Ann Dishman is the Chair of the East Sussex Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers and a gifted weaver of Scandinavian-style rugs. Here she explains her technique and how to source the material
I have loved spinning and weaving for many years – not the intricate and beautiful weavings of my fellow weavers but the basic plain weave, or ‘tabby’ as it is called. Two-shaft or rigid heddle weaving is for me, and after seeing some wonderful Scandinavian rag rugs I wanted to try the style myself. In this way, old sheets and duvet covers can be turned into wonderful rugs, cushions and bags.
These versatile rugs can be used just about anywhere in the home, and also outside as sunning mats in the garden or on the beach, where they can offer extra comfort on pebbles or sand. They make good seat cushions or pet mats, and smaller ones offer colourful protection on a table against hot plates and pans.
I love visiting charity shops, and of course these are the ideal places to find sheets and duvet covers that can be transformed into rugs and bags. A single-bed duvet cover will make a small rug, while a king-size duvet cover will make a fairly large rug, and of course you can always mix the fabrics for an even more exciting rug.
Most bed linen contains a large percentage of cotton and is the preferred fabric, and the more worn the better, as the old soft cotton beats down very well in the warp.
It is also very absorbent, so is ideal for mats in bathrooms. A 50–50 blend of cotton and man-made fibre does work, but steer away from purely man-made fibre, as it is not so flexible.
I find many friends will contribute old sheets too, and these I usually dye. If the dye is patchy on the fabric, all well and good, as it just adds to the character of the pattern. For really exciting rugs and bags, choose brightly patterned fabric that is reversible and with the pattern showing through on the back, as the material bundles up and shows both sides when woven.
PREPARING THE FABRIC
The weft fabric is cut into 4–5cm (1½–2in) wide strips, which are joined on the sewing machine end-to-end into continuous lengths and then wound into balls for easier handling. Of course, you can only get so much fabric onto your shuttle to weave, so don’t make the strips too long. Another way to make joins is to overlap your lengths on the loom by 5–8cm (2–3in) and then continue weaving. The excess fabric can be cut off with no ill effect once the rug is removed from the loom.
For rugs, I use a strong cotton yarn equal to a dk thickness threaded at 5 to the inch, and for bags a similar yarn equal to a 4-ply knitting yarn. So that I have something to beat the heddle against, I use strips of black plastic bags because, at the end of weaving, they slide out nicely. Then a tabby ‘header’ is woven in the same thread you used for the warp. Once the work is finished and removed from the loom, the remaining warp thread at both ends can become the fringe.
THE ASHFORD RIGID HEDDLE
I used my Ashford rigid heddle for this rug, which is an ideal loom for the beginner and the experienced weaver. Although the rigid heddle does a good job acting as a beater against the weft fabric, you would benefit from using a heavy tapestry beater to make sure there are no gaps in the weft. I use a Dryad brass beater for this job. While I like to use my rigid heddle loom for small rugs and bags, I do use an old vertical rug loom to make heavier rugs. These, of course, take more fabric, necessitating further exciting trips to the charity shops.
This has just been a short guide to weaving with fabric, and I genuinely find new ideas coming to me all the time. How about a rug for the bedroom and then using a matching pillowcase (uncut) to make a matching drawstring dirty linen bag? The bags I make are all made in the same fashion, except the warp is set at 7 to the inch and the fabric is cut in lengths of about 2.5cm (1in) wide. I then weave the bag handles on my inkle loom, but that’s another story.
The loom Ann uses is an Ashford rigid heddle (32in) with stand
In addition to her role as Chair of the East Sussex Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers, Ann teaches rigid heddle weaving at her home in Uckfield, East Sussex. Visit www.esgwsd.org.uk to find out more about the Guild and their activities.