
Oval rugs begin with a central spine that’s merely a foundation chain.
Of course a foundation chain has a bumpy side and a smooth side (shown). We will address ourselves to the smooth side.
Each stitch in the chain has a right leg and a left leg.
We begin the rug proper by laying the clothesline along the top of the chain, adjacent to the left legs, leaving about an inch hanging free to the right. The working yarn should be behind the clothesline.
Make your first single crochet thus:
- Insert your crochet hook through the left leg of the second chain from the hook, then under the clothesline. Grab the working yarn with the hook.
- Pull the working yarn under the clothesline and back through the chain. You’ll have two loops on your hook.
- Reach over the clothesline with the hook and grab the working yarn. Pull it through both loops on the hook. You’ll have one loop on your hook, and the single crochet is complete.
To progress, put the hook into the left leg of the next chain and follow the steps exactly as before.
Your single crochets will begin to form a covering for the clothesline; but note that you’re looking at the wrong side of the rug as you work. Flip it over and you’ll see this on the right side.
That’s it–that’s the way the clothesline is covered. The rest of the pattern is nothing but small variations on those three steps to increase, turn corners, and join rounds together. Simplicity itself.
But will it all end in a useful, attractive rug?
I confess that I remain unconvinced. We’ll see what happens…in two weeks.
Tools and Materials Appearing in This Issue
Wellington Light Load Economy Clothesline: Nylon core, braided cotton exterior.
About Franklin Habit
Designer, teacher, author and illustrator Franklin Habit is the author of It Itches: A Stash of Knitting Cartoons (Interweave Press, 2008) and proprietor of The Panopticon, one of the most popular knitting blogs on the Internet. On an average day, upwards of 2,500 readers worldwide drop in for a mix of essays, cartoons, and the continuing adventures of Dolores the Sheep.
Franklin’s varied experience in the fiber world includes contributions of writing and design to Vogue Knitting, Yarn Market News, Interweave Knits, Interweave Crochet, PieceWork, Twist Collective; and a regular columns and cartoons for Knitty.com, PLY Magazine, Lion Brand Yarns, and Skacel Collection. Many of his independently published designs are available via Ravelry.com.
He travels constantly to teach knitters at shops and guilds across the country and internationally; and has been a popular member of the faculties of such festivals as Vogue Knitting Live!, STITCHES Events, Squam Arts Workshops, Sock Summit, and the Madrona Fiber Arts Winter Retreat.
Franklin lives in Chicago, Illinois, cohabiting shamelessly with 15,000 books, a Schacht spinning wheel, two looms, and a colony of yarn that multiplies whenever his back is turned.