Here are step by step instructions for making carpet balls for rag rugs. You’ll also find a video showing how make an old fashioned braided rag rug.
How Make An Old Fashioned Braided Rag Rug
We have had some readers ask how to make carpet balls out of rags to use to make rag rugs either braiding, crocheting, knitting or on a loom.
First, cut your fabric in about 1 inch strips. Remember this isn’t an exact science so each strip doesn’t need to be perfect.
- Try to cut down the longest part of clothing or fabric when possible. For example, cut the strips down the length of the sheet or pant leg, not across. This gives you less strips to sew together.
- When cutting a sheet, cut the top and bottom hems off first. Then you can make about 1/2 inch cut notches 1 inch apart across the top and rip the strips instead of having to cut all the way down each strip.
- If you are a beginner, using something like a sheet is better to start with because they are easier to handle. Jeans, wool and t-shirts are thicker and stretchier and a little more awkward at first.
- On any article of clothing, cut off the extra parts like buttons, zippers and collars so you can get the longest, “cleanest” chunk of fabric you can.
Next, take your strip and fold in half and lightly finger press about the first 6 inches and then start rolling into a ball. It will feel awkward those first few rounds but it gets easier as you go.
Just keep folding, finger pressing a few inches and roll.
When you come to the end of the strip, fold it in half, take a new strip with it’s end folded and slide it into the old end about 1 inch.
Sew together and keep wrapping.
I try to do like fabrics and colors together. For example, I roll one sheet into a ball and add nothing more to it. If I have a couple of the same thing, let’s say 2 white sheets, I will roll them together and if I have several jean strips from different jeans I will roll those together.
Cut the strips with the grain of the fabric and not the bias (or diagonally for you non-sewers) because this helps to not stretch it too much.
Most people don’t fold their strips in half but just roll them flat. You can do this if you want but I find it gives a much neater and finished appearance if you do.
Below are some rag rugs my grandmother made on her loom. You can see that they don’t have quite as much fraying as rugs where the carpet balls aren’t folded in half. It really is up to your personal preference.
If you would like to make a braided rag rug, here is a video showing how to do it:
Those woven rugs are gorgeous! Thanks for all the ideas!
Wow! I really have to learn to do this. I know nothing about rag rugs. I certainly would like to learn now.
I crochet rag rugs, but I would love to learn how to loom them, those are amazing!
A few years ago I attended a workshop on how to crochet rugs from old t-shirts. The suggestion was to cut off the hem of the shirt and cut the t-shirt going around and around in one long strip. Since most t-shirts have no side seams it leaves you with a much longer “strip” that you don’t need to sew. Once a strip was finished, stretch it one section at a time so the fabric strip rolls up slightly leaving less raw edges exposed. And rather than sewing the ends together, it was suggested that we just knot the ends together so there is less chance of them coming apart. The knots may not work in a woven rug, but when crocheting they don’t create a problem. Hope this is helpful. Since everyone always seems to have way more t-shirts than needed, it’s a good way to use them up. And t-shirts are usually very inexpensive at yard sales in case I run out.
I used the t-shirt strips to crochet hot mats (to protect a table from hot serving dishes/pans). Last year I made a lot of them to give as Christmas presents – they were an unqualified success!
Cindy I just recently saw that same method on a sewing show but wasn’t sure I could explain it so everyone would understand. It is easy to do just one of those things you almost have to see to understand. I think we might do some more on rag rugs because there seems to be such an interest it.
For you beginners too you don’t have to start out with a rug. You can use these these same things to make coasters, trivets etc. to practice and learn. Actually if you know how to crochet, knit or braid you can do a rug.
You can use other things then fabrics too like strips of plastic bags. A little off of the subject but I saw the other day where they crocheted or knit strips of mesh bags into “scrubby” dish rags. So the sky is the limit. That is one reason I also push learning things like sewing and knitting etc. because you can make so many useful things.
I was really waiting for this. Thank you very much for taking the time to write this out. I’d better get crackin’.
