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Making: a rag rug

Last summer, there was a family gathering on Skye. I was there for just a couple of days, really, but it included enough time to get along to a local craft fair, in walking distance from where we were staying.

There were a mixture of stalls. I liked some items; was less keen on others. But on one stall, there was a lady with strips of cloth, and a wooden implement which I can only really describe as a Bodger.

The woman had a loose-weave cloth, and she was using the bodger to poke strips of cloth through that backing. What she was doing was making a rag rug, something I had read about, but never actually seen done.

The woman had kits for sale, with the hessian backing, instructions, and a few pieces of coordinating material to start you off. The clincher, of course, was that the kit gave you your own bodger.

I was in.


The thing with making rag rugs is that it immediately gives you a use for lots of tiny bits of fabric that might otherwise get chucked out.

These days, as the woman showed me, those bits of fabric can include fleece material, jeans, tartan, cotton, and pretty much anything else you care to cut into tiny pieces of fabric.

Once I got home, and looked at the instructions more, it seemed that the cutting of strips was to be greatly improved by the owning of a rotary cutter.

I did not then own one. So the kit stayed in its bag for pretty much a year. (I made an attempt at getting a rotary cutter at one point, only to find I had bought something else, and had to take it back.)

Fast forward to this summer. I have now acquired my rotary cutter. So all of a sudden, my new toy is not just for quilts/patchwork, but I can also get the rag rug kit underway.

While the rag rug kit was gathering dust, I did start to amass a pile of fabric to go with it. Then I had a big bout of spring cleaning and got rid of it. (I kind of regret that now, but only a bit.)

On the plus side, it might be the ideal use for lots of little strips of eco bag that I no longer want to use, but that could find a new purpose as a rag rug.

On the other side: what does one do with one’s rag rug? I have a feeling that it might turn into a teeny tiny rug for a teddy, in a similar way to the teeny tiny quilt.

The good thing about the rag rug work is that the pieces aren’t fixed in the same way as sewing. So if I try out some bits and don’t like the effect, I can always pull them out and start again.

I’m rather hoping that rag rugging – aka bodging – might be just the thing for doing while watching TV. Normally I don’t manage to make and watch TV at the same time, but I think this might just be the exception.

And then, if I like it, I can always buy more hessian, and bodge away a bit more.


Early results:

– fleece material is nice to use, fairly easy to put in and out

–  tartan material looks good but keeps fraying. Turns out I should have cut it on the bias. (I know the phrase – now I need to go off and work out what it means in practice. I think it means cutting cloth in a way that stops it fraying.)

– cotton eco bag material works very nicely. And those bits that had writing on – you only see a tiny bit of the writing for each ‘stitch’ of the rug, so it’s not distracting.

It’s more like those pictures of walls where an old advert was painted up there and is now flaking off in a reasonably charming way.

– folding the strips in half along the width makes for a neater ‘stitch’ but means that you get lots of flatter lines

– bodging can be done fairly easily while playing Settlers of Catan on holiday

– with practice, I can now bodge strips from the front of the cloth, which speeds things up.


So: will it use up scraps of material? Yes, just great. But I am now realising I will need a lot of scraps of material. (No wonder rag rugging was done by a whole family – you’d need to, just to create enough strips and get them into the backing.)

In consequence, it will Take Some Time to complete. But that’s OK. I suspect it could be a perfect project to pick up and put down when I need to.

Keep Calm and DIY

Remember the notion of challenge I mentioned recently? Challenge is all right really – at least, the ones that you think you can actually manage.

What when they are ones that pick you? The DIY jobs that you really can’t put off any longer – the ones you also don’t know how to do?


Here’s how it goes. You agree that there is a task that must be done: taking out the old sealant round the bath and putting in new.

You don’t know how to do it – but one day, your local supermarket happens to do a deal on tools to scrape out the old stuff. So you pick those up, and a sealant tube, and hope that that will spur you on.

