Undoubtedly the most useful—and from a utilitarian point of view the most perfect—rag rug is made from worn ingrain carpet, especially if it is of the honest all-wool kind, and not the modern mixture of cotton and wool. There are places in the textile world where a mixture of cotton and wool is highly advantageous, but in ingrain carpeting, where the sympathetic fibre of the wool holds fast to its adopted colour, and the less tenacious cotton allows it to drift easily away, the result is a rusty grayness of colour which shames the whole fabric. This grayness of aspect cannot be overcome in the carpet except by re-dyeing, and even then the improvement may be transitory, so an experienced maker of rugs lets the half-cotton ingrain drift to its end without hope of resurrection.
The cutting of old ingrain into strips for weaving is not so serious a task as it would seem. Where there is an out-of-doors to work in, the breadths can easily be torn apart without inconvenience from dust. After this they should be placed, one at a time, in an old-fashioned “pounding-barrel” and invited to part with every particle of dust which they have accumulated from the foot of man.
For those who do not know the virtues and functions of the “pounding-barrel,” I must explain that it is an ordinary, tight, hard-wood barrel; the virtue lying in the pounder, which may be a broom-handle, or, what is still better, the smooth old oak or ash handle of a discarded rake or hoe. At the end of it is a firmly fixed block of wood, which can be brought down with vigour upon rough and soiled textiles. It is an effective separator of dust and fibre, and is, in fact, a New England improvement upon the stone-pounding process which one sees along the shores of streams and lakes in nearly all countries but England and America.
If the pounding-barrel is lacking, the next best thing is—after a vigorous shaking—to leave the breadths spread upon the grass, subject to the visitations of wind and rain. After a few days of such exposure they will be quite ready to handle without offense. Then comes the process of cutting. The selvages must be sheared as narrowly as possible, since every inch of the carpet is valuable. When the selvages are removed, the breadths are to be cut into long strips of nearly an inch in width and rolled into balls for the loom. If the pieces are four or five yards in length, only two or three need to be sewn together until the weaving is actually begun, as the balls would otherwise become too heavy to handle. As the work proceeds, however, the joinings must be well lapped and strongly sewn, the rising of one of the ends in the woven piece being a very apparent blemish.
Rugs made of carpeting require a much stronger warp than do ordinary cotton or woolen rugs, and therefore a twine made of flax or hemp, if it be of fast colour, will be found very serviceable. Some weavers fringe the rags by pulling out side threads, and this gives an effect of nap to the woven rug which is very effective, for as the rag is doubled in weaving the raveled ends of threads stand up on the surface, making quite a furry appearance. I have a rug treated in this way made from old green carpeting, woven with a red warp, which presents so rich an appearance that it might easily be mistaken for a far more costly one. It has, however, the weak point of having been woven with the ordinary light-red warp of commerce, and is therefore sure to lose colour. If the warp had been re-dyed by the weaver, with “Turkey red,” it would probably have held colour as long as it held together.
This cutting of ingrain rags would seem to be a serious task, but where weaving is a business instead of an amusement it is quite worth while to buy a “cutting table” upon which the carpet is stretched and cut with a knife. This table, with its machinery, can be bought wherever looms and loom supplies are kept, at a cost of from seven to eight dollars. If the strips are raveled at all, it should be at least for a third of an inch, as otherwise the rug would possess simply a rough and not a napped surface.
If the strips are cut an inch in width and raveled rather more than a third on each side, it still leaves enough cloth to hold firmly in the weaving, but I have known one industrious soul who raveled the strips until only a narrow third was left down the middle of the strip, and this she found it necessary to stitch with the sewing machine to prevent further raveling. I have also known of the experiment of cutting the strips on the bias, stitching along the centre and pulling the two edges until they were completely ruffled.
Although this is a painstaking process, it has very tangible merits, as, in the first place, absolutely nothing of the carpet is wasted—no threads are pulled out and thrown away as in the other method—and in the next the sewings together are overhand instead of lapped. The raveled waste can often be used as filling for the ends of rugs if it is wound as it is pulled from the carpet rags. Indeed, one can hardly afford to waste such good material.
It will be seen that there are great possibilities in the carpet rug. Even the unravelled ones are desirable floor covering on account of their weight and firmness. They lie where they are placed, with no turned-up ends, and this is a great virtue in rugs.
Of course much of the beauty of the ingrain carpet rug depends upon the original colour of the carpet. Most of those which are without design will work well into rugs if a strongly contrasting colour is used in the warp. If, for instance, the carpet colour is plain blue, the warp should be white; if yellow, either an orange warp, which will make a very bright rug, or a green warp, which will give a soft yellowish green, or a blue, which will give a general effect of green changing to yellow.
If the carpet should be a figured one, a red warp will be found more effective than any other in bringing all the colours together. If it should happen to be faded or colourless, the breadths can be dipped in a tub of strong dye of some colour which will act well upon the previous tint. If, for instance, it should be a faded blue, it may be dipped in an indigo dye for renewal of colour, or into yellow, which will change it into green. A poor yellow will take a brilliant red dye, and a faded brown or fawn will be changed into a good claret colour by treating it with red dye. Faded brown or fawn colours will take a good dark green, as will also a weak blue. Blue can also be treated with yellow or a fresher blue.
Of course, in speaking of this kind of dyeing, the renewal of old tints, it is with reference to the common prepared dyes which are for sale—with directions—by every druggist, and with a little knowledge of how these colours act upon each other one can produce very good effects. It is quite a different thing from the dyeing of fibre which is to be woven into cloth. In the latter case it is far wiser to use vegetable dyes, but in the freshening of old material the prepared mineral dyes are more convenient and sufficiently effective.