THE RUG BUYER’S GUIDE
This simple guide is intended to help you to find the rug that not only meets your needs but also fulfils your expectations. We have arranged it into easy sections so that you do not have to read it all, just jump to the topic that you require.
There are many reasons for buying a rug, for example a room-size large area rug is a modern, practical and versatile alternative to fitted carpets. Not only is it easier to install, it’s easier to change if you buy new furniture or re-decorate and you can take it with you if you move house. Room-size rugs have a great advantage over fitted carpet in that they allow you to show off your wooden or tiled flooring by leaving a wide border between the rug and the walls. For a well-proportioned look, a border of 45-60cms on all sides is preferable but you may have to vary this, taking factors such as chimney breasts and hearths, door openings and seating arrangements into consideration.
Alternatively you may be looking for a focal point rug to add character to your living space, draw attention to a fireplace feature or provide a complementary or contrasting setting for a dining table. In these cases it’s a good idea to ‘map out’ the size of the rug on your floor using lengths of string or thin strips of newspaper. When planning a rug beneath a dining table remember your rug should extend between 60- 75cms beyond the table on all sides to allow for chair positioning and movement.
To avoid the ‘fitted’ look in narrow hallways choose a runner between 5-10cms less than the hallway width and 45-60cms shorter than the length.
HOW RUGS ARE MADE
Hand Knotted Rugs
The centuries-old process of hand-knotting continues to be used in the manufacture of traditional tribal and oriental design rugs using natural dyed natural fibres such as wool, cotton and silk. Hand-knotted rugs are produced by knotting yarn onto fibres stretched on a wooden frame (loom) to produce a pile in a traditional pattern which may include botanical, religious, historical or tribal influences such as the French-influenced Aubusson designs. This is a very labour-intensive and time consuming process as each knot has to be individually tied by hand and a quality 2.4 x 3.0 metres rug can typically take a skilled weaver a year to produce. They are therefore more expensive than rugs made by machine. Each rug is a unique piece of craftsmanship which, with care, will last for 3-4 generations, and centuries-old hand-knotted antique rugs can still be found. Hand-knotted traditional rugs are more highly valued than machine-made rugs and are sometimes bought for investment purposes.
Hand Tufted Rugs
Hand-tufted rugs are manufactured by pushing loops of dyed yarn through a primary canvas backing imprinted with the required design. A scrim fabric is then applied with glue to hold the loops in place and a final protective cloth backing is then attached. This is a highly versatile method of production as the loop pile can be applied in differing heights to produce a sculptured effect or the loops can be sheared to produce a cut pile which can also be hand carved to enhance texture and design definition. Any design is possible and very good reproduction of traditional rugs can be made by this method. Hand-tufted rugs can be produced in a fraction of the time it takes to make a hand-knotted rug, and therefore they are less expensive and more available, although a hand-knotted rug will generally last longer than one that is hand-tufted. China and India are the primary producers of hand-tufted rugs with China producing mainly in synthetic, acrylic and viscose fibres and India using both natural wool and viscose fibres.
Machine-made (Power-loomed) Rugs
Mechanised rug production began in the mid-1800s using large steam-powered industrial looms. The development of Axminster and Wilton weaving processes and the introduction of electrically-powered looms significantly advanced the industry and by the mid 1920s fairly accurate reproductions of traditional oriental designs were possible. A major revolution in rug manufacturing technology occurred with the development of computer-controlled face-to-face Wilton machines in Belgium during the early 1990s. Further technological improvements increased the range of fibres and colours which could be used in the process and today’s machines can accommodate both wool and synthetic fibres and may involve over 40 colour shades in a single rug.
The major advantage of machine-made rugs is that they are generally cheaper to produce than hand-woven versions making beautiful, high quality rugs more readily available in terms of both cost and quantity. Because Belgium has good European routes for access it is cost effective for UK suppliers suppliers to import their rugs direct from source. Machine-made rugs are, as a rule, consistent in accuracy of design, colour and size whereas hand-woven rugs may contain flaws in these characteristics.
