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Charming Braided Rugs
A slightly more pretentious form of the rag rug was the braided rug, which was developed into a charming and popular floor decoration although its making was one of the most primitive of processes. Braided grasses were probably the first attempts of primitive folk to develop materials in any way resembling woven textiles. This represents handicraft in its purest form, brought to high perfection with no mechanical device whatsoever.
The braided rug has no pictorial quality, such as the more famous hooked rugs, and does not appeal to the imagination in the same way. It was made by cutting the material into narrow strips of a half inch or so and plaiting it into flat braids. Usually three strands but sometimes as many as twelve were used. The artisan started at the center to make a round or oval mat, sewing the braids along the edges. Occasionally straight strips, sewed parallel, made an oblong shape which was then edged with the oval treatment.
The typical aspect of the braided rug results from the way in which the three strands of braid are manipulated. By braiding together two dark-colored strands with a lighter color a characteristic pattern develops upon sewing the braids together in circular or oval rows. This produces in the braided rug a charm distinctively its own. A braided rug has much appeal to the rugmaker because it is satisfying to walk on, sturdy and durable, and eminently easy to do. Properly made, it lies flat without curling and retains its shape. Considerable variety is possible through color handling. The,rug may be light at the center, growing progressively darker toward the edge, or just the opposite. Alternations of dark rows with light and the shaping of braids into motifs are other variations.
Braided rugs were especially warm and thus gave extra value as a utility. The woolen material was warm to begin with and, in addition, each strand was of several thicknesses developed by the overlapping of the strands in braiding. One strand formed a warm foundation for the one above. This produced not only better wearing quality, but a soft walking surface. All these advantages plus the speed and simplicity of braiding easily account for the popularity of this type of floor covering from Colonial times to the present day.
Ordinary woven textiles require two sets of threads, the up-and-down warp and the crosswise weft, and they cross at right angles. In a braided rug one set of strands serves as both warp and weft, and they cross at angles that are not right angles. Braided work is not adaptable to large surface work; it is best for narrow flexible banc}inbs which are then sewed together to the required size. The result is totally different It out a textile woven on a loom. The novelty of the braided rug arose from the use of an already woven material (the old discarded rags) as strands for plaits from which a totally dificrent textile was produced.
Sometimes considerable sentiment was involved in old braided rugs. A woman might use her husband's old army clothes and braid them into a rug as a keepsake. The story is told of a woman who bought a large braided rug from a grandmother in a little village. Soon after, the old lady came and asked if she might see the rug. To the new owner's surprise, site walked over to the rug with tears streaming down her cheeks and patted it gently. They're all there," she sobbed. "Ira's clothes and some of amelia's pretty dresses."
Probably no art-craft more clearly reveals the privations, the courage, the tireless industry and the aspiration for beautiful homelike surroundings that stirred those hardy colonists than do these simple braided rugs, for the most part stitched patientlv by the poor light of homemade candles and flickering fire.