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Keep the outside from coming inside with this easy-to-make doormat.

Dirt is not an unusual visitor in my house: 15 minutes after vacuuming and washing the kitchen floor, dog-hair dust bunnies appear, often accompanied by a muddy paw print or two. It doesn't matter how many doormats I have between the garden and the kitchen, I can't get our otherwise good dog Boyo to use any of them. The human occupants of the home are somewhat better trained though, so a few mats are helpful for keeping the outside where it belongs.

The mat shown left is a variation on an ancient style of stitching called shepherd's knitting, said to have been created in the remote pastures of northwestern Scotland. The shepherds would have used woollen yarn and a single, hooked knitting needle, something like a crochet hook. This variation does away with the needle-the sisal cord is stiff enough to make it through the loops in the previous row of stitches on its own. Look for fairly stiff cord for this project; softer cord, like jute, is very difficult to work with.

The construction is a simple system of interlocking loops. (It looks more complicated than it is.) Conveniently, it uses the "bight" of the cord-a loop made in the line-rather than feeding line through end-first, which saves endless hours of hauling lengths of cord through sequences of loops. A loop is pushed through a loop, and another loop is pushed through that one and so on.

There are two different stitches that make up the body of the mat; I call one the "single catch" and the other the "double catch." The single catch leaves a raised ridge on the upper surface of the mat; I have used it at both ends to make a border. The double catch makes the flat mosaic-style fabric in the centre.

Make the mat with the upper side facing you throughout, the rows developing toward you as you work. Along the way, keep your index finger in the loop of the previous stitch (called the working loop) to keep the stitches facing a consistent direction and to remind you where you are. 

It's a good idea to practice your stitches using 1/4" sisal rope, which we have used to illustrate the simple knots used in this design. This gives you a good understanding of the stitches before you use the 1/8" cord. You can make a simple mat of this larger diameter rope by continuing your single-catch rows-about 14 stitches long-until you reach the desired length, then tie it off securely.


Step 1

Step 2

Step 3

Step 4

Step 5

1. Make a slip knot to begin: form a loop at the end of the cord; twist it once, and pass a loop (in the bight, or long end) through the end loop. Pull tight; trim off tag end to about 4" long. Later we'll weave this into the finished mat. Adjust end loop to 1" diameter.

2. Make a 24-stitch chain: pinch another loop in the bight about 1 1/2" from the slip-knot loop you made; pass it through the slip-knot loop, and hold it fast: this is now called your "working loop." Again, pinch a loop in the bight as before, and pass it through your working loop: this is your new working loop-it's always the last one you made. Each loop-through-a-loop is a stitch in the chain. Make the new stitch about the same size as the previous one by pulling or pushing on the running end, and continue to adjust them to size as you work. Hint: for a fairly fine stitch, use your index finger through the stitch as a size guide. Repeat until you have made 24 stitches, or just a bit more than the desired size of your mat (front to back).

3. Next you'll start a row of linked stitches. These are made exactly the way you made your chain row, but each new stitch is connected to a stitch in your chain row. This is done by passing each bight loop through each chain stitch before you pass it through your working loop. To begin, once you have finished your chain row in Step 1, reverse the direction you are working. Do this by switching hands: put your working loop on the opposite index finger and the running line in the other hand. Then pinch a bight loop and pass it through chain stitch number 22 before going through your working loop at stitch 24 (your last stitch in the chain row-the one on your index finger). Size the loop as before. The next bight loop goes up through 21 and through the working loop of your new row, and so on. Work your way along the row, keeping track of how many stitches you have in the new row: there should be 24.

4. After 24 linked stitches, switch hands again to begin row two. The first stitch of row two loops through the last stitch of row one. Working into the same stitch makes a tight turn; you will probably need to experiment with the stitches to get the correct tension. Work back along row two as you did with row one. Make sure there are 24 stitches in the row. Then turn and work a third row of single-catch stitches.

5. Turn and begin the first double-catch row. As its name suggests, this uses both of the threads in the previous row's stitches (both threads of a loop in any one stitch). This is where a fid or similar tool is useful to open up a path for the bight loop to pass through. As before, pass the bight loop up through the row stitch (from the underside of the mat to the top, this time catching both threads), then through the working loop on your index finger. Tension the new stitch, and repeat to the end of the row. (Keep the loops and stitches slightly loose: they will tend to get tighter as you go, making it harder to work the stitches.) Work double-catch stitches back and forth for 44 rows. Then add three more rows of single-catch stitches to match the rows at the start. The first one should connect at the underside of the mat (the lower thread of the row stitch.)

6. The edges of the mat are bound by working two rows of double-catch stitches all the way around the outside. To make the stitches in the first row you will need to choose two threads on the edge to pass the bight loop through: look for those that will anchor the stitch firmly and will space the new stitches evenly. When you reach a corner, add a single chain stitch to keep the fabric flat.

7. At the end of the second row of edging, cut the running cord to about 6" long and pass the end through the last stitch. Pull tight. Using the fid or other tool, weave the end down the edge of the mat, working in the same direction as the stitches. Turn and weave the end a couple of inches into the centre of the mat. Trim off the excess. Repeat for the tag end of your original slip knot: weave in; trim off.

8. Stretch and pin the mat into a rectangular shape. Dampen and leave it stretched for 12 hours or so, then unpin and let it air-dry flat. Use it well, and if you manage to train your pets to use it too, please let me know your secret.

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