Weaving Upcycled Rugs

finished rug by K. Morgan

When I was first thinking of projects for the Daring Boys’ Club a year ago, I came across a hula hoop rug weaving idea in Family Fun Magazine that I thought would be really fun, but it called for a hula hoop and about a dozen old t-shirts for each rug.  How are we ever going to come up with a dozen old t-shirts per boy I thought?  And where will I get the hula hoops?

Well, I decided to ask St. Vincent DePaul’s what they did with donations of t-shirts that weren’t good enough to resell, and if they would be willing to donate some to us.  It turns out (not surprisingly since they are known as excellent recyclers around here), that they have a market for them.  They get sold by weight and turned into rags or shredded for filler for other things.  Even so, they were willing to give us about 150 adult-sized solid color t-shirts for our project, two enormous plastic bags full of shirts (which then I had to find a place to store at home for awhile, but whatever).

My other problem was hula hoops.  The boys in the DBC didn’t have enough of their own.  The only hula hoops I could find in town or on line were about $7 a piece.  That’s more than I wanted to spend.  I thought about asking to borrow or rent from our school PE supply or a gymnastics studio, but was concerned that we might not be able to return them in a timely fashion.  Then as I thought about it more I decided there must be a better way than hula hoops anyhow.  Really, wouldn’t it be cooler if like the t-shirts, the loom was a recycled product as well?  And come to think of it, who wants a round rug?  Where are the boys going to put that?  A small rectangular rug would be much more useful and versatile.  So I decided to see if we could use the same concept from the hula hoop rug and make rectangular rugs on 2′x3′ looms made of used PVC pipe.  I went to Bring Recycling and scavenged through the outdoor scrapyard to find cast-off old PVC pipe from who knows what old projects.  I have to say, it wasn’t the most fun, I was there with my 4-year-old and 1-year-old in the rain and the pipe was dirty, which turned everything about the project to a muddy mess.  However, the satisfaction from knowing that I got scraps of 3/4″ PVC pipe totaling over 120 feet and nearly 50 elbows all for about $20, AND that I both saved that pipe from the landfill and prevented new PVC from being produced, made the little bit of mud well worth it.  (PVC is pretty awful stuff from an environmental perspective, so the less of it on the planet the better.  Need convincing, see the documentary Blue Vinyl, but I digress.)

So the weaving is really simple.

Cut loops out of the bottom parts of t-shirts (from the hem up to the armpits).  It’s best to cut off the hem and then cut strips from there.  We used 2″ strips.  (The strips become “loops” because you’re cutting through the back and the front at the same time).  I found that it takes about 4 large t-shirts to get about 30 loops.  I advised the boys to have two different colors for these warp loops, to make the weaving easier.

Stretching the warp loops over the frame in alternating colors

green was a popular color - not surprising in Eugene, OR

Now of course, this went well enough on my sample rug, but what we discovered while having the boys do this is that not all the t-shirts that had been cut for them were big enough to stretch across this 3′ span of the loom. So we had to improvise.  When that happened, we put two loops together and cut the ends and then tied it on to the frame.  That will work.  It’s not quite as smooth, but these are 8 year-old boys we’re talking about. They seemed fine with it.

Making do- we had to use two loops connected in the center and tied to the ends of the frame to span the 3' loom in some cases.

This first step of the process took awhile, especially when we discovered that not all the loops would stretch across.  I’m very glad we had 4 grown-ups present.  The boys needed plenty of support.  It was a little stressful there for awhile with everyone needing something different and at a different point in the process.  Thank goodness we had them bring their loops pre-cut (and thanks to the family members who cut all those loops).  If we had tried to do the cutting there for all the boys, it wouldn’t have worked.

Eventually though, they were all ready to start weaving with the weft loops.  You take one loose loop and attach it to the outermost warp loop a few inches from the end of the frame.  (You need to leave enough room to cut and tie the fringe at the end.)  Then you just start weaving that loop over and under the warp loops, turning around at the other end and starting back the other direction.  I used an old wire dry-cleaner type hanger (more re-use, yeah!) that I stretched out and squeezed together to be a shuttle.  I wove the hanger (rounded end first) and then pulled the weft loop through (using the hook of the hanger).  I found this much easier and more efficient than using my hands.  Most of the boys chose not to use a shuttle though and preferred to weave with just their hands.  When you get to the end of one weft loop, you just attach the next one to it, regardless of where you are.

weaving with the weft loops

The sweetest part of the experience came when all the boys were finally to this stage of the weaving process.  The stress level in the house went down significantly, they stopped wandering about, and they just started weaving.  After the first couple runs across the warp loops, it’s pretty monotonous.  That freed them up to start talking about other things while they were working (movies, and jokes mostly).  It was like a “stich and b**” session for 8 year-old boys.  Pretty cute.

We didn’t get done in 2 hours, but the boys were all very enthusiastic about their projects.  They didn’t want to wait to finish them at another gathering. They wanted to take them home and finish them that evening.  Some did, and of course some got sidetracked, but that’s to be expected.

To finish the rug, you stop weaving with a few inches to spare.  You tie off whatever portion of a weft loop you have left onto the outermost warp loop. Then cut the excess.  Now, cut off two warp loops at a time from the frame.  You want to cut them equally, so it’s best to stretch the loop a little past the frame and cut it up there.  Tie each of the warp loops to a warp loop next to it so that you are tying across the last weft line and holding it in place.  This sounds so complicated in words, but it’s very intuitive and simple when it’s in your hands.  Do this with all the warp loops on both ends to create the fringe on the rug.

Proud of his completed project – first one done, too.

Great color combo and such a careful weaving job; looks good in his room.

I feel like one of the best aspects of this project for our Daring Boys is that they were very enthusiastic about what in other settings might have felt too girly for them.  We have a wide variety of boys in our group, but they are by and large, typical boys.  They like sports, jokes, and being ACTIVE.  If this was a co-ed activity with multiple options, I wouldn’t have been surprised if many of them had left this to the girls.  But the context of our Daring Boys’ Club allows them to try all sorts of different things, from rock climbing to weaving.  They were excited about doing this project for several months every since I had a little potholder loom out at a gathering in December and they all wanted to use it.  I’m glad we gave them this opportunity.

Another Daring Boy, proud of his accomplishment

About Gretchen

Among many other things, I'm a mother of three boys ages 8,5, and 2.
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