Maven Moment: Rags and Textile Waste

pile of discarded clothing

I still laugh when I remember the Easter when Grandma Jennie used rags to curl my sister’s and my hair. Using strips of fabric, she tied each strip at the end of a section of hair. Next, she twisted the hair, rolled it down to the scalp, and tied the rag tightly. Then she moved on to the next section until all of our hair was tied up in rags.

I remember Dad making funny faces to make us laugh while we suffered from our beauty treatment. Despite how silly we felt, the rags were a lot easier to sleep on than the pink plastic rollers that were common at the time. And on Easter morning when Jennie took them out, we had beautiful curls all ready for church!

Rags were such common household items at the time. We would never think of throwing away old clothes and linens just because they were faded, torn, or stained. The fabric was so useful! Strips of cloth could be used as a rag mop. And towel- or napkin-sized cloths could replace paper towels for use in the kitchen.

My other grandma, Rose, usually used her fabric scraps as cleaning rags. She also used sturdy fabrics that came from an old couch or chair cover to make aprons and durable tote bags for shopping. Nothing went to waste in her household!

Old textiles are useful for all sorts of craft projects, like making a braided rag rug or an old-fashioned rag doll. You can even reuse the fabric to make a face mask. It seems like the possibilities are endless if you do some research on the internet. But even if you’re like me and not crafty, you can still use the rags for cleaning and replacing paper towels.

Before the pandemic, there was a quilting club in our library and I think groups like that might accept used fabric like sheets or tablecloths that are still in good condition. Also, animal shelters often accept old towels and sheets. Always call the organization before you deliver this type of donation to make sure they can use it.

Where I live, there are plenty of places to donate old clothes, but I have found very few organizations that take textiles for recycling. There is a Goodwill that accepts them, and although it’s not close to me, a good friend lives nearby. So, I can save up my textiles for recycling and drop them off when I visit her.

I think that we can find creative ways to reuse old textiles and other items that might otherwise go in the trash. Bit by bit, we can be part of the solution and help Mother Earth!

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Joanna Lacey

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