The traditional perception of the braided area rug is that of a staid and dowdy oval. But there’s a whole new world of braided rugs out there.
How Are Braided Rugs Made?
Traditionally, these rugs consist of a long continuous braid of cotton rags of different colors and patterns, most often in dark colors so dirt won’t show, and most often in a given range of colors to coordinate with one’s décor. The craftsman begins by braiding a length that’s 1/3 the total length of the desired finished product, then turns it back on itself making an elongated spiral, the rows of which are laced together with strong thread. As the braid spirals outward, the oval shape is created. As a variant, a round rug is created when the braid is spiraled right from the center rather than from the elongated initial braid.
New Fabrics, Colors and Designs
The huge majority of braided rugs available are still in these traditional shapes. However, there have been noteworthy innovations in fabric and design even within the oval rug world. Fabrics are now more soil-resistant and come in lighter colors or even monochrome. Alternate fabrics such as wool and chenille give the rugs a whole different look, feel and price range. There are large numbers of braided rugs with designs on them, mostly in country-ish themes and mostly stamped onto a traditional rug.
When Is a Square Not Square?
Square and rectangular braided area rugs are sort of the “new kid in town,” and are a worthy addition to the braided rug pantheon. The most straightforward way to make a square braided rug is to lace rows of straight braids together. The result is serviceable but not particularly compelling. Some rectangular rugs start with the initial long braid and a few rows of oval work, but within a few rounds the corners start to square off as they're turned. The resulting rugs are interesting to look at and a nice change from the oval.
Other square rugs use smaller squares of straight-braided rug and combine them into interesting geometrics by binding them together with braids or sturdy fabric tapes into a sort of collage. Still others have a border or interior of unbraided fabric which has been quilted, pleated or stuffed to make it the same thickness as the braided sections. This gives the rug a more contemporary look.
Where No Braided Rug Has Gone Before
One surprising plaiting method is the creation of a swirling “galaxy” or "whirlpool" pattern. In this, first a small (3”-4”) round braided section is created, and then separate strands of braid are attached octopus-style to the center. New strands of braid are continuously added in as the design spirals outward. Unlike the traditional rugs, the braids are not immediately laced to a preceding row, so there is somewhat more skill involved in keeping the pattern and shape on track. The result is unusual and striking and very contemporary. This is definitely not your mother’s braided rug!
Examples of all these new kinds of braided rug are readily available on the internet.