Weaving a rug from old bedsheets

Repairing and reusing are great options to reduce our ecological impact on the environment. When one of my bedsheets got ripped on multiple places I wanted to either repair or reuse the material. The bedsheet was too old for repair therefore I cut it up into strips and created my own weaved tapestry from it using tools that I had laying around at home.

Creating a useful and decorative item from repurposed materials was an interesting exercise to do and it is a new skill I learned that I want to practice further.

During the process I made notes about how much material were used and how many hours I worked on the tapestry. By doing so I created a label for the tapestry according to these factors.

Research questions

  • How can I repurpose an old beset into a useful and decorative item?
  • How long does it take to create a hand made tapestry?
  • What is not told on a label?
  • What would an honest label look like?

How can I repurpose an old beset into a useful and decorative item?

I pushed around some furniture and made place in our living room. First step was to cut the old linen sheets into long strips of 3 – 5 cm wide. It does not matter how long the strips are as long as they are longer than 1-2 meters.

After cutting half of the sheets I had to iron the strips so that during weaving they will stay flat and won’t wrinkle too much.

The next step was to make the weaving loom. I only needed a cardboard that was big enough for the size of a smaller rug. Two strips of cardboard the same width as the basis cardboard, (organic) cotton thread, glue, scissors, tape, pen and a ruler.

Watch the tutorial for DIY cardboard loom here.

Now that I cut the fabric and made the loom it was time to start weaving. I followed Natalie Milller’s tutorial on the website of Woolmark Company here.

For this rug I used the first 3 ways of weaving that is shown in the tutorial:

  1. Knotting the base
  2. One row of rya knots
  3. Tabby weaving
  4. One row of rya knots
  5. Knotting the end

I was very happy with the end result since this was my first try ever weaving something. Friends and family were interested in purchasing the tapestry and I received great feedback on social media. But how much should I aks for it and how much materials were actually used?

The hidden data

For one tapestry of 85 x 60 centimetre, I spent 8 hours working from start to finish. The linen bed sheet is equal to 53 meters of fabrics in total and the bio cotton threads to 85 meters in total.

It was not only great to learn a new skill but to understand the effort and energy that goes into making one product from start to finish. A similar tapestry from IKEA, that according to the company, is handmade would sell for €34,95 (RAKLEV Vloerkleed). If I would sell my tapestry I would sell it between €100 and €150, that would be €18 / hour. If I would sell it for €34,95, I would earn €4.37 / hour. But in reality, the maker of the IKEA rug would not receive this amount of money because of other factors that need to be paid as well in the production chain such as sourcing, milling, trimming, transportation and marketing.

“From raw material to the customer”

It would be much more honest and transparent if companies of any kind of product would explain the production from start to finish on their label. Not only the materials and the place they were made but the whole line of production from raw material to the customer. This idea inspired me to create my label for this rug that I made according to my sustainability and transparency values.

What would an honest label look like?

With this question in mind, I started sketching and creating the label that I would use for the tapestry I created.

Most labels are made of synthetic materials although the garment itself might be organic cotton or another natural material. That is because of legibility reasons. The label has to be readable for a long period. Since ink on synthetic materials is more durable than on natural materials a lot of companies choose polyester for their label. But there are other ways as well.

In the past labels were not sewn into garments but handed as a separate card for the clothing (Riello 187). On these cards, the designer’s name and sometimes even her fingerprint was placed to state that the designer touched and reviewed the garment herself. Next to that, in other fabric based products such as a rug or tapestry, the information would be sewn on the button. The label would be made of either paper or natural fibres since polyester has only been commercially used since the 1950s (The Complete History of Polyester).

With these elements in mind I started to sketch my label for the tapestry I hand made. It was a conscious choice to use linen cloth and to either heat press or screen print the information about the product. This way the whole product is made of natural materials and adds an extra layer to its aesthetic look. Therefore this product is recyclable as well as compostable. The information is divided into four parts. The first part explains the characteristics of the tapestry, the second part the materials, the third part the working hours and size and the fourth part the care instructions. These factors played an important role while creating the tapestry. Unfortunately I do not know the origin of the cotton or linen. However, that could be implemented in a product if I make something from the wool I collected from the local petting zoo.

The raw state of the materials are illustrated with supporting icons to raise awareness that this rug is fully plant based. Next to the percentage the amount of fabric in meters is explained to give a more relatable view on the numbers.

Working hours were a big part of the process. The tapestry is made by hand with materials that were found at home. Therefore I wanted to implement this information as well to raise awareness about the time it takes to create a product by hand. Next to that, it also stimulates to understand the price of a hand made product.

The care instructions are supported with icons. The best way to care for this product is by washing it cold and drying it in shade. The orange thread is naturally dyed and made of organic cotton. Because of the lack of toxic chemicals the color could fade away when washing on high temperature or drying it in direct sunlight.

Next step

These first mock-ups and sketches are a start of a bigger project that I would like to continue. Labels could become a conversation starter about transparency, traceability and responsibility when designed in an engaging way. By redesigning the labels of clothing and other products I would like to be an active voice in the transition to a more ecologically and economically responsible industry.

This is an ongoing investigation and experimentation about materials that I find in my closet.