Hope this helps Icia. Be sure and holler if you have any questions about it and if I can’t answer maybe one of our readers can.
My mother used to make braided rugs out of old wool coats. She would collect them from thrift shops and actually used some of my old childhood coats and my father’s suit jackets. I can recall watching her cut the long strips and winding them into balls. Because they were wool they very durable and warm! I had a beautiful one in my bedroom for years.
BTW-she also cut off the buttons which were usually beautiful brass. I remember a time when she and her friends collected buttons of different sizes and designs to make button bracelets. They were gorgeous. I have one of them and always get compliments on how beautiful it is!
Thank you for all you and Tawra do for this wonderful website-I feel like I’m coming “home” each day I log on:)
Wow, thank you all for the great ideas. My dad and I were just discussing what to do with some old navy uniforms that my sister had kept. I told him I could probably come up with something I might like to do with them. This is it! Yay!
Often times people don’t like it when rag rugs slide accross the floor. A quick fix is to run hot glue on the down side.This will wash out though and need to be re-applied. Another trick I have heard about is to use “puffy paint” this you can get at a craft store (such as Hobby Lobby or Michaels) this won’t wash out and I haven’t tried this method.I use the hot glue when the rubber backing on older throw rugs comes off but the top still looks good enough to use extending the life of the rug.
You can also get this waffly rubber pad stuff used to place under dishes or for place mats which you can sew to the back. I bought mine on clearance at Jo Ann Fabrics but I have seen it with the contact paper at Wal Mart and Dollar General and Dollar tree.
Years ago they would sew used rubber canning rings to the back of them. I have also taken an old ugly rug with a rubber backing and laid or sewed the new rug to it. It gives a really nice cushion especially for someplace like in front of the kitchen sink.
My daughter is crafty (13) & would like to make a rag rug to enter in a student Convention. I have never done this before, but she knows how to crochet. Can you give us the basics on how to get started? Also, approximately how much material do you need to make a rug? thanks!
Andrea, we will have some instructions and videos for this to post tomorrow afternoon if you can check the web site then. It will be Crocheted Rag Rugs. It should be on the front page of the site but if you have trouble holler at me and I will help.
my grandma used to make those braided rugs during the depression and her grandpa used to sell them… not sure how much she made or how long it took to make it but my mom said she and her brother would clean and cook while grandma and sometimes grandpa would be braiding and making the rug…
mom told me once that bc of those rugs, grandma was able to buy a bit of food and make enuff for one meal and have enuff leftovers for 3 other meals (that she would can and store)…
i cant wait to see the video’s on how to the crocheted rag rugs… i read somewhere that some lady used those plastic bags from the supermarket to make rugs and etc with …
thanks for sharing htis with us…
* and her and grandpa used to sell them *
Hi Jill: I have a question for the knitters out there, (Grandma, I think is the one that posts the most about knitting). I need to make a window covering for a small window, it would be tacked underneath my curtains for extra draft protection and wouldn’t be visible.
If I took a heavy blanket and cut it into these long strips, do you think it would work if I used really large knitting needles and made the knitted fabric with that? I have an ancient window (unreplaceable) it’s small, so I think perhaps 2 ft x 3′ would do? I could use a light blanket or fleeze throws that have outlived their usefulness, just something to block the draft for a couple of months!
thanks so much!
Donna I wasn’t quite sure what you were wanting to do but correct me if I got it wrong. You were wanting to knit a window covering out of strips of an old blanket or fleece ? I wasn’t sure but why were you not just tacking the blanket or throw up there with out cutting it into strips or is it something you could see from the outside and thought knitting something would be better?
You can knit strips of something like that as a matter of fact you can knit strips of anything really. Just remember the bigger the needle the much looser the weave so you might want to use as small of needle as you can because if the weave is too loose it won’t help with drafts.
Thank you. I’ve always wanted to make a rag rug but didn’t know how to start!!!
