Creating with Rags (1)

Rags aren't just another "R" word.

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Explore sustainability, the "three R's" of conservation, and the concept of an ecological footprint, in the context of rag craft, with the "Flying Geese Rug" as an example.

General Learning Outcomes

Patterns & Relations
Shape & Space

  • Use direct or indirect measurement; identify transformations
  • Explore 3-D objects, 2-D shapes

Statistics & Probability

  • Problem solving, visualization, mental mathematics and estimation

English Language Arts
Explore ideas, feelings and experiences
Comprehend and respond to text
Manage ideas and information
Enhance the clarity and artistry of communication
Social Studies
Being together

  • Explore basic needs
  • Communication, time, work and resources

Connecting & Belonging

  • Explore personal identity
  • Diversity, rights and responsibilities, interdependence

Communities in Canada

  • Community groups, heritage and culture
  • Past and present stories of local community

Communities of the World

  • Rights and responsibilities
  • Connections

Living in Manitoba

  • Artistic and cultural achievements
  • Stories from Manitoba's past
  • Environmental stewardship and sustainability


What is a rag rug?

Rag rugs are rugs constructed from rags, using cloth from discarded clothing or other textiles, or remnants of natural or synthetic fabrics. Rag weaving has been done for over 200 years, and use of the technique has produced both utilitarian objects and works of art.

Why construct with rags?

The creative use of rags in craft is tied closely to economics, perceptions about thrift and reuse and necessity. More than two centuries ago, households were minimally furnished, often with bare floors of stone or wood. Textiles and carpets were made by hand up until the nineteenth century. Carpets were costly, highly valued and restricted to the wealthy. Textiles were hand-woven and expensive, which made their re-use an economic necessity.


Creating a rag rug

What is weaving with rags?

Weaving a rag rug involves interlacing fabric strips, called the weft, into lengthwise threads, called the warp. The warp threads can be cotton, linen, wool or synthetic, and must have good tensile and abrasive strength as they are held under considerable tension. The weft strips are typically cut or torn 1-4 cm wide, and additional strips can be joined as the work progresses.

In Plain Weave, the weft is woven in an over, under, over, under pattern across the warp threads. Plain weave is also known as tabby and is often used in rag weaving.

What is hooking with rags?

Rag hooking offers more possibilities in design for constructing rugs, runners, and other household objects. Rug hooking as a craft reached its height in early nineteenth century America, both in the Canadian Maritimes and New England in the USA.

Hooking involves using a hook to pull narrow strips of fabric (1/8-1/4" wide) through a woven foundation, which is typically burlap or monk's cloth. The resulting loops, pulled up close together, form the "pile" of the rug. A frame is used to stretch and hold the foundation fabric taut when hooking.


Image of a Flying Geese Hooked Rug

"Flying Geese Hooked Rug"

The above "Flying Geese" hooked rug was intended for use on a staircase, covering the platform and rise. It was crafted from recycled clothing.

Reflect & Discuss:

Sustainability is a major concern today. Familiar 3R words concerning resource conservation and sustainability are Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Rag rugs fit perfectly with the R-words that are part of our resource conservation vocabulary.

What is sustainability?

Sustainability refers directly to a capacity to endure. Within an ecological framework, sustainability refers to how natural systems can have integrity and balance and remain productive over time.

What are R-Words?

R-words are words that help us understand how to conserve the earth's natural resources, thereby improving sustainability, and reducing our ecological footprint. The ecological footprint refers to the measurement of human demand placed upon this planet, compared to the Earth's ability to ecologically replenish itself.

Review the concept and meaning of the words Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.

Reduce: Reduce the amounts of the things we consume.

Reuse: Reuse objects or resources as much as possible.

Recycle: Recover materials when an object falls into disuse.

How does rag weaving or hooking reflect attitudes concerning waste, sustainability and thrift?

Through the study of crafts such as rag weaving or rag hooking, we can learn about the worldview, values, status and identity of the craftspeople that created and used objects like the "Flying Geese" rug. Such objects also reflect attitudes of the craftspeople about thrift, waste, and consumption.

Key points to address are:

  • Technological limitations in the production of cloth in earlier times made textiles extremely expensive, and therefore valued.
  • Textiles were reused and recycled by craftspeople.
  • Rugs were valued as status objects and cared for.
  • Using rags in this manner today is applying active "3 R" conservational practice, Reducing, Reusing, and Recycling.

Has this inquiry activity, based upon the crafts of rag weaving and rag hooking, inspired you to brainstorm any other "R-words" that might be applicable?

Another valuable R word, which exists within cultural traditions and craftwork, is the idea of "Repair". Think carefully about the last time you ripped or tore your jeans, or had a hole in a pair of socks. Did you address that damage by discarding the object, or did you attempt to repair it by sewing or darning? What better way is there to reduce your ecological footprint than by making repairs to damaged or worn out items rather than discarding them as "refuse"? Secondly, think about R words "Replace" and "Refuse". As new technologies enable improvement upon past methods , use fewer resources, and make a smaller ecological footprint, sometimes we must "Refuse" to use that which is ecologically harmful, and in turn "Replace" that which can be rendered "ecologically obsolete".

Discuss and reflect on what sustainable development means to you.

Research, reflect and discuss what sustainable development means to people within your community. Explore their perceptions of issues at both a local and global level.

Ideas for Further Research:

  • Research the first academic publication on the ecological footprint by William Rees (1992).
  • Become familiar with the "The Earth Charter", a global initiative which identified 16 principles that societies need to adopt if human beings are to achieve sustainability here on earth.

Additional Web Resources

Making Rag Rugs (1)

Making Rag Rugs (2)

For Project Ideas with Rags

Sustainable development (1)

Sustainable development (2)

The Earth Charter

The World Footprint

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