by Diana Blake Gray
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The chain braids are an ancient family of braids dating to the earliest textile/fiber works on every continent. They were often used in sandals and footwear as well as mats in native cultures, so it is not surprising that they showed up being used for rag rugs in the 1800s. Like so many varieties of rag rugs, these fell out of use almost entirely after 1920.
The single strand chain braid is such a basic, intuitive technique, it was discovered in antiquity and is the structural ancestor of many familiar modern methods including knitting and crochet. The single strand attached chain braid is also known as pjonging and shepherds knitting. Current research indicates an origin in southeastern Europe and/or eastern Asia.
The advantage of chain braids is that they use long, continuous strands of fabric, unlike regular braided rugs which use short strands (requiring sewing on more strip regularly). This also makes the chain braids suitable for making rugs with rug yarn. Chain braid rugs are made in two styles: the braids are made first and then laced together to form the rug (detached chain braids); and the braids are laced directly into the rug as they are created (attached chain braids). The “attached” chain braids are akin to the “braided-in” technique used with standard and flat braids.
Chain braids are usually made with one or two strands for rugs. (Larger chain braids exist but are only used with lighter yarns.) Below are photographs of the four major types of chain braid rugs.
Above is an example of a single strand (detached) chain braid rug. The front (working side) is on the left and the reverse on the right. This rug was laced together with fabric strip, but the single strand chain braids also lend themselves to using a false braid fabric joint, which creates a complex texture. These single strand chain braids make a good family project with children creating the braids and the adults assembling them.
These are photos showing both sides of two different rugs made with the single strand (attached) chain braid, also known as pjonging. The rug on the left is worked back and forth in rows and creates a very heavy and durable rug even when make of sheeting or sewing cottons.
The rug on the right uses the same technique but is worked in the round. These rugs are not as heavy, but are still quite practical.
Above is a rug made with the 2-strand detached chain braid using medium weight woolen fabric. This braid is the best for heavier weight fabrics of all of the chain braids. The characteristic diamond pattern in the braid is the key to identifying this type of rug. The rug has the same appearance on both sides.
Typically these braids are laced together with heavy (linen) thread just like mid-century braided rugs, but they can also be assembled using false braids for more textural interest, especially when made with cotton fabrics.
This is an example of a 2-strand attached chain braid, also known as a “hook-braided” rug. The front texture (left photo) is close to a standard braided rug but only uses two colors, of course. The radically different of the back side of the rug (right photo) is the key to identifying this type of rug.
Tools used for chain braided rugs:
The tools used will vary with the type of material being used for the braid. The 1- and 2-strand detached chain braids are most often made using only the fingers when working with heavy fabrics and the braids are sewn or laced together using a large-eye lacing needle. With the attached braids lacing together is not necessary, but a hook (crochet hooks are easiest to find) make interlacing the loops much easier than just using your fingers.
Publications in our catalog:
Rugmakers Bulletin #4: Chain Braids (covers the 2-strand detached braid)
Rugmakers Bulletin #11: Pjonging and the Single Strand Chain Braids
Rugmakers Bulletin #12: Hook Braided Rugs (covers the 2-strand attached chain braid)
New Rugmakers Handbook covering all the varieties of braided rugs
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