Thanks Jill, I have just tacked a small quilt up there before. I was pondering whether a knitted something or other would be a tighter cover, just throwing ideas around in my head – sometimes I overthink things when they could be really simple LOL. I have such a drafty house in New England I’m always thinking about ANYTHING to button up the house and save on my oil bill. Even with new windows, insulation and a pellet stove, we have days when it’s darn chilly up there.
thanks again, you’re right, the smallest needle will give me a tighter fabric!
You all are just super!
do you have info for the braided rugs too ? .. this is soo awesome .. thanks for sharing this info with us … i appreciate it .. :D :D
Rose a braided rug is pretty much the same but you just braid the strips together instead of crocheting etc. You knot or pin 3 strips of fabric together and start braiding. I pin or tie the beginning to a chair or something that to hold it while I braid. One thing they don’t mention but I had trouble with is to use not too long of strips because the loose ends get really tangled while braiding. Instead of carpet balls I would the sew the ends of my strips together as I work. Here a semi good video on braiding a rug.
PS If you would like to do one just try it with a few strips. I use to be so afraid to try something like this until I realized it is just a bunch of rags so what if I goof.
I was just thinking, if you used old worn out towels to make the strips then you could use the “rugs” as bath mats. The bath mats could then be washed along with your towels in your washing machine.
The only thing about using worn out towels is they often fray when you cut them and make a lot of fuzz but you could use cotton or flannel sheets or any thing and they would work fine in a bathroom. I usually buy a cotton rug that I keep in front of my tub. It works as a bath mat and a rug both. But you could try with some super worn out ones and see what happens.
Perhaps making rag bath mats would be better for towels that are not too worn out but rather just have some minor holes.
Hi, Thank you fo the information on rag rugs. What size needle do I need to buy to crochet the rug and also the size for the braided rug? I am interested in this type of craft and would appreciate your insight.
Diane it is hard to say exactly what size needle you need because it depends on the size of strips you use and what kind of rags (heavier or lighter weight material) but here is a general idea. For a rug using 1 in. strips of sheet which are folded in half a size K needle should work. Now if you are using t shirt strips or something like that you could use a little bit smaller needle.
Also if you don’t have any needles already you might try a thrift store. I get 5-6 needles in a bag at my thrift store for like $.99. They seem to have a lot of them all of the time.
thanks for the info jill .. i would love to make a braided rug (just for my use) and well if i goofed, you are right .. its just rags ..
woven rugs are wonderful check with craft stores or the library to find a rug weaver. or look up twined rugs on the net for some more feasable techniques for woven [on a frame] rag rugs. bobby irwin has a couple real good books on this n o affiliation.. they are just real good books..
this could be a whole side bar in this site… recycle and reuse like our grand parents used to do.
That is one my fond memories of my grandma’s house, the rolls of rolled up wool, right next to the carousels of slides in the closet. Remember watching the vacation slide shows? My grandma made a few rag rugs. I wish I had one.
Thank you for the memories!
Sheri isn’t it funny the things we remember about our parents and grandparents? Often we think our kids will remember the great gifts, big bang birthday parties and things but for me it is usually the little things like you mentioned that give me the best and warmest memories.
I have recently made several crocheted rag rugs – I love them! I used t-shirts cut in strips. I started trying to cut a long spiral, free hand w/ my rotary cutter, I had a hard time keeping the size the same and I felt like I took longer to cut up shirts than to crochet them together. But I love the rug on my kitchen floor (I used a big crochet hook, the size isn’t marked but it is about 1/2 inch across). Next time I used my rotary cutter and ruler to cut a t-shirt by cutting 3/4″ strips from about 2″ in all the way to the edge, after I cut strips all the way up to the sleeves I open up the solid edge that is left and cut the rings diagonally so I end up with a long strip. I just pull on the fabric, it curls up and roll it in to a ball. The number of shirts varies by the size – I made a large door mat size rug with 12 adult XL shirts, I made a more regular door mat sized rug with kids S shirts – I used about 24 (I actually cut some of the “yarn” from adult shirts in half to make two balls the same size as the kid shirts – I only had about 18 kid shirts). With this 3/4″ yarn I used a smaller hook – it says 11.5 P. I love these, and they are made from old t-shirts that are sitting around in boxes in my basement, so I abuse them on my kitchen floor and throw them in the washer when I think of it and if they fall apart, so what – they were made from rags! I learned to crochet by making dishrags- if I didn’t get the corners right, and they pucker – who cares!?! I use them to wash the dishes and counters! The hardest part of a rug is making an oval that lays flat around the curves, I made two rugs as rectangles b/c I couldn’t make nice curves – you can make the stripes go the long way or the short way. I was inspired to try this from my grandma’s rag rugs that my mom gave me years ago.
