How to Make a Rope Rug

I originally published this info on SuperTopo on a climbing rope rug making thread: but gathered all my threads from there and put here in one place...

OK, a couple of people wanted to know about patterns and making rugs. So here goes...might be more than you wanted to know (then again, it's not everything there is to know so I spared you some! :-)

The following pattern provided the basis for my loom. It can be adjusted to any size rug. The pattern came from the site listed below which provided some of the ideas that I’ve incorporated.

I used particle board for the loom-pattern. I drew the patterns so that the sides of each square are 2 1/8" and the diagonals are ~3". I found this to be about right for weaving 10mm - 10.5mm ropes. An 11mm rope would be extremely tight and difficult to weave, while <10 mm would give a looser weave with larger holes and empty spaces. You could always reduce the size of the squares/distance between end points.

The pattern shows the first circuit of the weaving (all my rugs so far have been 4 rope widths wide - 4 complete circuits). The "bridges" (little black marks indicate where that strand goes over the perpendicular strands underneath it. After the first circuit, on subsequent circuits it’s easy to just follow the first circuit and the pattern becomes redundant. On the first circuit, even with by trying to follow the pattern, it’s easy to make a mistake. It’s best to catch any mistakes right away because the more you do, the more you’ll have to undo to fix it. This can be a huge source of frustration with the steep learning curve during the first couple of rugs. Practice makes perfect!

The pattern is also used to establish the end points (bights). At each end point I hammered in posts (nails with the heads cut off). There are two nails for each end point so that it will “pinch” and hold the rope during the process of weaving. This allows the rope to be pulled snug and held while weaving. The end result is there is little or no need for tightening up of the weave once the pattern is finished. When the rug is finished, it easily slides up and off the loom.

You can also just draw the pattern on a piece of paper or cardboard as others on the web have demonstrated. However, it is much more difficult to weave and takes lots of tightening when the basic pattern is finished to take out slack. I've found it fairly difficult to make a nice uniform rug this way. However, if you're looking for “unique character", go fer it!

On two sides of the loom I drilled slightly over-sized holes so that the nails could be easily removed and repositioned to adjust it for different sizes of rugs.

IMPORTANT! When weaving the first circuit, right-hand turns around end points go between the nails and get pinched. Left-hand turns go on the outside of both nails. This process helps keep everything even in the end, even though during the process it will seem uneven during the first and third circuits.

IMPORTANT Weaving always starts by laying the middle of the rope in the middle of the pattern and starting from there. This makes it so that less rope has to be pulled for the whole weaving process. The ends will also end up in the middle of the rug where they are more secure then near an edge.

When weaving patterns with different colors of rope, the rope needs to be cut into pieces according to the size of the pattern used. A nice side benefit is there is less rope to pull, however it gets a bit more complicated figuring out exactly how to do it and there are more ends to secure or join. I’ll leave that for you to figure out! :-) It would take more space and time than I have right now (or give me a call).

The following chart is what I use to lay out the pattern on the loom, figure out where to put the end point posts, and also to remind me of the lengths of rope needed for a particular size pattern. If you get really creative, you can weave rugs made up of remnant pieces left over from other rug projects. (See some of the photos to the right.)

If the number of end points (bights) on one of the side of the rug is a prime number, then the rug will be one long continuous closed loop (5 x 6; 5 x 7; 6 x 7; 7 x 8, or 7 x 9). If the number of end points on both sides are composite numbers (able to be divided by something other than 1 and itself – e.g. 4, 6, 8, 9), then there will be more than one closed loop in the rug pattern (see chart - i.e. a 6 x 9 has 3 closed circuits/loops and 6 x 8 has two closed loops/circuits). This can be confusing. Once it’s understood though, it can make it easier to weave (each strand is shorter) and can lend itself to more creative patterns. However, it does mean that there will be more ends and joints to deal with in the end.

When finished with the rug, I secure all the ends by melting with a propane torch and pressing flat against the other perpendicular strands on the backside or against the end of the piece that it’s joined to (when using different pattern ropes). Eventually I hope to get some photos of that process. I use a small piece of a plastic yogurt container to press the ends while they are still soft to flatten and join them to adjacent strands. This allows you to put pressure on them and keeps your hands from being burned by the molten nylon.

If a rug is in a high traffic area and gets dirty, I take it to a do-it-yourself car wash and power wash and rinse them, then put it out in the sun to dry. I always was ropes in a commercial front load washer at the laundromat prior to weaving it. It's a pain in the butt but it's nice weaving clean ropes and they end up looking much brighter and nicer (at least for a while).

Well, that's the basics and a bit more. I’ve learned lots of other tips and tricks but need to leave something for you to figure out!


The following are some questions and answers that were asked in the thread after I published the material above:

>My only question (thus far) is it seems like it will be too small to actually be used as a mat. Like you, I am planning on doing 8 bites (8 nails across the top) and 12 leads (6 nails along the side - that is including the ones on top) with 3" squares. This comes out to a mat this is only 21" x 15", does that sound about right to you? Could you measure you mats for me?

