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Sandy Erdman: Every rug tells a story

December 30, 2018
Lori on one of her looms in her studio.
Lori on one of her looms in her studio.

Rugs are very common in most homes as most folks love the warmth of rugs on hardwood floors and even love to toss a little color on the carpet via a rug.

Years back, family clothing and bedding were not thrown away but recycled into balls of rag strips and taken to someone who could weave this fabric into rugs. Often these rugs contained a family history, composed of dad’s work shirts, mother’s house dresses, printed flour sacks or old chenille bedspreads. And these rugs are still being made today, as more collectors have begun to focus on the artistic features of the craft.

One such artisan is Lori Feltes, of Stewartville’s Bohemian Rag Rugs.

“When a person asks me how I got started making rugs, I always laugh and say, ‘I was genetically destined to be a rug maker.’ My Bohemian great-grandfather was a rug maker. My Bohemian grandmother was a rug maker. And now I am a rug maker.

“I have my great-grandfather’s original loom from the 1890s. I am in the process of fixing it up so I can weave rugs on his machine. I do have a studio from a converted 2-1/2 car garage.

“We installed four large picture windows for ample daylight, installed a refrigerator and a mini sink for the kitchenette area, put all new flooring down, created permanent shelving/storage areas, and replaced existing service doors to the outside,” Feltes said. “All the walls were insulated as well as the ceiling. All new light fixtures and a ceiling fan were put up. The oak boards on the walls are from an old three-sided hay shed that was torn down. The 1-inch corrugated tin ceilings are from the roof of the old hay shed. Other woodwork in the studio came out of a century-old barn on one of our farms.”

You can find Lori at shows in the area.

“I have been making rugs and table runners for quite some time,” she said. “Three years ago my family finally convinced me to sell publicly at local craft/home business events, at flea markets and at antique tractor shows. I did find that I enjoy the tractor shows and historical events the most, because I get to visit with folks that used to weave as well as some that still do. I learn more from talking to others than I will ever learn from a book.”

The business

“My handcrafted rugs and table runners are made from re-purposed clothing, bed sheets, curtains, towels, etc.” Feltes said. “First I take an article of clothing, remove buttons and zippers, then I cut the fabric into strips (wider strips for thinner material, narrower strips for heavy material). I then sew all the strips of material together and roll them into balls until I am ready to weave. (I have over 500 balls of fabric.)

“It takes about six hours to make a rug from start to finish. I can weave a 4-foot rug in approximately 60 minutes. Most of my time is consumed in fabric preparation.”

Feltes also does classes. “I teach one-on-one or I can teach groups up to six people at a time,” she said. “I supply all the materials for the class. Classes are four to five hours long. The students get to take their rugs home. Most can finish a rug 36 to 40 inches in length.”

Within the business, floor looms are sold. “Through the years I have acquired several looms. Once I get a loom, I will completely refurbish it into wonderful working machine. If a person is interested in purchasing a loom, I ensure that I will help them set it up and get it running properly, and I will continue to be of technical help if need be.”

Pricing varies by the size of the rug. “My rugs are between 24 and 30 inches wide, depending on which loom I used to weave them. I typically price my rugs at $1 per inch of length, so a 3-foot long rug is $36, a 4-foot rug is $48. I do a lot of custom orders and specific colors, size and fabric type, along with memory rugs and table runners from items of those who have passed on.”

Satisfaction

“When demonstrating at flea markets and antique tractor shows, I meet a lot of folks from out of state that purchase rugs — as far as Texas and California,” Feltes said. “And my greatest satisfaction is listening to people reminisce about their mother or their grandmother who used to weave rugs on a loom. I love hearing stories about old looms, their loom rooms, and if the machines are still in the family’s possession.”

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