COMMON FIBRES USED IN RUG MANUFACTURE
Today’s rugs are manufactured in a variety of natural and synthetic fibres, each of which has its own characteristics which in turn influence the appearance, texture and wear characteristics of the finished product.
Wool is a natural fibre and a sustainable resource traditionally used in both hand woven and machine-made rugs, while New Zealand wool rugs are often highly rated for their quality. Rugs made with wool are durable, soft and warm to the touch, and because the fibres are resilient, the pile tends to spring back into place after disturbance, maintaining the rug’s appearance. Wool has a natural ability to repel water and therefore offers resistance to water-based staining. Rugs made with wool are not anti-static unless the fibres have been modified and static electricity may build up in humid conditions.
Sisal is another sustainable natural fibre obtained from the leaves of the Agave plant and is largely produced by plantations in East Africa and Central America. It is a strong, stable and versatile material that can be woven into a variety of attractive weave designs. As a rug-making material, sisal is hardwearing, anti-static, accepts dyes easily and can also be painted. Like most plant fibres, sisal is moisture-absorbent and excessive moisture can cause irreparable damage, therefore sisal rugs should not be used in damp environments and should not be steam-cleaned or wet shampooed.
Acrylic is a synthetic (man-made) fibre which is considered to be closer to wool in its properties than other synthetics. Less expensive to produce than wool, acrylic yarns are warm, springy, have good resistance to soiling and staining and can be produced in a wide range of vibrant colours. Acrylic is both soft and durable and a rug made with good quality yarn will provide years of easy-care wear. Like wool, acrylic fibres may build up static electricity in humid conditions.
Polypropylene is the most widely-used synthetic fibre in machine-made rug construction. It is water and stain resistant, mothproof, highly durable, colourfast, available in a vast range of colours and from a production cost perspective it is very cheap. Rugs woven from polypropylene fibre are suitable for anywhere in the home. Polypropylene is produced in two forms, BCF (Bulk Continuous Filament) and Heatset Polypropylene, both types are resistant to fibre shedding. Heatset polypropylene has a softer texture than BCF and yarns made with Heatset polypropylene tend to be bulkier, and more resilient and resistant to crushing.
Viscose, also known as rayon, is an attractive synthetic fibre made from wood pulp. Due to its softness and silky sheen it is often referred to as faux silk or art silk. It is very easy to dye and can be produced in a huge range of vibrant and muted colours, although it is not intrinsically colourfast. Viscose is not as strong as fibres such as wool and polypropylene, and rugs made entirely of viscose are not so durable as the fibres can break when exposed to heavy traffic. Viscose is frequently used in association with other fibres as its softness and silky appearance enhances the tactile and visual texture of the pile.
Polyester fibres can be produced in a wide range of attractive colours and are soft and silky with a lustrous appearance. Polyester is frequently used with a blend of other fibres to add sheen to the pile. Rugs made entirely of polyester include long pile luxury shaggy rugs and low pile rugs with a high pile density to resist crushing and flattening. Polyester is quite durable; moisture and fade resistant, non-allergenic, moth and mildew proof and resists water-based stains well, although it is more susceptible to oil-based staining.
PRINCIPAL RUG TYPES
The term traditional nowadays refers to the design on the face of the rug rather than its method of construction. Traditional rugs have time-honoured designs originating along the ancient trade routes through Persia, Turkey, the Caucasus, India and China although 17th century French designs such as Aubusson also fall within the traditional category. Ziegler rugs are an example of the ways in which traditional Persian designs were modified to suit European style preferences in the late 19th century. Traditional rugs are available in hand-knotted, machine-woven and hand tufted constructions and in both natural and synthetic fibres.
There is no limit to the design possibilities in modern rugs. Abstracts, geometrics, stripes, floral and naturalistic themes are currently very popular and modern technology permits highly detailed complex design features. Modern rugs are manufactured in natural fibres and a range of synthetic fibres enabling buyers to select rugs with care and wear characteristics to suit their needs and budget.
Originally gaining popularity in the 1970s, shaggy rugs remain a firm favourite. Available in a huge range of colours and textures they can add glamour and luxury to contemporary settings. Wool, viscose, polypropylene, acrylic and polyester fibres or a combination of two of these may be used in manufacture to achieve visual and tactile texture enhancement.
