There are places in this world that just aren’t meant for human habitation. Antarctica, Yukon Territory, the ocean floor. Also, apparently, Scotland.
A few weeks ago, I was trying to tell a story involving a fiberglass canoe, a piece of 1×2, and a truly spectacular bruise. But my narration quickly foundered as I ran into some cultural differences. To anyone who has ever worked with them, it’s immediately obvious why a 1×2 would be a terrible thing to run into. Those edges are a bitch. But if you live in a country where lumber is measured in metric, the term “1×2” doesn’t mean much.
That’s all right, though. I mean, there’s another name for it, right? Strapping. You know, the thin pieces of wood you put over sheathing, to hold down the house wrap and give you something to anchor the siding onto.
Unless you live in a city made of stone houses a century or two old. Where the only vapor barrier is the 100% humidity that prevents the water in your flat from evaporating, ever. Which is to say, I don’t think strapping is a technique used in these parts.
It was around this point in my mental perambulations that I gave up trying to frame the canoe story for my international readership. I was too busy brooding over the lack of vapor management systems in a city that so desperately needs them. And by “city”, I mean the part of the city I have to deal with on a regular basis. By which I mean, our flat. (And our previous flat.)
This is where the story moves toward the rugs.
We live in a ground floor flat. I wanted one further up, but when NTS found one with south-facing windows and a washing machine, near a park and canal, 35 minutes’ walk from the office, I was willing to settle for four out of five.
Little did I know.
It was cute, after the ark of our last flat, and easy to heat. And quiet, blessedly quiet. But as the days waned toward winter, it became increasingly clear that this was going to be a Very Damp Flat. (Look for the children’s book coming soon: Brid and the Very Damp Flat.) First it was the exterior walls that tend to get damp and, if unchecked, mildewy. Then it was things on the floor near the external walls. Then my shoes, in the bottom of the wardrobe. That was a bad day.
Well, on the day this story starts, it was an enormous old duffel bag under the bed, full of out-of-season clothes, or ones I thought I would get rid of but hadn’t committed to yet. These were mostly cotton shirts and dresses I bought to fill out my professional wardrobe when I got here with 2 suitcases. After that first winter, I cottoned on (hah): the only natural fiber suitable for the climate of Scotland is that which comes from sheep. (Which makes sense, I suppose; wool comes from Britain, while cotton comes from India.)
My textiles were under attack. It was clear they couldn’t remain under the bed. Since I had moved all of the Christmas ornaments to the single available closet, and my shoes to open-air shelves in the entryway, they couldn’t really remain anywhere else, either.
Except, perhaps, on the floor?
The ensuing spate of rug-making was almost embarrassing in its enthusiasm. Braiding rugs is right up there with knitting and crochet for mindless activity. Also, it was a good excuse to serial-watch a lot of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
For the first, I just started right in with the braiding, the way I’d seen my great-grandmother do when I was little. She used strips of calico, but I’ll always pick the fabric I’ve got over the fabric I have to buy. Working on the first rug gave me a really nice sense of continuity. Also a small blister, since I was unwilling to stop sewing.
This rug contains 2 skater dresses, well-worn, 3 t-shirts, and a pair of leopard-spotted leggings. The leggings were a bit of a pain to cut in a continuous strip, but the result was worth it. This rug is my favourite to look at, and it improved both the look of the bathroom and the cold under my feet. It actually looks classy, like a proper braided rug.
At the end, I was left with a pile of shirts, a sea of cold floor, and an abundance of crafting zeal. The first rug, while beautiful, was held together only by spirals of whip stitch on the back. (I briefly considered using upholstery thread, but as I hadn’t any on hand, quickly talked myself out of it.) This tutorial from A Beautiful Mess on woven rag rugs caught my eye as a way to create a rug with a bit more structural integrity. To be sure, the only part of the tutorial I actually used for that rug was the bind-off (which worked extremely well), but it planted the seed.
I started the rug in the evening, so instead of scrounging the neighborhood for cardboard, I constructed a loom from the laundry rack, a broom handle, and a broom. I now regret not taking pictures of this setup. It was remarkably effective, though. Instead of using string for the warp and the thick strands of t-shirt for the weft, I used thick strands of t-shirt for the warp and wove heavy cotton string through that. I pulled so tightly that the warp bunched up and you can see almost none of the string. This shrank the width of the rug, but it also created an extremely thick mat, perfect for standing on while I brush my teeth.
It’s stiff, and also quite heavy. Which makes sense, as it contains 11 shirts of varying size. The wide coral and teal stripes are polar fleeces that have been pushed out of my wardrobe by classier wool sweaters.
By the time I finished the third rug, I was out of t-shirts, but the blank space on the kitchen floor stared accusingly. I went to the salvation army shop and bought two old duvet covers. I didn’t check the fibre content at the time. Little did I realize that anyone would make a duvet out of such nasty polyester. This is only a problem because the dye job was sprayed on one side and now dyes the soles of my slippers a pale pink. I recommend cotton.
This time, I stuck closely A Beautiful Mess’s tutorial, except that instead of having each weft be three 2″ strips, I made each one a single 6″ strip. It seemed simpler.
The resulting rug is thinner, but it does provide some cushion and barrier to the cold, and it improves the look of the kitchen. I laid it on top of the old bathroom mats for extra warmth, which together are just the right size. The looser weave gives it a tendency to shift a bit, so I’m frequently twitching it back into shape. I really like the look of the whipstitched binding (green) at both ends.
I used the remaining strips to make a really thick coaster for my really big coffee cup.