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Braided Rugs: An American Tradition
Want to add a traditional touch to your home? Nothing says "classic Americana" like a braided rug. Don’t be fooled into thinking that they are old fashioned – they may have been around awhile, but they’ve always been practical, economical and environmentally friendly. And nowadays, they’re easy-care, too.
A Handmade Twist On American History
There was a time in this country when housewives not only made their family's clothing, they spun the yarn and wove the cloth, too! Every scrap of fabric was precious and nothing was thrown away. When clothing was torn, faded or no longer fit, the fabric was recycled into quilts and rugs.
Woven and hooked rugs are found worldwide, but braided rugs are uniquely American. The tradition, dependent on the availability of fabric, started in New England, which was also the birthplace of the American textile industry. Braiding was a craft that all women learned as girls, caring for their hair. It required almost no equipment and could be done with minimal lighting so it became a pleasant evening pastime in the days before electric lighting and evening television. The rugs provided early New Englanders with color, softness and warmth in their austere homes.
In the mid 1900’s there was a huge resurgence of interest in rug making, and mills throughout the northeast sold fabric remnants by the pound for that purpose. Because both braiding and hooking use the same fabric scraps, there was often an overlap of techniques; hooked rugs were often finished with sturdy braided borders.
New Englanders are practical people, and “waste not, want not” and durability are well illustrated in their rugs. Braided rugs are extremely sturdy, longwearing, comfortable to walk on and easy to care for. Tightly braided and laced together, these rugs only required sweeping with a stiff straw broom and regular turning over to reverse the wear. Braided rugs are also very economical: most are reversible, which is like having two rugs in one! Removing gritty dirt is easy and prolongs the life of any rug. Rough shaking or beating on a line puts too much strain on the lacing that binds the braids together but they can be vacuumed - and should periodically be vacuumed on both sides. Depending on what fabric is used to make the rug, stains can be sponged away with soapy water, hosed off or professionally dry-cleaned. If your rugs are subject to heavy traffic, you can further equalize the wear by rotating them end-to-end. Braided rugs are tough.
Thanks to Polypropylene fiber, traditional-style braided rugs are now going outside on the porch, patio and deck. A country-style porch looks great with a long-lasting, low-maintenance braided rug. Woven from weatherproof polypropylene, these modern braids are soft, comfortable and durable. They dry fast so they won’t mildew and are UV-treated to resist sun-damage and fading. And best of all, they’re easy to clean – just hose them off!
What To Look For In A Braided Rug
When deciding on a braided rug, fabric is the first thing to consider. Wool is a great choice because it’s durable, resists staining, molding and mildewing, and prevents spills from soaking through to the floor. Wool fibers can also withstand high temperatures, which make them ideal for fireside or hearthrugs. Wool rugs tend to keep their shapes very well, too.
Another popular choice for braided rugs is cotton. Soft and lightweight, cotton braided rugs soak up moisture and dry quickly. The non-elastic fibers can be woven very tightly, too, so cotton braided rugs hold their shape very well.
Braided rugs made from synthetic fibers are an excellent choice as well. Polypropylene fibers resist fading and can be hosed clean, which make them ideal for the deck or patio. Polyester rugs share some of the indoor/outdoor qualities of polypropylene rugs and are economical, too. Both materials resist mold and mildew.
How tightly a rug is assembled is a prime indicator of the rug’s quality. After all, it doesn’t matter how good the fabric or tight the braid if the lacing is weak. When you purchase a braided rug, look for tight braiding and tight stitching. Tightly braided rugs are heavier and firmer. They are thicker and softer to walk on and repel dirt better.
Finding The Fit
The size rug you buy depends on how much surrounding floor you want showing or covered. Furniture is usually placed entirely on or off an area rug, but traffic patterns and your furniture might dictate differently. Allow rugs to extend 30-36" beyond the chairs at a dining or kitchen table so that the chairs don’t catch as they pull in and out. Braided rugs do not need thick padding, but they do benefit from a simple non-skid pad to keep them in place.
Try Making Your Own!
If you enjoy crafts, you might want to consider braiding a rug. The equipment is minimal: sharp scissors, clothespins, needles, threads, strips of good quality fabric and a C-clamp to hook the braid onto as you work. Fabric doesn't have to be new, but it should be free of moth holes, tears and stains and still have enough life left in it to be worthy of your efforts. You'll need to cut strips about 1-3/4" wide, join them with bias seams and roll the strips into three balls to braid from.
You'll braid the strips the same way you braid hair - but much tighter and you need to fold the torn or cut edges of the fabric to the inside as you work. If a rug seems like a huge project, think about doing chair pads, stair treads or a tote bag. Braiding isn’t difficult and like many crafts, can be learned from a book. If you prefer to take classes, check your local craft center or adult education program.
Whether your old winter coat ends up underfoot or you purchase a ready-made rug, you’ll find that braided rugs offer the perfect foundation for a country or antique decorating scheme. With our tendency to throw things away and buy new, there is something reassuring (and contemporary) about a folk art that recycles. Nostalgia and charm are important to country decorating and braided rugs rank high in both!
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