Flatweave rugs are woven on a loom which may be controlled by hand, machine or computer. Machine woven Wilton versions are inexpensive to produce and very popular. At the other end of the scale handmade tribal designs such as Kilim are more highly valued for quality. Fibres used include wool, cotton and synthetics, the latter being most common in power-loomed construction. Flatweave rugs are reversible, have a naturalistic look and polypropylene versions can make good substitutes for sisal rugs in damp or humid locations. Hand woven flatweaves can also be used as attractive wall hangings.
Carved rugs have their pattern or design accentuated by cutting the pile to different heights. The technique may be carried out by hand or machine.
Loop Pile Rugs
Loop pile rugs are made up of loops of yarn. Level loop pile rugs are formed of continuous loops of yarn which produce an attractive hardwearing surface. Some shag pile rugs have longer lengths of drawn out loops of yarn.
These are looped pile rugs constructed with loops of differing pile heights which give emphasis to design and accentuated texture. This type of construction is both attractive and hardwearing.
As the name implies, velvet rugs have a very short tightly-woven pile which is silky soft to the touch. Fibres used in the construction of velvet pile can be natural or synthetic and the choice of these will influence the durability and colour-retention of the finished rug.
Glossary of Terms used in Rug Design and Manufacture
Abrash: Variations in colour on the rug surface caused by irregular dyeing of yarn, often giving a striped effect across the width of the rug.
Acrylic: A synthetic (man-made) fibre which is considered to be closer to wool in its properties than other synthetics. Less expensive to produce than wool.
Art Silk: Artificial silk generally made from rayon (viscose), polyester or mercerised cotton.
Arabesque: Design of intertwining vines, branches, leaves or flowers.
Axminster Weave: Basic carpet and rug weaving method which originated in Axminster, Devon in the 18th century.
Border: Frame around periphery of rug. Some traditional rugs may have highly ornate or multiple borders.
Braided Rugs: Made by interweaving (plaiting) three or more strands of cloth or yarn.
Chenille: Yarn with a soft, fuzzy texture that changes appearance according to direction of light.
Chrome Dyes: Synthetic dyes in a large range of colours which are more colourfast than natural dyes.
Coir: Natural fibre woven from the husks of coconuts.
Contemporary Designs: Rugs with non-traditional patterns, these may be abstracts, geometrics, stripes, floral, naturalistic themes or simply plain colours.
Curvilinear: Designs composed of smooth, flowing curving lines.
Cut Pile: A level surface created by cutting through the loops formed in the weaving process.
Density: Refers to the proximity of individual tufts of yarn in the pile of a rug.
Dyeing: Process of changing the natural colour of rug fibres. Dyes may be synthetic or natural.
Field: Central part of a rug design, the area within the border of a rug.
Flatweave: Flatweave rugs consist only of the warp and weft strands and have no pile. They can be contemporary, machine woven or traditional Kilims and Dhurries and, depending upon construction, may be reversible.
Foundation: The basic structural element of handmade rugs consisting of the warp and weft strands.
Fringe: In handmade rugs fringes are formed from the extended warp strands of the rug base and serve to hold the rug together and keep the wefts from unravelling. Some machine-made rugs have a decorative fringe sewn to the end of the rug.
Geometric: Designs consisting of straight lines and straight line figures.
Gul: Tribal design feature of Turkoman rugs, frequently in the form of a lozenge-shaped medallion.
Ground: The background colour on which the principal design of the rug is overlain.
Hand: The tactile quality of a rug such as softness, resilience, smoothness.
Hand-knotted: Handmade rugs with a pile formed by knotting tufts of yarn around the warp strands of the base.
Hand Tufted: Hand tufted rugs are made by pushing yarn through a primary backing material to form tufts which are then secured by a secondary backing.
Hand Woven: A rug woven entirely by hand on a simple wooden frame (loom) or on a hand or foot-powered loom.
