Different theories attempt to explain the history of carpets. As more cultures across the world engaged in carpet making, it became harder to find the origin as carpets and rugs are prone to deterioration over time. Historical sources credit the source of carpets and rugs to the Middle Eastern region back in the second and third century B.C. Others believe that carpets date as far back as the 5th century B.C., as evidenced by the excavation of the Pazyryk carpet in the Altai Mountains of Siberia. One theory claims that nomadic people in the olden day used mats to provide insulation from harsh climatic conditions while on transit from one area to the next. These nomadic populations used thickly knotted carpets in the place of animal hides. These early traditional rugs were not shabby at all; they had beautiful decorations with different colours and beautification styles. Since these populations moved around a lot, they wove their carpets o vertical looms to ease transportation when it was time to pack up and set off the road again.
Another theory states that new carpets evolved from the handiwork of early settlers who used mats for aesthetic and utility value. These settlers used mats during special ceremonies and festivals, and as time went by, the carpet became an essential part of the home. Interestingly, the early settlers made their knotted carpets using a horizontal loom.
According to Bertram Jacobs, the British people have a claim on the origin and evolution of the carpet as well. One of the most notable accomplishments is the making of a Verulam carpet for Queen Elizabeth I in 1570. By the 1700s, the art of rug making had garnered the attention of the Royal Society of Arts, which presented premiums for the finest carpets. Bertram notes that there was a decline in the production of handmade carpets around 1810. The Napoleonic Wars and competition from the machine caused this decrease. By 1970, the production of woven carpets had declined as tufted carpets gained popularity across England.
Styles of Traditional Rugs
The Persian rug is a thick textile rug made in Persia (Iran) and the surrounding countries. The Persian Empire dominated the art of rug weaving, and they used these rugs at home or sold them locally and abroad. Nomadic tribes wove Persian rugs using high-quality materials and elaborate designs. For more information have a look at more detailed post on types of Persian rugs.
These traditional rugs come from silk, wool, and cotton. They originate from the "Rug Belt," an area stretching from Morocco through the Middle East and into Central Asia and northern India. Oriental traditional rugs are used as symbols or for utility use around the home. These rugs are often referred to as "Islamic carpets" as people used them for prayer in mosques.
The art of carpet and rug making was introduced to Europeans by the Moors of Spain back in the 13th and `15th century. Initially, the Europeans borrowed a lot from the Asian designs, and as the craft gained ground, they developed unique carpet designs for palaces and other high profile institutions. Aubusson and Savonnerie produced these rugs, which later led to the Arts and Crafts rugs of the nineteenth century. European rugs continue to dominate the market throughout Europe and the rest of the world.
There are different production methods used to make carpets and rugs. Each method is unique and sought after for various reasons. Carpets can hand woven, machine made or tufted.
Hand woven carpets
As you can imagine, making carpets by hand is a labour-intensive process that requires meticulous skill combined with a fast hand. There are several methods of weaving carpets by hand; shearing, braiding, hand knotting. The steps involved in hand weaving rugs are as follows:
Sorting and washing wool- after buying the yarn from the market, weavers inspect it for unwanted particles then clean it thoroughly to remove grease. They dry the wool in the sun for a couple of days
- Carding - this is the process of blending different wool so that the fibre can flow smoothly during spinning.
- Spinning - a spinning wheel is used to spin the wool into yarn. Usually, carpets require a three ply yarn.
- Dyeing - the yarn is dipped in dyes of different colours using a machine or pot. The dyed yarn dries in the sun for about three days.
- Knotting - one or more weavers work on a single loom making individual knots one row after another. Another person instructs the carpet designs to those making knots.
- Trimming - the weaver removes the finished carpet from the loom, and the weavers carefully trim the patterns using scissors.
- Washing and drying - the finished rug is washed with clean water and left to dry in the sun for a couple of days.
- Final touches - once the newly woven carpet is dry, the weavers remove any bulges by trimming the designs until the carpet lays level at the surface.
- Packing - the ready carpets are rolled and stored in sealed polyethylene waiting for sale in carpet shops or shipment to markets overseas.
Tufting is the most common method of making carpets as it takes much lesser time than hand weaving. Tufting involves pushing hundreds of yarn-threaded needles through a pre-constructed backing to form a loop. Repeat the process until you achieve the desired size of carpet. Coat the back side carpet with latex to hold these loops together. With this method, weavers have the control of the tuft and therefore, they can produce mats of varying sizes and textures. The different techniques in tufting are:
- Loop pile- this can be a level circuit where loops are on the same level or it can be multi-level where two or more loops have different heights. The latter results in a random mix of textures that is perfect for hiding stains.
- Cut pile- this technique has two forms; twist and velvet. With the twisted pile, wrap the yarn tightly and held together by heat to give a textured finish. Velvet pile requires little twisting and the ends blend well to give a smooth finish.
Woven carpets come in three forms; Axminster, Velvet, and Milton.
- Velvet carpets- they have one solid colour and will often have a tweed effect.
- Milton carpets- these traditional rugs are colourful. They are made using the Jacquard loom which holds up to six different yarns.
- Axminster carpets- they carpets combine elaborate design with the various colours of yarn to give sophisticated carpets.
What materials are used to make carpets?
Different materials are used to manufacture traditional rugs. Materials can either be human-made fibres or synthetic fibres.
Examples of natural fibres:
- Wool - this is a natural fibre that comes from the skin of sheep, and it was widely used to make carpets in the olden days. The value of wool has not declined as evidenced by its usage even today, perhaps due to its ability to withstand foot traffic and look great for many years. Wool carpets are also resistant to combustion.
- Sisal - this natural fibre is known for its toughness, and it can be dyed.
- Silk - this is a very delicate thread that is used to make fine carpets in the Middle East.
- Sea grass - this fibre is impermeable and therefore not useful for dyeing, but it is easy to maintain.
Examples of human-made fibres:
- Olefin - this fibre resists wear and permanent stains. Eight percent of commercial carpets come from olefin fibre.
- Polyester - this fibre has a high colour quality, and it resists water soluble stains.
- Acrylic - this fibre is moisture resistant and has a low static level. It is commonly used to make bath mats.
The art of carpet and rug making has yielded incredible results in the form of the beautiful pieces that grace our homes and workplaces. The art of carpet and rug making is influenced by social, economic and fashion factors, prompting designers to keep up with the changing demands. Consumers have a choice of over a thousand designs, textures, colours, and styles.