Many centuries ago, shepherds began knotting wool into heavy woven cloth. These heavy cloths were developed into rugs that provided protection from the elements. Whether the first rugs were made in the near East or Siberia is not clear, but it is clear that over the centuries, rug making changed from a craft to a fine art form. The patterns, vibrant colours, and many knots per square inch produced beautiful rugs.
These early artisans showed amazing skill and ingenuity in designing, dying and producing these prized rugs. Established trade routes carried this skill to China. When a personal prayer rug became a tradition of Islam, the spread of this religion to Spain and Eastern Europe took the necessity of rug making with it.
Oriental rugs have come to be associated with luxury in contemporary interiors. They often serve as a focal point in formal residential living areas, corporate board rooms, or luxury hotel lobbies.
Woven carpets feature extremely dense pile, consisting of wool or silk, knotted on closely woven backing. This method allows for extreme versatility in design and texture.
Traditionally, rug designs designated tribal or village source, and often the town weaver. The name of the rug indicates the weaving centre, city or area of origin.
The commercial carpet industry has its beginnings in England. This commercialisation soon made names of English towns like Axminster and Wilton, synonymous with rugs.
Axminster carpets, arguably one of the best known carpets, are characterised by heavy backings made from jute, cotton or man-made fibres that form lengthwise ribs. These carpets have a smooth cut-pile surface. Many hotel chains, theatres and casinos use Axminster carpet in the U.S. and around the world. Wilton rugs, feature a variety of surface textures, from level cut pile, to multi-level loop pile.
An American, Erastus B. Bigelow, invented the power loom to manufacture Wilton carpets in 1848. For many years, the only width available for this carpet was 27 inches. The carpet strips were sewn together so carefully, that the seams were barely noticeable. These woven carpets dominated carpet production until the 1940’s, when the manufacturing process for today’s tufted carpets was developed.
In the United States, sales of tufted carpeting have grown from a 10% market share in 1950, to over 95% of all carpet sales today.
Tufted carpet is made in 3 layers. The top layer is called the face fibre. These fibres are made from nylon, wool, olefin, polyester, acrylic or cotton. The face fibre is stitched by high-speed machines to the second layer or primary backing. The primary backing is then glued to the secondary backing with latex glue. These backings are typically made of polypropylene. Polypropylene is well suited to damp or humid climates because it resists mildew.
Tufted carpets are typically manufactured first as “white goods” and then dyed to the desired colour. To obtain a pattern or colour variation, manufacturers use more than one type of carpet fibres. The different fibres accept the dyes in varying degrees, giving them the desired effect.