Artist Fritz Haeg on How to Make a Rug from Materials in Your Home

Sarah Urist Green
Apr 29, 2020 4:54PM

Courtesy of Fritz Haeg Studio.

As host of the PBS digital series The Art Assignment, curator Sarah Urist Green interviews artists about their practices, then presents us with original art lessons inspired by their work. Now, those lessons and fresh new ones are available in You Are an Artist, a book released earlier this month by Penguin Books. The volume is filled with over 50 art lessons that show you don’t need to be an artist to make creative work. In the following excerpt from You Are an Artist, discover the work of Fritz Haeg and his instructions on how to make a rug from recycled fabrics in your home.

Before Fritz Haeg decamped to a revived commune in Northern California, he lived in a geodesic dome on the east side of Los Angeles. The dome was Haeg’s home and also his place of work, where he welcomed artists and community members for workshops and events, involving collective movement exercises, book discussions, lessons in radical gardening, and much else. It was here that Haeg evolved his technique of hand-knotting strips of old T-shirts and bedsheets into giant, colorful rugs. On his own or with the help of many, rug making is just one aspect of Haeg’s abiding interest in how we live and make a home, which he explores not only in his own domestic spaces, but also in the notoriously cold, formal spaces of art museums.

Haeg honed this method over time, scavenging old textiles and experimenting with crocheting, knitting, and making clothing. He put his hand-knotting technique to use for his series “Domestic Integrities,” which began with the creation of two rugs, spirally stitched by volunteers and collaborators who added local textiles to the rugs as they traveled from city to city. Inside museums, the rugs became what Haeg calls “Domestic Integrity Fields,” or sites for the presentation of goods and materials gathered from nearby land and gardens. Local contributors brought bread, pickles, flowers, and homemade remedies to present atop the rug, and visitors were invited to take off their shoes and make themselves at home.

It is precisely this idea of making oneself at home that is at the core of this assignment. Making a rug can be either a communal activity, with materials and labor shared among a group, or a solo endeavor, added to as time allows and textiles accumulate. Your rug will be a field for activity, no matter how you put it to use. It will be not only a document of your past, made up of formerly loved T-shirts and fraying bedsheets, but also a site where new experiences unfold and new histories accumulate.

The rug that once graced Haeg’s geodesic dome has followed him to his new home several hundred miles north, where it warms a cabin floor.

Your turn

Have a stack of old clothes too worn or too beloved to give away? Make them into a rug. And don’t let a lack of crafting expertise stop you from giving this a try. It may seem awkward and lumpy at first, but as you add more stitches the rug relaxes and resolves into shape. You’ll get a feel for it as you go.

  • Gather old textiles, such as T-shirts, sheets, towels, fabric scraps, anything.
  • Cut the textiles into strips of relatively uniform width or density, tying them together to make longer segments.
  • Using the technique below, make a rug.
  • When your rug is finished, live on it and make it part of your story.

Make a rug technique

  • Cut your available fabric into strips of approximately the same width and join them to create one very large strip.
  • On one end, make a loop knot and pull it tight.
  • Place your fingers through the loop and pull the longer piece of hanging fabric through it, just enough to make a new loop of the same size.
  • Repeat this 4–5 times, casting on 4–5 stitches.
  • Take your last loop back to the first one, grab on to both loops, and bring the hanging fabric strip through both of them together, pulling it through to make another loop.
  • Cast on another stitch, as you did in step 3.
  • Take that loop and join it onto your slowly forming circle, grabbing onto a previously made stitch and pulling your hanging fabric strip through both loops to form a new loop.
  • Alternate casting on stitches separate from the rug with stitches joined to the closest loop on the outer edge of the circle.
  • When your rug gets large enough, you can stop casting on stitches and join every new stitch you make to the outermost edge of the circle.
  • Continue until you run out of fabric. Add on to it when you have more fabric.

Tips, cheats, and variations

  • Diversity of materials is to be embraced. Use a wide range of colors and textures, and trust that it will all come together into a work of great beauty.
  • Enlist a friend, neighbor, parent, or grandparent who likes to work with their hands. Someone who knits, crochets, or crafts can be a great help in getting you going.
  • Be sure you don’t knot your rug too tightly, or you will end up with a giant bowl instead of a flat rug. You want it tight enough so that it holds together, but loose enough that you can add stitches to it easily. If you start too tight, just unravel and begin again.
  • Your rug will be thick. Don’t panic. This is as it should be. Once the rug reaches a few feet in diameter, you’ll bask in its depth and coziness. You’ll have to fight your dog for a spot on it, so really the larger the better.
  • This is a superb communal activity, be it with family, roommates, a group of friends, or in a classroom or office setting. One person will need to get it started, but as it grows, more and more people can gather around its edges and work at the same time.
  • This is an equally wonderful activity to do on your own. Get your rug started and then take your time adding to it as new material accumulates in your life. It may start as a small mat and expand over the years to fill a room.
  • While it may look convoluted in a diagram, the technique is very easily learned with the material in front of you. If you’re making it with a group, pass along the skill to someone new before you take a break (not that you’ll want to).
Sarah Urist Green

From YOU ARE AN ARTIST, by Sarah Urist Green, published by Penguin Books, an imprint of the Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2020 by Sarah Urist Green.