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Detail of recycled fabric and bicycle tires rag rug from Trans Ocean.

The newest, hottest rug trend is flat wovens that actually lie flat. Your great-grandmother called them rag rugs. Today we call them recycled rugs. When you name the price, you name the production. Rag rugs can be made of any material (new or recycled) at any price point, in any specific construction.

Flatwovens today are your great-grandmother’s rug; thick to lie flat. The lowest price point is Chindies (mats usually found in mass merchants). Shown are some very basic single color flatwoven rugs of recycled cloth from Shyam Ahuja.

Everything starts with a rag rug.Teddy Roosevelt wore a bearskin coat. I have one hanging in the closet, well mothproofed. If you didn’t have a bear or large animal skin, you could stitch together small rodent skins—now known as mink coats (artistic license). Or you could make a rag rug out of white rabbit skins—a small fad in the 1970’s.

Nobody set out to make a rug. People made fabric to cover body parts, and then their bodies, either from the cold or from the sun. Slaves captured in war around 2,500 BCE (4,500 years ago) are depicted naked, as their clothes were spoils of war.

This picture shows how even the simplest next step beyond a rag rug can produce a multitude of effects from the simplest weave structure.

The difference between an ordinary fabric and a rag rug is you wear one, and put the other on the floor. They do look different, but the method of production is 4,000 to 6,000 years old.

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In the last two hundred years machines have produced fabric, but if you want some idea what a piece of clothing would cost when textiles were only hand made, price a finely made hand knotted rug by the square foot. Compared to a $5,000 9×12 rug, a man’s dress shirt using 10-11 square feet of material would cost over $500, and at $100 a square foot would cost over $1,000. How many of those blouses/shirts, do you have in your closet.

More and more color and design variety, all based on one simple structure. Rugs are built like music, one basic structure and multiples of variations.

A rag rug is the simplest form of weaving. At it’s simplest, all fabric is woven with vertical threads and horizontal threads of some source fiber. In the flatwovens of today, the long vertical threads are generally cotton of a small dimension, and the horizontal threads (a.k.a. yarn) are of a larger dimension. The larger the horizontal yarn gives the flatwoven bulk and dimension.

Everything after that is design and color. As a buyer, any retailer can set the price of the product they want. Because production is so simple, and the technology has been around for 6,000 years, putting the pieces together is relatively straight forward if the producer knows all the pieces. Different looms (machine or hand) work at different output speeds. Different yarns with different fibers have different characteristics.

This picture (courtesty Shyam Ahuja) simply demonstrates the multitude of designs and color combinations available in flatweaves.

The consumer has some notion of perceived value which may or may not agree with actual value based on cost. When you make a dhurrie out of silk, is its perceived value based on it’s character as a dhurrie, or as a silk flat-weave? A traditional cotton dhurrie, which is woven as tightly as the silk dhurrie, and similar to hand-woven sail cloth, is it’s value in the construction, the material, or color and design. ( I threw in the sail cloth because without sails, a sailing ship can’t sail. Think of the cost of hand woven sails and the abuse they take from wind and rain.)

Why does a consumer favor one piece of music over another? I don’t know but it seems like those that are favored have some fundamental understanding of the creation of the piece. And then you get to “Hamilton” which is redefining music and art.

The pictures illustrating this article are hand loomed products of Shyam Ahuja who created the dhurrie boom of 1970’s and 1980’s. Other people figured out how to make dhurries cheaper and cheaper until the consumer didn’t buy them anymore. The volume did grow. Flatwovens will go through the same cycle, with one exception; lying flat.
The US consumer market likes thick floor coverings, or floor coverings that feel thick. Except for silk, which has heft, and lies flat, thin light flat wovens wrinkle. Fashionable in the current market are thick rugs which we call flat wovens.

Your great grandmother’s rag rugs were recycled fabrics. Braided rugs were recycled fabrics. Lots of hooked rugs were recycled fabrics. The pattern of these categories is recycled fabrics. Then, to meed demand for more raw material, they make material to use in what previously had used recycled material. This introduces production management and control. Now the producer needs to specify materials and control design and color.

Detail of 100% real silk dhurrie weave rug from Shyam Ahuja.

Each of these is a separate discussion, and as they say: “It all comes out in the wash.”

Every vendor has as many and more combinations, but because this is such a simple weave structure, prices reflect choices; choices about fiber, dye stuffs, construction, distribution, and the wages of the weavers. Flatwovens have been a subsistence level production system for as many years back as can be traced. Embellishment, culturally signaled prosperity.

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