As I said in Thursday’s post, this month’s blog posts have got a bit of a textile waste theme. Mostly because I’ve been thinking about textile waste since this post and ways to minimise it, particularly as a sewist. A quick ask on social media reveals that a lot of people I know hang on to their fabric scraps, but they don’t always know how to use them.
Today’s post is all about an excellent way to use up all those unwanted scraps of fabric and any other kind of textiles. Here’s Elspeth from Ragged Life to tell us more…
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Hi everyone, I’m Elspeth Jackson: rag rug designer, maker and teacher at Ragged Life.
I’m a colour lover, fabric hoarder and keen upcycler. I love turning old clothing and fabric off-cuts into beautiful pieces for the home. Over the past few years, I’ve been bringing rag rugging into the 21st century, with easy contemporary designs that cosy up your home without damaging the environment.
That’s great. Can you briefly explain what rag rugging is for those new to the craft?
Of course! Rag rugging is a very old British craft that was extremely popular in Victorian times with lower income families. They couldn’t afford to buy carpet or rugs for the cold, hard floors, so they would make them out of potato sacks and old clothing. Any shirts that were no longer fit to be worn would be used for patchworking, but everything else would go into making a rag rug: coats, trousers, dish cloths… you name it, they probably used it.
Families would often unveil their new rag rug at Christmas time, where it would take pride of place in front of the hearth. The rag rug that used to be in front of the hearth would be relegated to the kitchen. The one from the kitchen would become the door mat. After it had reached its life’s end, the rag rug would end up on the compost heap where the natural materials would decompose. You don’t get more sustainable than that! Nowadays, we’re absolutely spoilt for choice of fabrics to use but the ethos and method is still the same; hessian backing and rag materials.
Why are rag rugs a great way to minimise textile waste?
The entire history of rag rugging is rooted in the “Make Do and Mend” attitude of using what you had, rather than buying new. This makes rag rugging a super thrifty and sustainable craft. You can use any fabric whatsoever (I recommend starting with jersey materials and cottons) so finding materials is as easy as having a spring clean of your wardrobe.
I’ve done a lot of research on what happens to textile waste in the UK and was horrified by how much goes to landfill or is shipped abroad (where it damages local textile industries). For that reason, I always source the clothing for my rag rug commissions from charity shops before they reach the rag man.
If you decide to make a 100 x 60cm rag rug (which is the size of rug in my Rag Rug Starter Kit) then you can save around 20 t-shirts from landfill. Now that’s something to celebrate! It’s great for using clothing with sentimental value to make memory mats too.
How did you start making rag rugs?
Every year my school used to put on a recycled fashion show for arts students to take part in. My mum had been making rag rugs for as long as I could remember, so one year I bit the bullet and asked her to teach me so I could make a rag rug costume. It took weeks to make and weighed a tonne. I ended up winning a prize, so all was not in vain. From there, I just kept on rag rugging and here I am today! p.s. The photo of that highly unflattering rag rug costume has mysteriously disappeared unfortunately 😉
When did you start Ragged Life?
I started my business, Ragged Life, in 2014. I noticed that more and more people were taking up crafts and that there weren’t many people teaching rag rugging, let alone in a more modern way. It was a big leap of faith giving up a very cushy job, but now I get to design and make rag rug homeware full time. I also run rag rug workshops all across the UK; I wouldn’t give that up for the world.
“Ragged Life” is all about being rough around the edges and unique so every piece I create is handmade using materials sustainably sourced from local charity shops. I love trying out different, quirky designs, so over the years I’ve made everything from traditional rugs, festive Christmas wreaths and bold & bright cushions to rag rug photo frames, handbags and decorative letters. I even rag rugged up a tissue box once!
Can you tell us a bit more about your book, Rag Rugs, Pillows & More?
In 2015, I was hunted down by my publisher to write a how-to craft book of 35 beginner’s rag rug projects. At first, I was a little daunted by the challenge ahead of me; 35 projects is a lot! Particularly in a craft which has traditionally been one product: rugs. Despite that, the creative juices were soon flowing and now I just can’t turn them off.
My first craft book Rag Rugs, Pillows & More was published in 2016 and contains simple step-by-step instructions and illustrations on how to make everything from rag rug bunting to rag rug pouffes. I’ve tried to make lots of different size projects, that take a couple of hours or a couple of months. Writing the book was such a rewarding process and I’m already coming up with ideas of what to make for my next book… watch this space!
Where can we find you?
You can find all of my rag rug products on my website where I’m offering a special 10% off my Rag Rug Starter Kit for Thimble End readers using the code THIMBLE10. You can also connect with me on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest and Twitter. I can’t wait to see your rag rug creations!
Massive thanks to Elspeth for taking the time to answer all of these questions and for the discount code above. I had no idea of the history behind rag rugging before this and it’s fascinated the historian in me. If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll have noticed my own starter kit in my stories yesterday. I ordered it on Wednesday and it arrived the next day! Eleanor has decided that rag rugging is our plan for Saturday now, especially once I told her I was going to make it for their book corner. I’ll keep you updated with my progress!
In the interests of transparency for my readers: I contacted Elspeth to interview her for the blog. There are no affiliate links in this post and I was not compensated in any way. I bought my own Ragged Life Starter Kit.