Handmade: Rag rug maker relishes beautiful works of art

Jocelynn Brown
The Detroit News
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Before video hosting services such as YouTube became available, sharing one’s skills as a crafter were of paramount importance for keeping them alive so future generations could produce such works created by hand, as well. It was a way of “paying it forward” in the world of arts and crafts.

Elaine Lippitt of Commerce Township found herself on the receiving end about 26 years ago when a friend’s mother asked if she’d be interested in learning how to crochet rag rugs. Her own daughter had no interest in learning, and she didn’t want to die without knowing the crocheted rag rug-making craft would “continue on.”

Lippitt, 75, who at the time was a hairdresser, recalls: “She said to me, ‘I know you like to do handiwork.’ So, I said, ‘You could teach me. I’d love to learn how to make them!’”

Lippitt was inspired the moment her friend’s mother showed her one of the rugs. “It reminded me of how rugs looked in the 1800s,” she said, “and when we would go antiquing where I would see these old braided rugs, and these rugs have the same look.

“The first ones I made were made out of quilting fabric, which is an all-cotton fabric,” said Lippitt. “I would go to fabric stores, and I usually started at Jo-Ann’s (Fabric & Crafts ). I never used a solid color. Everything had some sort of pattern because I knew it would make it more interesting. I would buy anywhere between seven and nine different fabrics. The yardage was always guesswork. One hundred fifteen to 120 yards is needed for a rug that measures approximately 8 to 9 feet in diameter, and that includes enough for the braided fringe.”

After using a rotary cutter to cut all the fabric (six layers at a time) into strips, measuring about 1 1/2 inches wide, Lippitt used a size Q crochet hook to make a loop with about six to eight single crochet stitches, and then she’d begin rounds of double-crochet stitches, hand-stitching strips end-to-end as needed with needle and thread. “As it grows, at some point, you have to use two or three strips of the same color (fabric)” for it to have a noticeable impact on the design.

Also, she said it’s important to leave enough of each fabric for fringe. Once the rug is complete and the end has been secured, it’s time to add fringe, which, she said, is made by cutting the leftover strips into 26-inch pieces. “You’ll need three strips for each braid that you run (thread) in every second or third stitch, and then braid it as you would braid hair,” she said. “Always leave about three (unbraided) inches at the end so it will lay flat. Then sew the ends together (where braid ends), wrap some of the thread around them and tie it in a knot.”

Making these rugs is very time consuming, and Lippitt, who’s made five large ones, a number of small ones and chair pads, said, “If I could sit every night for a few hours, using only quilting fabric, it would take probably six to eight months to make one that measures eight or nine feet across.” Considering the time, work and material involved, she once turned down an offer of $3,000 for one.

Lippitt has two of her large rugs displayed in her home – one she made the year she learned and one she finished last year, using remnants from every rug her friend’s mother ever made. The others she gave as gifts to her grandchildren.

Living in a house filled with American antiques, Pennsylvania stoneware and quilted wall hangings, Lippitt said her rugs look “wonderful.” However, she said “I can see a rug like this in a contemporary setting, because it can be such a focal point.”

She said the more you walk on these rugs, “the flatter they get, the older they look and the prettier they get. “ Also, when placed in a high traffic area, she warns, the rugs need to be rotated. And, for longer enjoyment, they should be placed on top of “good padding, not the waffley stuff, because, otherwise, the rug will wear out.” She also recommends having them professionally cleaned.

Unfortunately, Lippett, who now suffers with arthritis in her hands, said, “I no longer make the rugs, and it’s making me crazy because I love making rugs. To finish the last one, I went to an occupational therapist, who made special braces for my hands so I could finish it.”

Detroit News Columnist Jocelynn Brown is a longtime Metro Detroit crafter. You can reach her at (313) 222-2150, or

Contact Elaine Lippitt at

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