Many years ago when I was still a young bride, my mother-in-law bought a loom. She wanted to make some mats. Out of rags. Because she couldn’t find one in Australia it arrived all the way from Finland. It was a huge thing. Filled a whole room. Unable to source the warp yarn here she even imported those. Already back then handlooming was a dying art. I remember it took a long time to construct the loom. It came in a flat pack. I doubt it was from IKEA though. And it took even longer to set it up. She had a friend who knew how to do that. Together they toiled over it probably for many days.
A call for rags went out to friends and family when it was ready to go. Old clothes, preferably cotton. In fact any cotton material was good. She collected mountains of the stuff. Cutting it all into one inch wide strips was a mammoth task. Removing zips and buttons for recycling, cutting off seams and worn bits not good enough to keep. After that, came the cutting into strips. Hours and hours of tedious scissor work rolled into giant balls. I got blisters. My hands, in fact my whole body, ached.
Then came the fun bit. Making the mats. She made metres of them. Short ones. Long ones. In between ones. I had a go too. It was interesting to learn how to do it. I think I made one. In order for the rug to be of good quality, the lines must be kept straight and tight. That’s surprisingly skilled, hard work. Mine was made out of old stockings and was THE best, most durable and lightweight mat even though made by a novice who had no skills or experience to speak of. The other one that is still going in my son’s bathroom is a mat she made out of a mix of plastic shopping bags and cotton. So durable, it lasted decades of daily wear and tear in our bathroom, shrinking in size slowly as the ends frayed and had to be cut off.
The plastic and the stockings were easy and quick to cut but I do remember it took a long time to save up enough to make a reasonable sized mat.
When my in-laws moved into a retirement village interstate, they gifted us a pile of hardly used rag mats. Over time, they were rolled up and put into storage. When we built our second extension, I pulled two out of the cupboard for the hallway. They see a lot of wear and tear. Small enough to throw into the washing machine, they really do have a rough life all round.
So it is no surprise that the ends and edges were frayed. Just this week I washed them. Having been aware of the frayed edges for a while now, I decided it was time to do something about it before putting them back on the floor.
Of course they are shorter than they were before. As I was fixing them, I could see that they will not last too much longer as the wefts and warps are fraying in many spots, not just the edges. But they will serve for a while yet. I do believe there are a few more in the cupboard waiting their turn.
One of the mats has even made its way to Darwin to brighten the corridor in Marc’s apartment. He was pleased to be able to take a bit of family history with him.
So just how does a loom work? I was curious enough to do a bit of research into the matter. The warp yarn is threaded onto the loom so it ties up to the foot treadles as a series of raised and lowered threads. They are actually a bit like oversized old fashioned sewing machine treadles. The weft (the strips of rags) is then fed by hand between the warp threads. Each row has to be tightened by squishing it with a strip of wood and the treadle turned so the warp ties it into place. Does that make sense? It’s a slow process, as you can imagine. I actually can’t remember how long the one mat took me to make. But I suspect it was so long I lost interest in making any more!
© Raili Tanska