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Baie Verte woman turns discarded clothing, linens into colourful creations

Gail Chapman displays just a few of the more than 200 rag rugs she has made using used linens and discarded clothing. The retired banker puts her crocheting experience together with a lot of imagination - and patience - in the designing and stitching of her creations.
Gail Chapman displays just a few of the more than 200 rag rugs she has made using used linens and discarded clothing. The retired banker puts her crocheting experience together with a lot of imagination - and patience - in the designing and stitching of her creations. - Joan LeBlanc

Crocheting rag rugs makes recycling fabric fun

BAIE VERTE, N.B. —

If you’re wondering what to do with all of the old clothing and linens filling your closets, you might want to try your hand at crocheting rag rugs.

One local woman has done just that and in the process, has found a fun pastime while also creating a small home-based business.

Rag rug maker Gail Chapman, right, and her daughter Natasha Karpinski display one of the many colourful and functional creations Gail has crocheted using discarded clothing and linens at her home in the Baie Verte area.
Rag rug maker Gail Chapman, right, and her daughter Natasha Karpinski display one of the many colourful and functional creations Gail has crocheted using discarded clothing and linens at her home in the Baie Verte area.

After retiring from banking about three years ago, Gail Chapman was looking around for an activity to keep her idle hands busy. A crocheter for many years, she was instantly interested when she came upon the idea of crocheting rugs from discarded clothing and linens.

“I always like to have something to do with my hands. I’ve being crocheting since my two children were just babies; I’ve already got a trunk full of doilies and tablecloths in the attic – and who wants those kinds of things these days,” Chapman said at her Baie Verte area home recently.

On the Internet, she came upon the idea of crocheting what are now known as rag rugs.

Unlike traditional rag rugs which are made by braiding strips of fabric,then sewing them together in the traditional oval, square or rectangular shapes, these newer style rag rugs are made just like yarn-crocheted items and can be created in a much wider variety of styles.

“Basically it’s like you’re making a regular yarn-crocheted item except you’re using strips of fabric instead of yarn. At first I got some pattern ideas online but now I just make rugs from patterns I come up with out of my head,” Chapman noted.

It takes a lot of material to make even a small rag rug, she added. She decided to make different items and found  large purse-sized tote bag required an entire full size cotton sheet and two pillowcases; a small rug could take several sheets in addition to a number of articles of clothing.

“The tote bag is so heavy you wouldn’t want to carry it around a lot and it’s harder to do the stitches; so I haven’t made any more of those. I’ve made some flat baskets in different shapes, but those too are tougher doing the stitches,” she said.

She recommends anyone considering making a rag rug should have a background in crocheting.

“You have to know when to increase and decrease for whatever pattern you’re making; there needs to be much attention to detail. If you increase too much as you’re turning, say, in any oval rug, then it’s going to be too loose and puckered. But if you don’t increase enough, it will be too tight and won’t turn. I would say making rag rugs is an intermediate level of crocheting, because of all the variables in it. Even so, sometimes there’s a lot of taking out stitches to get the pattern right. But I don’t mind, I just keep on going,” Chapman said with a grin.

Preparing the fabrics to make rag rugs is also a big part of any project, large or small.

Chapman makes sure the fabric is clean and dry and knows what it’s made of. Cottons and cotton-polyesters work well; she’s also made some rugs using microfibre fabrics but notes these fibres don’t hold the shape as well, although they are lighter weight than natural materials. Having crocheted through all of her own supply of discarded clothing and linens, Chapman said she now buys what she needs at thrift and bargain stores and has also received materials from friends and acquaintances. “I’ve got a lot on hand right now.”

It’s important to have a discerning eye when choosing fabrics to make a rug, she said.

“If you’re buying at a thrift store, make sure the fabrics aren’t faded, unless you want to make a rug that looks faded. I choose my colours, both plains and prints and then sometimes I have to search for a particular colour to go with it. If I can’t find used fabrics, I’ll occasionally buy regular material and that can get a bit pricey,” she noted.

After choosing the colours, Chapman then lays out the materials and cuts the strips of fabric by hand, admitting that although she has chosen this method instead of a rotary cutter, she did invest in a really good pair of shears so the cutting is smooth and easy. She also says she cuts fabrics as she needs them, and keeps the strips in a pile beside her as she works.

“Rolling it all into a ball just makes the threads stick out more in the fabric, and you don’t want that. I fold the fabrics into strips as I need them, and yes, it all takes a bit of patience,” she admitted with a grin.

The actual crocheting is done using two hooks, one extra large, almost the thickness of her thumb, and one much smaller. Not all rag rug makers use two hooks, but Chapman said using the two sizes makes her work tighter, doesn’t leave any holes and the stitches bind together smoothly.

Having made more than 200 rag rugs in various sizes – from small round, oval, square, half-moon and heart-shaped ones approximately one metre in diameter to larger ones eight to 10 feet in length – and a variety of patterns, Chapman says her storage space is getting a bit cramped. She makes rugs for family and friends and now sells her creations both from her home as well as at local craft shows and is happy to take speciality orders.

“I just like to make them; I find it relaxing and it does use up a lot of materials that would otherwise be thrown away,” she said.

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