the resource for traditional rug makers since 1984
Standard & Flat Braids
by Diana Blake Gray
When I first began writing about lost rug making techniques in 1983, I’d decided to ignore the three well-documented methods (loom woven, hooked and braided rugs). Little did I know how many of the braided rug techniques had been lost—entire families of braided rugs had disappeared in the 20th century—so I found myself writing about braided rugs anyway. Standard and flat braids with up to twelve strands were the norm before the 1930s, but in the post-WWII period only the 3-strand standard braid survived. This is unfortunate since the multi-strand braids exhibit a characteristic swirling pattern in round and oval rugs.
The families of chain braided rugs, braided-in rugs, false braided rugs, frame braids, and ladder braids had all effectively died out by the time I first wrote about some of them in 1985 in a booklet entitled A Rugmaker’s Sampler (now long out of print). This tour stop will focus only on the standard and flat braids used in rugs. The other types of braids are covered elsewhere on the tour.
These braids are all made by taking an outside strand to the middle of the braid, sometimes passing over many strands in between. These braids provided a practical means to create a thick, sturdy rug from lightweight fabrics.
6-strand standard braid rug
These braids are made by passing an outside strand over and under one or two other strands at a time to create wide braids. By using four or more strands in a flat braid a rug is created with characteristic “swirling lines” around curves in the rug. These are typically used with lighter weight fabrics as they create a heavier rug than plaits.
These are a subfamily of flat braids that pass over and under only a single strand at a time and are typically used with heavy wool braids of four or more strands.
4-strand flat braided rug
Post-war Braided Wool Rugs
After World War II, wool winter coats were ubiquitous and wool scrap and mill ends could be widely (and cheaply) obtained. In about 1946, Marie Griswold and her husband Roger developed an efficient braiding cone and Marie developed the breakthrough technique of “dense lacing” which made for sturdier, longer-lasting rugs than sewing braids together. They founded the Braid-Aid Company in Massachusetts and became a household name in the 1950s. Marie retired at 88 and the company was sold to Halcyon Yarn which still produces the braiding cones and sells the booklet Marie wrote in 1949 which became the standard for braided rugs for the next 60 years. A dear friend, Marie passed away in 2008 at the age of 92—a most remarkable woman and master rugmaker.
A typical mid-century 3-strand braided wool rug using braiding cones.
Twenty-first Century Braided Rugs
The rug makers of today actually have more in common with the rug braiders of 1850 than they do rug braiders of 1950. Modern materials are lighter in weight and heavy braiding wool has become scarce and expensive. Today’s rug makers find the flat braids and plaits much more practical—and visually exciting—than standard 3-strand braided rugs.
At left is a 5-strand flat braided rug with a double center
Rag rugs developed as a way to recycle and reuse scarce resources in the 1800s and though today fabrics and worn clothing is abundant and cheap, the ability to reuse (or upcycle) is important for the future of the planet. Many of the older braiding techniques are more suited to today's fabrics than the mid-20th century style.
With just four strands, a wide variety of looks can be achieved. Above right, and at far left, are examples of the 4-strand standard braid. In the center is a 4-strand flat braid.
Two examples of "plaid" braiding which can only be done with wide flat braids and plaits. The rug on the left, from 1927, Handmade Rugs, by Ella Shannon is made with 8-strand plaits. At right, is a 5-strand flat braided rug I made in about 2002.
Tools used for braided rugs
Publications in our catalog
5-016 Multi-strand Braids for Flat Braided Rugs (covers making standard and flat braids
up to 12 strands and various methods of assembling the braids and styles of lacing.)
Braided-in Rugs Demystified (working
title)—target date of early 2014
New Rugmaker's Handbook on Braided Rugs—target date late 2014
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At left is a rug made using an 8-strand plait