You invite your dad round – not to do the job, but to supervise, and show how to start it. He gets out the Trusty Penknife, starts things off. You learn how to keep going, without worrying that you are carving up things that you shouldn’t.

Your dad shows you a new and exciting sharp tool to add to the collection: a Stanley knife that you can use for DIY. It’s meant to be for getting paint off the edge of windows, but you discover you can degrime shower screens with it. Bonus.

Then you realise that you also need to regrout the tiles around the bath. You don’t know how to do that either.

But your dad tells you how to mix up grout, and you discover some left over from when friends did the job in the first place. So you add that to the list.

You begin to scrape out all the old grout around the bath. It makes a mess, it takes a long time, you work up a sweat. You start to learn that preparation in DIY really does take longer than the job itself.

You like the scraper tool, so you buy one. And a different sealant. And take the first back. And go back to the DIY place a few more times, now that you’re in the swing of things, to get radiator paint.

Because your dad has told you that you can seal the rust on the bathroom radiator that you’re embarrassed by, and the hall radiator would probably benefit from a lick of paint…and so on.

One time, you go to the DIY place twice in the same morning. The first time, because you’ve left your bank card in the wrong place. They smile and park your trolley somewhere helpful.

You discover that you have overcome another challenge, namely, driving a new route to the DIY place. And the supermarket nearby.

You touch up paintwork on the walls in the bathroom. And find yourself repainting the bathroom. With a very small brush, because there’s lots of fiddly bits. Good job it’s a small bathroom.


You enlist the help of your spouse. You seek out YouTube videos on how to do grouting and sealant. Or rather, he does, and you nod approvingly.

And go back to the DIY place, because now you need masking tape to do the sealant properly. And your spouse informs you that the local supermarket does not stock it. (But it does stock quick cook pasta. That helps. You’re tired by now.)

In the end, you chicken out, and let your better half do the actual grouting and sealant. He doesn’t seem to be as nervous.

You stand alongside and provide kitchen roll when asked for, and dig out one of those primary school style glue spreaders that happens to be the right size for pushing grout between tiles.


You discover that you don’t need to repaint the woodwork. What you really needed to do was to clean it properly in the first place.

You hunt around the attic for the sugar soap, and it does the trick. You are simultaneously pleased at the result and depressed that you let the grot hang around that long.


You have to remove part of a significant sticker collection around the window to repaint – and breathe a sigh of relief when you can do so safely and return them to their owner without ripping them.

You use one of those masks for painting the radiator. Because the DIY place doesn’t seem to stock radiator paint without significant fumes.

You feel halfway to a proper tradesman, but don’t understand why he doesn’t get headaches from the fumes if he’s doing this all the time.


You show up for school pick up in painting clothes. Three days running.

It’s only when you’ve finally finished the job that your child informs you that, one more day of painting clothes at pick up, and they might start to get embarrassed.


All of a sudden, you discover that you can redo a bathroom by doing the cheap bits that freshen it up. You feel very pleased with yourself.

But in the meantime, you eat a whole pork pie on your own, for lunch, because it turns out DIY can take it out of you. Even if you’re keeping as calm as you can.

Making: the scooping up blanket

So last time round I mentioned that I had all these leftover handles from the eco bags I’d been cutting up. And they seem just right for the idea of a scooping up blanket.

Dan and Junior Reader are Lego afficianados. To be honest, it’s building anything – it could be K’nex, or Duplo, or anything else that you stick together.

I admire the things they create – they have a much more instinctive understanding of making than I do. Plus they can both think in 3D, which is a challenge to me.

But the downside of these building sessions is that there are lots of tiny bits, spread out. And when it comes to tidying up, it takes a long time, there’s quite a lot of harumphing over the tidying up, and there’s invariably a few bits that are found later.

So how would it be if you used a blanket for the spreading things out stage – then pulled the corners to form a bag? Then (carefully) tip the Lego into its drawers, and you’re done.

