When Disaster Strikes


I was hoping that my return from maternity leave would be triumphant, but instead I find myself sharing a weaving horror story. This month’s project was nearly ruined in the washing machine. My first thought was to shelve the wreck and weave something else, but I managed to salvage most of it and decided that the experience was worth sharing. After all, we often learn more from our mistakes than our successes, right?

I find myself in love with the idea of weaving textiles for my home. As we continue to renovate our house, I imagine some touch of weaving in each room. I love the thought that I can experience both the visual and tactile pleasure that a handwoven item gives no matter where I am. As a room is finished, I want it to be graced with its very own handwoven, “ta da”.

I have had in my mind for some time to weave a rug using rya knots to create a shaggy pile. I was inspired by Kristin Winander’s inlay rag rug in “The Big Book of Swedish Weaving” by Laila Lundell. Kristin uses cotton rags of various sizes to create a raised hourglass shape on a rectangular rug.

As often as possible, I like to use what I have on hand. My rug wool stash was looking slim, and I wanted to use something with real heft so that this rug would be fun for your feet. I also wanted it to be easily cleanable in the washing machine, because with a baby crawling around the house, I have little time for things that are fussy. I turned to that which I have in abundance: t-shirts.

I used about 2/3 each of 10 different t-shirts cut into 1″ x 4″ strips. This is the perfect job for a rotary cutter. I simply set the t-shirt on my cutting mat, and using the grid as a guide, cut my strips.

I wondered if cutting with or against the grain would make a difference. I cut two test strips, and washed and dried them. The sample cut against the grain shed little bits of cotton more than the sample cut with the grain, but it curled less. I decided not to worry about which way the grain was going and focus on maximizing my material. I hate to waste much of anything.

baby on rug

Baby Benjamin on rug with t-shirt strip rya knots

The shirts I selected were a variety of colors and weights. I would recommend avoiding shirts with a lot of surface design where the printed design was applied to the shirt, making the fabric thicker and stiffer in areas. Beefy tees are harder to work with than softer/thinner tees. I would recommend using shirts that are approximately the same weight. This will give you more even rows of knots and help prevent any little knots from coming loose.

After the strips were cut, I tossed them all in a paper bag and mixed them together. I wanted the distribution of color to be random. As I wove, I took a handful of strips and placed them in my Wolf Trap for easy access. I forced myself to use all of the strips before getting a new handful. Being deliberate with your placement of color could create a very interesting version of this rug, though.

Rya knots are easy to tie. Place your strip of fabric over two warp ends so that the ends are hanging down through the warp. Then bring the ends up through the space between the warp threads, and cinch in place.

After each row of knots, I threw three picks of 3/2 cotton weft to help secure the knots in place. Next time I will use cotton carpet warp as I think it would make a sturdier piece. I also offset my knot rows. For example, if have ten warp ends, tie the first row of knots around pairs of ends as follows: 1&2, 3&4, 5&6, 7&8, 9&10. Tie the next row of knots around 2&3, 4&5, 6&7, 8&9, leaving the first and last warp threads out. The next row of knots, go back to the first knotting sequence.

making rya knots

Tying rya knots

This project was woven on my Baby Wolf loom, and I beat each weft pick/knot row firmly. I wove a one-inch header at each end, using my 3/2 cotton, and hemstitched it in place.

My lessons:

#1: Listen to that little voice in the back of your head.

This is where I went wrong. I didn’t listen to that little voice telling me to tie knots or stitch the headers to make them more secure. I simply tossed the rug into the washing machine on delicate. I sat and watched it tumble around for about two minutes and, seeing no problems, left it to finish the cycle.

When I returned, there was an explosion of t-shirt strips plastered against the window of my washing machine. (I think it is a sign of my maturity that I merely said, “Crap.” and opened the door to inspect the damage.)

#2: 82 rows of 4″ x 1″ strips of cotton t-shirts weigh a lot when they are wet.

Not content to call my project a ruin, I carefully removed it from the washing machine, rolled the

whole mess in towels to squeeze out the water, and began to pick out the remaining rows of knots that were beyond saving. I then tied a double knot and then an overhand knot in groups of two warp threads to secure. With the header rows lost, I trimmed my warp fringe down to 1″ lengths so it blended in nicely with the knots. I then threw the rug into the dryer because I still wanted to be sure it was durable enough to handle it. The remaining knots settled into place, and there were no more casualties.

My original rug had 82 rows of knots and measured 25 ½” x 21″. My post-wash rug was down to 67 rows of knots and measured 19 ¼” x 18 ½”.

lost weft

Lost weft

My husband very earnestly said that he thinks the rug is much more of a statement piece now that it is square. He’s a keeper, and I think the rug is too.

Project details:

Cotton carpet warp, 120 yards

Width on loom: 24″

Sett: 3 ends per inch

Warp length: 60″ long, or desired length

Weft: 3/2 cotton or cotton carpet warp, 220 yards

7 – 10 cotton t-shirts of a similar weight, cut into 1″ x 4″ strips

Rya knots are tied around two warp threads. Each row of knots should be followed by at least three weft picks. Offset rows of knots to get a dense, secure weave. I would skip the header rows next time and just tie knots in the warp ends to secure.

Melissa Ludden Hankens

You can find Melissa designing weaving projects for the Schacht blog and E-news. Melissa is also online at www.mlhankens.com and on Instagram as mlhankens (https://www.instagram.com/mlhankens/ ).