Using a toothbrush handle to make rugs from scrap fabric came to the United States with Scandinavian immigrants and grew in popularity during the Depression and World War years. Rugs made with toothbrushes look similar to braided rugs, but offer more durability. While the original craft used a sharpened toothbrush as a needle, specially-made rug-crafting tools are available today.

Toothbrush weaving, also known as nalbinding in Scandinavian countries, originally used old toothbrush handles as sewing needles to intricately weave fabric strips into rugs, pot holders and other functional or decorative items, according to the South Dakota Traditional Arts website.

The oval rugs start with a braided center strip around which interconnecting stitches of fabric strips are made using a sharpened toothbrush instead of a needle or crochet hook, according to the Springfield, Mo., library collection website.

Depression-era crafters in the Works Progress Administration in Minnesota adapted the complex Scandinavian rug-making process to use up scraps for floor coverings when fabric and money were scarce, according to the Toothbrush Rug website. The thrifty technique was also popular during World War I and World War II. Crafters rediscovered toothbrush weaving in the 1980s, when the rugs became popular items in the back-to-basics lifestyle.

Traditionally, needles were made by cutting off the bristle end of a toothbrush and filing it to a point, according to the Springfield, Mo., library collection website. The hole on the non-bristle end became the needle's eye through which thin fabric strips were threaded. Crafters used files and knives to increase the size of the hole to as much as a 1/2 inch in length to accommodate the fabric strips. Because contemporary plastic toothbrushes no longer include a hole at the non-bristle end, sewing supply manufacturers now sell special toothbrush-style needles.

It takes about 9 yards of fabric to make a 2' x 3' rug.

DONNA HOUNSELL (formerly Overman)

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