The plus side to this plan, as I see it, is the chance to have a nice comfy surface under you as you sit and build.

The question mark is: do you make it as a quilt? And the even bigger question: should the quilt look like Lego itself?

So here’s where I’m at so far on the thinking about this.

I like the idea, and I think it would be very useful. And I have those sturdy handles all ready to use. (More than I need for one blanket. Maybe I’ll make a second scooping-up blanket for something else.)

Downside of a Lego-style quilt: potentially difficult to see the actual pieces on if it looks like Lego too (ie Lego-type colours, similar shaped blocks).

BUT if I did a Lego style quilt, and put a plain backing on it, then you could use the plain side to build on, so you could see the pieces.

And then you’d have the visual joke of the Lego side for other occasions where you might like to have something to snuggle (thinks: Sunday film afternoons?).

Big plus of this: we know the Lego colours already. We know they work together. There’s no pattern matching to do. And the pieces can be Lego shaped, which could be fun to plan.

I think if I do this, I’ll probably aim for using Duplo blocks for sizing, rather than actual Lego sizing, which would be too fiddly to work with.

(After discussion with Dan, that size is probably too small too. Think bigger.)

It might also be an excuse to cut out little bits of coloured paper, and move them around to find a pattern I like. Plus I do have that rotary cutter now, so I should be able to cut suitable sized blocks of fabric.

It’s at this point that I see the addiction of making. It’s not just about solving problems; it’s about thinking about the best way of doing so.

I know that if I do this, it’ll be a lot of work. And I do my sewing by hand, so that could mean it takes a while.

But at the same time, I am really enjoying the sewing. If the teeny tiny quilt gets finished OK, then I’ll have some more skills for doing the next stage.

Plus I’ve got a LOT of quilt-stuffing material from those old pillows. I might as well make use of it.

If I can, I’m going to use the fabric left over from the eco bags, where I think it fits sufficiently with Lego colours. I’ve got time to plan it; maybe to hunt for scraps of material that would work.

But in the meantime, I’ve found the perfect scrap of material for another project – and one I’m going to complete first, I think.

It’s an end of bed tidy thing, sewn, with pockets. More on that next time.

Making: reusing fabric

I don’t know if the moment has passed, but there seemed to be a stage at which you were besieged with eco bags at every turn.

Supermarkets sold them to you; conferences pressed them on you (to hold all the paper that you then didn’t need anyway. Hmm.)

I started into eco bags a while back. They were quite often souvenirs of trips to Germany. I still have a couple which I love (and which have the frayed handles to prove it).

One is for a children’s book publisher, and has a very nice illustration of a cheery frog on a motorbike. The other has the Ampelmaenner (traffic light men) of East Berlin – you’ll see the ‘Go’ version as the little icon at the top of this webpage.

Eco bags are a nice idea, but they don’t really hold a lot of shopping. They’re fine if you’re off to the paper shop to collect your weekend newspaper, they’ll do a few bits and pieces, but not a great deal.

Cue my next use of them: for putting dirty washing in when on trips away from home. And when you’re home and doing the washing, stick the bag in as well, and it’s ready for next time.

But still. There were bags I liked, and ones I really didn’t care for any more. So I decided it was time to get the material back, use the blank bits (maybe more quilt activity?), keep the bag designs I did like, and ditch the rest.

And then I was able to justify getting a new sewing toy. The terribly sharp, terribly exciting rotary cutter.

You can use strong scissors to cut fabric, of course. You can even have pinking shears to make sure the edges don’t fray. (Though the main use of pinking shears, as I recall, was to reuse old Christmas cards and turn them into tags for next year.)

Once I’d read the quilting book a bit more, as well as a bit of looking at sewing sites, I realised that a rotary cutter could help things along nicely.

It basically looks much like a pizza cutter – but deadlier. (A pizza cutter doesn’t have a guard for the blade. This does.)

Lest it seem too dangerous for words, I have been practising cutting, carefully, on little scraps of fabric, to get the feel for the thing. Turns out it’s very nice to use – very smooth.

