The Woes and Wonders of Weaving with Rags

I would consider myself a novice weaver. I haven’t done many projects on my little rigid-heddle loom, and I know I have so much to learn. But I always get the itch to have a project warped and ready to weave. Lucky for me, I needed a rug for my kitchen, and weaving with rags sounded like the perfect solution.

Weaving with Rags, A rainbow of rags

A rainbow of rags waiting to be woven.

Here’s where I will leave my little disclaimer: I have never woven with rags before. Not once. However, the concept seemed simple enough—instead of using yarn you use cloth strips. Simple, right? Turns out not so much. But after finishing my rug I’ve come to appreciate the woes and wonders of weaving with rags. Here are a few of the lessons I learned while weaving my rug.


I can’t cut a straight line to save my life. My cloth strips are the epitome of rags, going from extra thick to barely there and back.


Most yarns (besides novelty yarns) are going to be pretty symmetrical throughout, which in turn makes your weaving very symmetrical throughout. Because my rags are not even, my weaving is not even, but this gives the weft a more organic feel. It flows together and looks like it was meant to be uneven. I quite like the look.

Weaving with Rags, Whitney's finished rag rug

Those same rags now in beautiful rug form.


I’m still learning. And I mess up my warps a lot. But I maintain that practice will only make me better. So, it was no surprise to me when I messed up my warp tension with this project. It started out fine, but after about six inches of weaving I knew I was going to have to retie my warp. Bummer.


Cloth strips are much easier to remove from a warp than yarn. In a matter of moments, I had undone all my weaving (with several cringes) and retied my warp to perfect even tension. It was a letdown to have to undo all the work I had done, but it went so smoothly that it made me love using rags even more.


I love to reuse anything I can, so my strips came from old clothing that I no longer wear and other things of that nature. What that means is that my cloth strips are all different lengths. They were all also mostly shorter than the width of my warp. There was no hope in trying to fit them on a shuttle, so I had to use my hands. Not necessarily the most ideal situation.


Flight Wall Hanging

Whitney’s next project?

You would never know that I didn’t use a shuttle. I have little lumps and bumps across the rug where one strip ends and another one begins, but it’s a look that is growing on me. If you do want to use your shuttle to weave with rags, I would suggest making sure your fabric strips are long enough for the weave structure you use. Or think a little harder than I did about how to maneuver several strips in one pass. (I was too excited to get my rug going to try and come up with a better solution.)

Now that I’ve finished my first rug, I’m coming up with even more ideas of what I can do with rags. Rags are such a fun material and weave up so quickly! I’m thinking a wall hanging much like the Flight Wall Hanging from the Handwoven Design Collection 8: Just Rags eBook. My walls are looking a little bare.

—Whitney Dorband

Posted August 17, 2012. Updated November 10, 2017. Featured Image: Rug by Tom Knisely

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