Make It New: A Braided Rug

This tutorial is a long time coming, friends. It originally started over 3 years ago because of a large pile of t-shirts and a small apartment. But, after 3 transformations, I think we finally have a winner!

A summary of the previous lives of this rug:

I am sentimental and would probably be a hoarder if I didn’t have people to keep me in check. So, between a bunch of high school and college events, retreats, 5k’s and more, I had a ton of t-shirts that I wasn’t ready to fully get rid of. I made some t-shirt blankets for my husband and I (not quilts, just 2-sided blankets that make great conversation starters), but still had tons of fabric leftover, even after throwing out the dirty and overused stuff. Since it breaks my heart to throw away anything that could possibly have use someday (remember, potential hoarder here) I made plans for rug.

Braided rug-6.jpg
Braided rug-5.jpg

After lots and lots of cutting up pieces of t-shirts I started the first version, which was weaving it. It was OK, but uneven and a bit fall-apart-y. So eventually I took this apart, balled up the colors together, braided them, and attempted my mother’s craft of the traditional oval braided rug. Hers always turned out much less lumpy than mine (they also had much thicker braids, and were hand sewn, which all probably helped.) So I spent FOREVER seam ripping this version of the rug to opt for a version that would be much less likely to look terrible. And here we are.

From here on out I’m going to mostly pretend the previous versions of this rug didn’t happen, but I will be using photos from throughout the past 3 years to explain the process so don’t judge the inconsistency of background. Also, don’t judge my nasty carpet, we live in a rental that is great for many reasons when you ignore the carpet that reminds me of my grandparents basement. K, thanks.

What you need:

  • Around 8 -15 shirts, depending on size of final rug and how much of the shirt is usable.
  • Scissors
  • Sewing machine
  • Somewhat matching thread - if you are using lots of colors in your rug, pick a thread color that feels cohesive with the other colors, or is a good contrast.
  • Masking tape or painters tape
  • Time and patience. Maybe a show to binge watch. This is not a quick project (even if it only takes you 1 try to make it look good)

Start by gathering all of your t-shirts. I didn’t use any screen print portions in my rug, but you probably could if you want your rug to be a little bigger. Cut off all seams to make it easier on yourself. I cut my pieces to about 1 inch wide. You can speed up the process if you cut wider pieces, but it will also make your rug a little chunkier. Feel free to experiment! (You can always take it apart, right?) It’s up to you how much of the shirt you are willing to salvage and work with. If you are lucky enough to have shirts without side seams then instead of multiple long strips you can cut one long spiral around the shirt.

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If you want an ombre/gradient style rug like mine, you’ll need to roll all of your fabric strips into like-colored balls. As you roll the ball you’ll need to attach the pieces of fabric together, and there is a way to do this without leaving lots of noticeable knots all over:

Cut small slits in each end of your fabric strip. Take the strip that is already connected to the ball and push it through the slit in the piece of fabric that you are attaching.

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Then, take the free end of the piece you are adding, and push it through the slit of the piece attached to the ball.

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Repeat until you are out of this color, and start a new ball with a new color and continue until you have finished all your shirts.

Next, start braiding! Pick your first 3 starting colors. I chose 3 blues that were different enough so there was some “texture” to the color scheme. If they are too similar it felt a little bland (but do what you want, it took me 3 tries to make this rug work at all!) Start by just tying a knot in the end of the 3 strands. You can tie this to something, or get cozy on the couch and strengthen your inner thighs by holding it between your knees. I found it helpful to place on of the balls in a plastic bag and make it the main one to move around as you braid.

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(side note, simple pillow covers are easy to make and make weird furry pillows from high school into classy adult looking pillows. Maybe a tutorial someday?)

Braid forever. Add new colors as you run out. You can still attach with the slit method, but you’ll just have to make a large slit. It won’t be noticeable in the final product. Ball the braided portion up as you go to prevent major knots later.

Once you’ve gone through all of your fabric strips, celebrate! It’s all a bit faster from here. Begin planning out the rug by estimating the length you’d like and marking it out on the floor with masking/painters tape. This may change after the next step, but just make an educated guess for now.

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Lay out your rug according to the tape guides. You will want your braids to be close together and to be flat. Flat lying braids takes some extra effort but it’s worth it for the finished product. Once you’ve laid out all of the braiding be sure you like the size. Mine turned out wider than I was expecting but it still fits well where I want it.

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Next, take a long piece of tape and lay it across the top edge of your rug, leaving a little room for fringe. Carefully do front and back so that all of your hard work stays together. I recommend taping a few additional portions down the rest of the rug to make sewing it easier. (I did not do this and wish I had.)

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Take it to the sewing machine and carefully sew along the edge of the tape. Once the first one is done you have a good base and the rug can’t get too mixed up from there. Sew across the rug every couple inches. Carefully push the strands together as you sew to keep the gaps between strands to a minimum (PLEASE don’t sew your fingers while doing this!) Continue through the rest of the rug.

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Once you have sewed your last line, trim the edges of your rug to give yourself a little fringe, and you’re done!

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Optional next steps: glue to a piece of felt or canvas and/or put grippy stuff on the bottom so it doesn’t move around. I opted not to, but it would add a little more structure to the rug.

I hope you got some good ideas from this post. Now, get to gathering those old t-shirts you don’t wear any more and put them to use!

-Mattea

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