You do need to have one of those cutting mats to use them on – I think they call them self-healing mats.

The kind you can use for cutting out card designs with a Stanley knife. (We did some Christmas cards a few years ago, with lots of cutting, so we have the mat already.)

So the stitch ripper and the rotary cutter have been working together on taking apart these bags. A few are even coloured, and may make it into a different pile for a larger-scale quilt idea (if the first one works out).

I don’t quite know what I’ll do with the picture bits I’m saving yet. I don’t think they are quilting squares; most of them have words on as well, and I don’t want a quilt that’s too busy to look at.

They might be interesting cut into quarters and moved around a piece of fabric, as it were, so the effect is less immediate on the eye.

I do now have a lot of nice strong handles from the bags, though, which brings me to another idea: a scooping things up blanket.

(A blanket with handles, basically. I’ve seen things like this for sale online. Play on it, then pick it up by the handles at the end, and scoop up whatever’s inside, to make tidy up easier and quicker.)

I think the blanket might work for all kinds of small playthings – but I’m principally thinking the Lego collection. More on those plans another time.

Updated: the bits of fabric with words on turn out to be just fine in a rag rug. And more on that on a separate occasion.

Am I using up almost all the fabric? You betcha.

Making: a teeny tiny quilt

Long long ago, it seems, I acquired a book on quilting. It’s a good one, including a mix of photos of the real thing, and lots of projects to try out.

Even further ago, I found myself teaching in Poland (second time around), again at a point where my hands needed something to do in the evenings.

(English teaching in the day meant that it was very hard to do anything words-related at night. So I ended up doing some sewing-type things instead.)

Fortunately, my teaching position came hot on the heels of an American family who had been there for three years before me. The mum seemed to have been into quilting, and left a box full of lots of odds and ends of fabric.

I made a few little bits of patchwork. The colour combinations were good. One became a kind of table runner for the low table in the room where I was staying that year.

Another made steps towards being the size of a cushion cover. It never got to those lofty heights, but it does now get more viewing time, as it were, by going over the top of a rocking chair.

I never wanted to fill the house with patchwork thises and thats. Part of me admires it, the colours, the shapes. Part of me also wants to avoid too much busyness on the eye.

But with some offcuts from my clothes-adjusting activities, I thought I might try to find a use for them. Cue: the teeny tiny quilt.

The point of this is that it’s a place to learn. It will probably end up the right size for a teddy or other soft toy, which is plenty big enough to work on, but not so crucial that I feel bad if it doesn’t work out.

I’ve kept the notion of the teddy quilt a secret from Junior Reader, but I hope that it will go down well, once I feel like it’s at a point where I can hand it over.

Part of the current attraction of the quilt is that it also gives me a chance to use up the inners of the pillows we recently parted with.

(I discovered that you can’t recycle them – they just go into landfill – but some online searching suggested things like using them for making soft toys or quilts.)

So far, we have simple squares. A bit of leftover red curtaining material (Granny R has been hard at work on new curtains for Junior Reader. Respect.). And the offcuts of those jeans I mentioned.

24 squares, and a colour way of red and grey. So far so good.

So I’ve learned to look at the useful book before beginning the project. (Turns out you shouldn’t create strips of 6 squares, but just do them in pairs. Back to the stitch ripper for a bit.)

I’ve just started combining the pairs into sets of 4. That took a bit of trial and error to work out how to match them so it looks (as best I can) like the seams actually line up.

Hopefully I’ll complete the 24 squares fairly soon. Then I need to think about what to put on the back, and how to tease out the pillow material so it forms the filling (or batting) of the quilt.

There is also adding some kind of binding around the outer edges to hold all the elements together. And after that, you get to do stitching through the different layers (the actual quilting), which I understand can be decorative if you want it to be.

So that’s all going fine. But then I discovered a set of fabric that was doing nothing, and decided to add to my material stash by cutting up: eco bags.