Hi! Just found your website and was looking at your post here on rag rugs…saving clothes to use in these. My mom made a really large round braided rug years ago that we used under the kitchen table for many years. It was made out of wool strips she cut from our old clothes and I think also from yardsale purchases too. It was beautiful and very warm! She did always say that it was hard work though making it – not difficult, but because she made it in wool, it was very heavy to work with and she used a heavy waxed string to sew it together!! I believe it is now still stored up in the attic. Anyway I would recommend starting out with cottons and a heavy thread.
My mother now makes quilts out of old silk ties – and let me tell you they are beautiful! She is my inspiration! So I am embarking on a project to make one myself.
I purchased most of my ties – at yard sales & thrift shops, looking for only silk (they are usually the same price as the others). Mom adds pieces of velvet in with her quilts, but I am choosing not too.
Anyway if anyone is interested – I can give you more details and a few photos of Mom’s if you like. Obviously this could be done with any type fabric – the silk just makes it a bit “luxe” for the same price.
I just found a book with a simple method for cutting and piecing a “crazy quilt” – it should be much quicker than my Mom’s method. Can’t wait to see how it goes!
I would love to see some pictures and more details. I want to make quilts for my grandkids.
I second that request. I would love to see what Cherie is doing and her mother.
Margaret I couldn’t figure out what was wrong but have now figured out when we transferred some things a few of our articles lost their pictures so we will try to get that fixed. Thanks to everyone for letting us know there was a problem
thanks for posting more info on this jill and tawra .. hope all is well with the family .. missed everyone this summer … i had to take a job outside of the home bc my work at home job gets super slow during those hot months .. and with us moving and all, well … u know how it is .. i am back home now, which hubby likes .. and well .. hopimg business keeps us afloat ..
but i missed everyone .. i hope all is fine with everyone ..
Glad to have you back Rose. You know I always wonder what is happening when I haven’t heard from you guys. Glad all is ok.
How do you sew in the stips when you are rolling the ball of fabric?
Some sew them them together the way you would bias tape or strips for binding on a quilt by laying two strips at right angles and sewing across diagonally. I don’t do that any more but just sew them together with a 1/4-1/2 inch seam and leave it at that. It is so much easier then any other method I have tried. Also you can do this on the machine but usually I am watching TV or something like that when I am rolling my balls so I just have a needle and thread by me and sew them together by hand. It only takes about 6 or so little stitches and then I can continue rolling the strip.
I am going to try making some rugs. I do crochet and have some material to try this with. I thought my granddaughter might enjoy trying to do this, too. My mother-in-law crocheted rugs out of old panty hose back when my husband was younger. One is still around. Unfortuneately, she threw the others. I’ve often thought about making one with panty hose but don’t like the thoughts of cutting them into strips. She must have had a lot of patience, the rugs were huge!
When I saw your post about the carpet balls it reminded me of what some ladies did here in Jackson a few years back. Jackson, Tn has a lot of homeless people. Over 400 I heard at one time.
These ladies took the plastic bag your daily newspaper comes in and cut it around and round in 1″ strips. They used these bags to create blankets for the homeless. I was told that in winter the plastic did a great job in fending off the cold air, keeping body heat in and also helping keep rain off these people. It was a wonderful gesture I thought.
