Rag (and round) rug rescue and repair

#483 in a series of true experiences in real estate
February 2005, Hills Newspapers

I was checking a client’s basement to see if recent rains had invaded when I noticed in a corner on the concrete floor something made of brown cloth. It turned out to be a handmade braided rug, jumbled up, mostly brown wool but with some red and some green in it, too.

Back upstairs, I asked the client what the disposition of the rag rug was to be. “Charity,” she said. “Do you want it?” I did. I retrieved the rug and was carrying it to the door when the seller offered that she had another, made by her grandmother, maybe I’d like it, too.

When I got them home, I laid them out and found that I had an oval rug, fairly large, with lots of places where the thread was coming undone, and a smaller round rug, this one in reds and blues and a border in black. The edges of the round rug lie down, but the center pooches up like the crown of a hat, giving it the look of a sombrero.

Long ago I had a round braided rug given to me by my mother. She’d made it during her college days, cut wool from well worn or outgrown suits and coats into strips, then braided and sewed them together.

I never used the rug, and after a bunch of years, I gave it away only to be later stricken with guilt. Not that I suddenly had found a use for my mother’s rug, but I felt I should have kept it. She had after all made it and it must have taken a long time to do.

I remember my mom telling me that if rugs aren’t stitched right in the first place so that they lie flat, it’s hopeless, they never will. So I didn’t have much belief that the little one was fixable, nor did I have any confidence in my ability to make sewing repairs to the brown one.

What I needed, I decided, was someone old enough to remember making rugs like these. My friend Jacqueline Ikeda works at Piedmont Gardens, a retirement home in Oakland, a place where I thought I might make a good contact.

Jacqueline thought so, too. She suggested that I go to a weekly gathering at Piedmont Gardens of residents who knit, quilt, and do crafts. So, early one Saturday morning, carrying my rugs with me in a shopping bag, I did go, where I was directed to the fifth floor lounge.

Only a few women were there at first. They sat on the sides of the room (two had little dogs with them) and when settled, took out their needles and yarn and quietly began to knit. It felt friendly and peaceful, quite nice in the room.

I walked around for a few minutes trying to figure out who to talk to, and as I did, other women arrived, some sitting at tables in the center of the room, taking from bags squares of fabric. I spotted a woman who seemed to be in charge, approached and told her my name and mission, and as I was doing this, another women overhearing the words “rag rugs” raised her hand.

Edythe Campodonico looked at the rugs in my bag and led me over to a table where we spread out the larger one. Edythe told me that she has made rag rugs in past years but she currently works on quilts. She has a number of children, most of whom sew. There didn’t seem to be any question in Edythe’s mind that I could make the repairs.

She gestured with her hands to show me how I should keep the rug flat as I sewed between the braids. And she sorted through a number of bags of threads until she found the color and type of thread she thought I should use.

As to the round rug, Edythe told me that it would never be flat. Steaming, pressing, heavy weights would not help. She suggested ripping out the center braids, the ones sticking up, then try to re-sew them flat.

It might not work but, she pointed out “It’s worth a try. You can’t use the rug as it is anyway.”

I thanked Edythe very much and went home where I laid out the brown rug on the kitchen table to look closely at the damage. Using straight pins, I pulled the pieces together and secured them, then began to sew.

It turned out to be a sewing project peculiarly well suited to my talents. It doesn’t matter if the stitches are the same length, or are evenly spaced, because they don’t even show. All I needed were the time and patience to make many little stitches.

And good knots at the ends. I never could tie one-handed knots in thread like good sewers do, but my two-handed knots work OK.

As I worked, I discovered many more spots where threads had broken, and I sewed those, too. Finally the brown rug was done to my satisfaction, and I turned to the small round rug.

But upon close examination, I discovered something that neither Edythe or I had realized or guessed. This is not a regular braided rug like the other one. It seems to be made of strips that are coiled and formed into a circle. But in this rug they are not sewn together but rather, the rows are woven into one another.

Maybe it’s crocheted? I don’t know. But certainly, there is nothing to be snipped apart and sewn again.

It looks like I’ve got a sombrero-shaped rug in pretty colors. My cat slept on it yesterday, and they looked quite nice together.

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