Rag Shirts & How to Make Them

Rag Shirts

A rag shirt is, quite simply, a shirt which has had a number of rags attached to it, giving a sort of bushy/feathery appearance. Because we do not have any set rules for what rag shirts should look like, everybody makes their own in whatever colour(s) they feel like. This means that each shirt reflects the person who made it.
Here is a guide on how to make them. It should not be taken as an absolute authority, but is meant as a guideline.

First, find your shirt

This is the easy bit. A rag shirt can begin with any sort of shirt you like. It's best to get something that won't be too hot, and won't smell too much when it gets sweaty (n.b. the baggier it is, the more air flow there will be). It also needs to be strong enough to withstand having a load of rags sewn on to it. It is generally a good idea to think about what colour scheme you want for your rag shirt before you start doing anything, and then get a suitably coloured shirt.

Next, find your rags

This is also fairly easy. The rags can be made out of any pieces of fabric you can find, old shirts, sheets, etc. Larger pieces of cloth are generally easier to cut up than small garments, and bear in mind that t-shirt fabric, tends to roll up when it is cut. Lightweight fabrics will make the finished shirt less heavy. Patterned rags are more interesting than plain ones. You may find that existing Rag Morris members have some spare rags you can have.

Now, make the fabric into rags

This is easy too. First, you'll need to cut your fabric up into strips. It doesn't really matter how long these strips are, nor whether they are all the same length. However, a good length is probably about 15cm [6"] and maybe 5cm [2"] wide. A lot of people make their rags double length [ie 30cm/12"] and then sew them in the middle to make a double thickness of rag. Some people like to cut the rags up with pinking shears, as this leaves a nice feathery edge and is less likely to fray. Other people use ordinary scissors. It's up to you really. A feature which many people use is to cut the loose ends of their rags into a swallow tail shape like so:

You'll probably find that you need a lot more rags than you think you do.

Attaching the rags to the shirt

This is the trickier bit. Some people sew each rag on individually, but it is much easier and quicker to sew them on in rows. To do this you need to decide how far apart to put them. It doesn't really matter, but the closer they are, the more rows you'll need, and the bushier your rag shirt will be. Half a rag's length is probably as far apart as will look good, closer would be better. When you've decided how far apart you want your rags to be you'll need to start pinning the rags on [some people manage without pins]. You'll need to do this one row at a time [or even part of a row if you don't have many pins]. You should end up with something like this:

When you've pinned your rags in place, and are happy with what the row looks like, you can sew them on. If you don't have a sewing machine of your own, then it will be a good idea to borrow one, it makes the whole operation so much quicker. When you fix the next row on, it's usually a good idea to stagger the rags like so:

That way, any gaps between the rags in one row will be hidden by the rags in the rows above. In reality of course, it is unlikely that all the rags will be the same width, so most gaps would be hidden anyway, but staggering them does help ensure that more of the shirt is covered; ideally there should be no shirt visible through the rags. If you start at the bottom and work up, you won't have to move the last row out of the way when sewing on the next. When sewing your rags on, make sure you do not inadvertently sew up the button holes. The trickiest bit is doing the shoulders. Because these are not straight, the rags will probably need to be sewn on by hand at the top of the shirt. Nobody has yet devised a foolproof way of doing the shoulders. Some people have no rags on the shoulders at all and, while this is acceptable, it is better to have rags all over the body of the shirt if at all possible. Usually when you see a side with rag shirts they will have rags all the way up their sleeves as well, but in Rag Morris we tend not to; indeed some of us have no sleeves at all on our rag shirts. One of the reasons for this is that it is so much fiddlier and more time consuming than sewing rags onto the body of a shirt. If, for any reason, you do want to put rags on your sleeves, there are two ways you can go about doing this. One is to unpick the seam of the sleeve, sew the rags on in rows, and then re-sew the sleeve. Or else you can sew the rags on individually, making sure that they hang the way you want them to and that you do not sew the sleeve shut.