Rationing and Rag Rugs
Rationing of food and clothes was the reality of WWII and people had to make do with what they had. Women were ingenious in making new clothing from any material they could find, be it curtain material, upholstery material, parachute silk or older clothes. But eventually nothing more could be made and the material became a genuine ‘rag’. But even these rags were not thrown out, they could be re-fashioned into something else. Rugs were useful and, out of nostalgia and curiosity for the old times, I’ve just finished making a small plaited rag rug. I was surprised how long it has taken me despite having the advantage of an electric sewing machine to stitch the pieces together… in war time the machines were mechanically driven by either a foot treadle or a handle, or pieces would be sewn together by hand, a very time consuming task.
I had three pairs of old cotton trousers and I’m sure they would have been transformed into a blouse or bodice or clothes for a child during the war, they were really too good to become a rag rug! I was lucky as I did not have to be quite so frugal as the ladies of wartime.
The trousers were in contrasting colours, not quite a patriotic ‘red, white and blue’, but more a ‘rust, fawn and cobalt’. I cut them along the straight of the grain into lengths of material 4 inches (10cm) wide (I’m a patch-worker, so my cutting boards are in inches rather than centimetres!) Each piece should be as long as possible and they are joined together with a diagonal seam (you don’t want bulk in one spot when you fold). I ended up with a strip length of just over 8 metres from each pair of trousers. The length is ironed, seam edges trimmed off and then folded along the length into half width i.e. 2 inches (5cm). Each raw edge is then folded into the centre so you finally have a 1 inch (2.5cm) wide folded strip of 4 thicknesses, with the raw edges enclosed. Join two of your colours together with a diagonal seam and, at this place add the third colour at right angles… thus you have a T shaped piece which is a start of your plait.
So you have both hands free for plaiting, and can keep your strips taut, fasten your T piece to a door handle or hook with a length of string… then plait away, keeping the folded edge of each strip to the centre.
My reference suggested to start plaiting when you had around 7 metre lengths and you can keep adding material to your strips as you progress. From my 8.3 metre lengths of material I ended up with a plait of around 6.5 metres but that will depend on the thickness of your material and the tightness of your plait.
Hand sew the plait together into an oval shape using strong thread and a lacing stitch and ease it round the corners so it stays flat. Depending on the material, a quick press with a hot iron may help too. My finished rug is a tiny 40cm x 60cm, not even a decent sized bathmat, so you need plenty of rags to make a reasonable sized rug… and many, many hours of time! But it was a very rewarding exercise and I could happily envisage the womenfolk keeping ‘the home fires’ burning with such tasks in the evening whilst their soldiers were away!
Reference: “Sew it yourself, Home decorating, Creative ideas for beautiful interiors” No author, published by Marshall Cavendish, London, 1984, pages 150-152.