Interviewing Bobbi Mahler

Braiding in Belgrade. Rug braider, demonstrator and teacher, Bobbi Mahler of Belgrade has been braiding since 2004. She began doing decorative wood craft: birdhouses, household items, and cat or bear cutting boards. Woodworking came in handy later in transforming her basement into a fulltime braiding studio.

At the beginning, Bobbi’s aunt moved to Maine and encouraged Bobbi to accompany her to a braiding class. They found a flyer citing lessons with Nancy Young, took the class, and Bobbi “took off.” She started making small mats, then ovals, and finally larger rugs for family and friends. She continued learning from Nancy and working on her own.

Over time, Bobbi created hundreds of braided items: rugs, chair pads, mats, runners, fruits, and baskets. She prefers working with new, medium-weight wool fabrics (between skirt- and coat-weight) and uses consistent-weight fabrics throughout a piece. 

She accepts commissions and works with clients on selecting wools and designing the piece to create the rug “of their dreams.” To braid two exact rugs for one commission, she worked on both rugs at the same time. She does not use Braid Aid tools, preferring to fold and shape braids using her hands and fingers (no ironing) while she works. Her work is very precise. 

She once braided a large, round basket with handles that was so rugged, she gifted it to a relative in Montana who uses it to bring in firewood.

For 14 years, she was a braiding demonstrator for the Folk Art Tent at the Common Ground Country Fair, starting for the first three years assisting Nancy Young and then running the tent on her own. At this event, she introduced hundreds of people to the craft. The two displayed braided work, taught visitors and came up with a simple braid to create a mug rug that formed a circle with a tail. 

These days, Bobbi is busy teaching, making work, and demonstrating at conferences from Maine to Pennsylvania. She attends the Braid-In at the Friary in Kennebunkport, ME; a Braid Conference in Methuen, MA; and the Valley Forge Braiding Conference in PA. She teaches in her studio, through Maranacook Adult Education, and recently, at Maine Fiberarts.

Bobbi offers this advice to clean braided rugs. Place the rug outside in winter on snow and stomp on it. Turn the rug over and repeat. Stomping opens small crevices between lacing and wool to release sand and dust. Use a broom to sweep the snow off. Small rugs can be placed in a washing machine, or try taking them to a dry-cleaner. Larger rugs can be taken apart, washed carefully in machines, and then re-laced together.

Nota bene: red fabrics almost always bleed. 

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