My Grandpa used bread wrappers and wove a rug on his loom when I was a kid. My mom has the loom at her house and still has that rug. She is no longer able to use the loom because of her pacemaker so I have started using it. I have a tote bag my grandpa made me when I was little. I love it and have such great memories of helping him fill the cans for the loom and watching him. I make rugs, tote bags, and purses. I have recently purchased an old table top loom and want to use it for place mats, table runners and the purses & bags. I also started embellishing the bags & purses with flowers made from fabric strips or crocheted ones with button centers. So far I have given them away as gifts but would like to try to sell some for extra income. Weaving is fun and a stress reliever. Love it!
You could use Walmart bags or any kind of bags to make these blankets but I think the ones the paper comes in is softer and more easily woked with.
There is an easier way to make a rug out of those balls. You can just crochet it. I think, it would be much faster. I made a few small rugs like that to hold hot pots when you put it on the table. They only lasted a couple years and started falling apart, because they were getting dirty often and I would wash them often too. I hope to make a few new ones this winter. I am just too busy now with my garden and freezing veggies and grapes for winter use.
Yes you can crochet them here is a post with a video on our website that shows how to do that for anyone who is interested in that. Crochet Rag Rugs
I cut up old t-shirts and sweat pants (leggings) to make rugs. I use t-shirts that are not in good enough shape to give to the thrift store, but still have some decent fabric in them. Items that are mostly cotton with a bit of spandex are the best to use, and crochet the easiest. Ribbed knits do not work well, as they offer too much resistance when you go to crochet the fabric strips. Save the ribbed items for the rag bag. I start on the outside of a large front or back piece and just cut a continuous strip round and round, about an inch wide (no need to measure) and work my way into the center of the piece of cloth. I don’t sew ends together; I just do a granny knot when joining ends, and leave a tail of two or three inches. Then I wind the fabric into balls for crocheting rugs. When I crochet them, I crochet over the end tails of each joining, or work them into the crochet fabric after, with a bodkin. (A large darning like needle with a large eye for threading). The ends stay pretty secure, but even if they work loose, they are easy to reweave, or leave out for a bit of character. My rag rugs are the last stop for t-shirts. We use the rugs for 3 or 4 years, then they are relegated to the dog’s kennel for a blanket before we toss them. They wash up like a dream, and can be put in the dryer, or hung to dry. T-shirt material makes them quite elastic.
I made a rag rug using old T-shirt strips one time. It was a crocheted round rug. My husband didn’t like the look of it in the kitchen.The edges of the strips were visible. So, if you are making a rug, make sure you stretch the t-shirt strips before crocheting to make it look like yarn. Also, try to cut the strips with same width.
what is the use of carpet balls?
You roll the rags you have cut into strips into what is called carpet balls because it keeps the strips from tangling, is easier to carry with you etc. This were made years ago before t shirts were around and were made out of strips of old clothes and linens and usually woven into rugs or long rug like strips that were sewn into large area rugs and used as carpet. Some people did crochet or braid them into rugs.
Please tell how to find or buy the looms that would work for weaving these rag rugs.
Or better, do you have plans for making the looms?
I love these rugs!
Thanks so much!
To make a braided rag rug you don’t need a loom Carol you just braid the strips of fabric together, roll and whip stitch it together. If you are interested in making rag rugs on a loom like what is in the picture then you will have to do a little research. Google where to buy weaving looms. You really need to study it a little because there are all kinds from small looms that are really inexpensive that you can use to make things like place mats or very expensive floor looms to make rugs and fabric on. It all depends on how much you want to spend and how serious you really are. You might also check out any stores that specialize in yarns, knitting and such in town and they can maybe direct you to someone or some place where you can look at looms. Check out things too like in Estes Park, Co they have a wool festival each June and they have venders there and you can talk to them to get info. You may not be in CO but they might have something like that in your area.