That size is approx. correct - BUT THAT IS FOR THE NAIL END POINTS. So the finished dimensions "grow" by 4x the diameter of the rope or ~2 inches. There is also some fudge factor because of the weave, etc. Remember that two loops will be on the inside of the nail and two on the outside of each nail. Have a look at my photos. I really recommend two nails at each point to pinch the rope. They would be separated by slightly less then the diameter of the rope in order to pinch and hold it in place. I also try and nail them (or drill holes for them) so that it slightly forms a taper and is easier to get the rope between them and as it is pushed down toward the board, it constricts and pinches them. This depends upon the spacing you use between each nail in a pair of nails and the diameter of the rope. Also remember that all turns in one direction will go between the nails and turns the other direction will go on the outside of both nails. If you don't do this, the bites will come out uneven creates an uneven looking (sloppy) rug -  I learned the hard way.

You could make the whole rug 7 x 9 which would be bigger, but you'd need a 60m rope (see my chart)

>Also, the link to the page on Summit Post doesn't have the nails lined up as (it appears) you do, or I do, which way should I do this to get the best (most similar to yours) result?

The other thing that is different, are the end points are further out than just the 3 inches. This shows up clearly in some of my photos. It is a function of the weaving pattern being on a diagonal to the edges of the rug. If the weaving pattern is drawn out, the end points are spaced out further than the normal diagonal. It's hard to explain but is easy to see visually if the pattern has been drawn out on the particle board. I'm not at home so I can't measure on the loom but I'm guessing it is probably at least 4" between the next to last pair of nails and the pair that is in each of the corners.

> My rope is 60m, so maybe I should go with the larger pattern. Now, since the side nails are further out, for the 8x12 pattern, how many nails go on the side? is it 4 or 6? Thanks for the help, hugely appreciated.

I always think about it in terms of turning points per side. For a 60m rope according to my chart listed up thread (and which I've confirmed extensive use), it would be a 7 x 9, (7 nails for the short sides (width) and 9 nails on the long sides), with the corner nails being shared by both the length and width sides. The important thing as I mentioned last post, is that the corner nails are not the standard 3 inches away from their nearest neighbor (approx. 4.25”). By drawing the diagonal over/under pattern on the board, you'll be able to see where the corner nails should be put in.

A 7 x 9 will use up most of the 60 meter rope (~186’). You'll probably have 10-20 feet left over. If you do a 7 x 9, then you'll have one long closed loop (circuit) for the rope. Because of that you should start in the middle of the rope and lay it in the middle of the board somewhere and weave out from that point. That means you'll only need to "pull" 90+' feet at the beginning going each direction out from the center point. It also means, that both ends when you finish the fourth circuit will end up by that center point in the middle of the rug. It's best to try and keep the loose ends as far away from the edges of the rug as possible to keep them from coming loose or getting kicked up by foot traffic (even though I melt them and tack them down).

I think it should work well and the 24" x 27" is correct size for a 7 x 9 rug. The actual rug will end up slightly bigger because they'll be two loops on the outside of all the nails. Probably more like a finished size of 26" x 29" give or take an inch due to rope diameter and how tight you actually get the loops on the loom.

It's extremely easy to make a mistake on the first pass when weaving a rug. Once you get the first pass, it's easy to follow previous circuits of the rope. Depending upon what the mistake was, it can have a drastic effect on the final product. I've gotten where I'm pretty good at getting it corrected on the first pass. Personally, when I make a mistake, I undo it back to that point, or wherever it is that needs to be fixed. YMMV.

Make sure that you end up with the finished loose ends in the middle of the rug somewhere. If they stay on the ends it's harder to secure them and can come undone a lot easier even if melted to secure them.

For subsequent passes it does make a difference which strand goes next and whether it goes on the inside or outside of the first pass. However, it's hard to try and explain via writing. You definitely want to use the end that is longer (assuming you started in the middle of the rope, one end should be twice as long). That's the end that you should start weaving next. I.e. you want to alternate which end you use each time you finish a closed loop.

If you used the method I outlined earlier in this thread (i.e. you use two sets of nails and right turns should go between the two nails and left turns should go on the outside of both nails - or vice-a-versa - can't remember which I exactly said up thread), your pattern all along the edges to this point will be a little uneven because of this. With the second pass you want weave it so that you are doing the opposite - on the nails where the rope is now on the outside, you want it to go between the two nails. Where your first pass went between the nails, you want it to go on the outside of both nails. At the end of the first pass you might even think that something is wrong. The first and third passes (circuits) will produce this unevenness. The 2nd and 4th will make the outside edges of the rug even. If you were making a rug with only three passes (circuits) then you'd want the rope to be pinched between all pairs of nails on the first pass. However, this is a 4-pass rug, so the first and third passes will be uneven.

This is really hard to describe in writing. It took me a couple of rugs to get it all sorted out. Anyway, I hope all this is a help, rather than a hindrance. Rugs will come out uneven if you don't follow the exact instructions. However they may be a little "unique" (a bit uneven as one looks along the edges when finished.) :-) And...who knows, maybe there is more than one way to do it. I certainly don't claim to know it all and sometimes it’s easy to get in a rut because I follow a system now and don't put too much thought into the overall method/system of weaving any more.

If you do another in the future, pay particular attention to the first pass - it is critical and try and catch any mistake with the "over-under" alternation right when it happens. No matter where I find a mistake, I'll undo it to that point and correct it. It's pain in the butt, but is worth it in the end. Or, maybe I'm just anal about the whole process.

Another tip: try and do the weave as tight as possible as you do it, but also try and keep the tension equal on all the passes and different parts of the pass. If you don’t, when it is taken off the loom and allowed to “relax” and once it’s subject to foot traffic, it will gradually deform.

Sometime for the last part of the last pass, I'll slide the whole rug off the loom and finish it so that I have access to the bottom and it's easier to thread it when it gets tight.