Rags, Glorious Rags!

The image of rag-weaving that comes to mind for most of us is probably that of beautiful rag-woven rugs, runners, or similar household items. While rags certainly weave up beautiful, sturdy textiles rag-weaver and blogger Amanda Robinette is here to sing the praises of rag weaving in all its forms, including some you may not have thought possible. —Christina

  Rags for weaving
   Rags, glorious rags!

Never in history has there been such an abundance of inexpensive textiles flooding the market. Consequently, never in history has there been so much castoff material available. Because of this, rag weaving is an idea whose time has come, not for the reasons of necessity and scarcity under which it arose, but because as a society it is time to do something about the extensive waste in the textile stream. As weavers, we are uniquely positioned to do so.

Just as significantly for those of us who express ourselves creatively through weaving, this overabundance of textiles provides an embarrassment of riches. The colors, fibers and textures of rag available to us (at very low cost!) in thrift shops are almost unlimited. Want to make a wool rug? Buy some sweaters and felt them, or pick up some old suits or wool coats. How about linen placemats? Find some linen shifts, skirts and shirts and get to it! Want a particular color? Just wait for it and keep looking — sooner or later enough material will turn up for your project.

Rag Weaving  
Experiments in rag weaving.   
rag-woven scarf  
Amanda's Western Sakiori scarf.  

But, as wonderful as they are, there is more to a weaving life than rugs and table linens. I would like to see weavers move away from the idea that rags can only be recycled downward—that old clothing, for example, must become a household item. The sakiori weavers of Japan were a people faced with an almost absurd scarcity of textiles. Living in remote villages in the north on an island devoid of native fiber-bearing animals, for many centuries they wore only clothing made from rough bast fibers, such as wisteria vine or paper mulberry. When development and trade made them available, they took the cotton scraps from clothing too far gone to repair and made new rag-woven cloth to make new garments that suited their needs and purposes, such as work vests and jackets. These garments provided the thick layers for protection and warmth that they had always wanted.

The idea that you can take scraps and rags of the best fiber you can find and make cloth for garments that preserves the qualities of the original fiber is one well worth revisiting. During my many forays into thrift shops looking for various textiles for household items, I came to notice all of the other things available. Silk, wool, rayon, cotton—it’s all there. Why not try finding a way to turn it into something new, something as good as it used to be—or better?

Wherever your rag-weaving takes you, you can be assured that by using old textiles to make new things, you are helping the environment, our society, and your own wallet!

—Amanda Robinette



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