Heat Setting: A process applied in the manufacture of some twisted yarns to help them retain their twist. Heat setting often causes synthetic fibers to gain volume and can also reduce fibre shedding.
Jute: Natural fibre frequently used to form the foundation or backing for a rug.
Kilim: Flat tapestry-woven rugs produced from the Balkans to Pakistan.
Knot: The structural element which forms the pile of a hand-knotted rug. Tufts of yarn are individually tied to the warp strands of the rug foundation by hand and held in place by the weft strands. Two basic knot types are recognised: the Persian Senneh (asymmetrical) Knot and the Turkish Ghiordes (symmetrical) knot.
Knot Count: A measure of pile density, commonly in terms of knots per square inch. Chinese rug pile density is often described in “lines” , e.g. a 65 line rug would have 65 knots per foot of length (just over 5 knots per inch) giving an equivalent pile density of 29 knots per square inch.
Loom: Frame which holds the warp strands of the rug foundation tight during the weaving process. Looms may be static or powered by hand, foot, steam or electricity.
Loop Pile: A rug surface formed from continuous loops of yarn of uniform length.
Lustre: Light-reflecting quality of some fibres such as silk, viscose and nylon.
Medallion: a large enclosed portion of a design usually located in the centre of a field. Common shapes are diamonds, octagons and hexagons.
Medallion and Corner: Design composed of a central medallion and quartered medallions at the corners of the field.
Motif: A single design element (shape or form) that makes up part of the overall rug pattern.
New Zealand Wool: Superior wool of consistent, uniform quality derived from managed environment and livestock.
Nylon: Strong and durable synthetic fibre with good dyeing characteristics.
Patina: Aged or mellowed effect on a rug’s surface, may be natural or induced by dyeing or other treatment of the fibres.
Pile: the yarn on the surface of a rug.
Pile Height (or Depth): The distance from the top of the pile to the top surface of the rug base.
Pile weight: The weight of the pile yarn in kilograms per square metre or pounds per square yard.
Pilling: Small balls of shedded fibre on the surface of a rug.
Ply: The thickness of the yarn forming the pile. Three-ply yarn is made by spinning three strands of yarn together.
Point: One tuft of yarn. Pile density in machine-made rugs can be quoted in points per unit area.
Polyester: Polyester fibres can be produced in a wide range of attractive colours and are soft and silky with a lustrous appearance. Polyester is frequently used with a blend of other fibres to add sheen to the pile.
Polypropylene: The most widely-used synthetic fibre in machine-made rug construction. It is water and stain resistant, mothproof, highly durable, colourfast and available in a vast range of colours.
Power Loom: A loom operated by mechanical power, e.g. steam or electricity.
Primary Backing: The woven backing into which the tufts are inserted in the production of hand-tufted rugs.
Runner: Long, narrow rectangular rug frequently referred to as a hall runner.
Savonnerie: Designs based on those of the Savonnerie manufactory of seventeenth century France. Typified by armorial or floral medallions or dense floral bouquets often on a dark ground.
Sculptured Pile: Loop pile rugs with loops of varied height giving a sculptured, 3-dimensional appearance to the pile.
Secondary Backing: In handtufted rug production, this is bonded to the primary backing with latex to hold the tufts in place.
Shading: Apparent variations in colour on the surface of a rug caused by differential reflection of light by the rug fibres.
Shedding: Loss of loose fibres from the pile of a new rug. This may continue at a reducing rate for a period of several months.
Space Dyed: Yarn dyed in sections of different colours or shades of the same colour prior to being woven into a rug.
Static: An electrical charge accumulated due to friction on the surface of a rug which can subsequently be discharged. In fibres susceptible to static build-up, the potential increases in humid conditions.
Traditional: Generic term for patterns derived from long-established designs in the classic Persian, Oriental and European styles.
Vegetable Dyes: Natural dyes obtained from plants and containing no synthetic chemicals.
Warp: The lengthwise strands of yarn forming the foundation of a rug to which the pile knots are tied.
Weft: The widthwise strands of yarn forming the foundation of a rug and securing the pile knots in place.
Wilton Weave: Traditional weaving process commonly used in the production of machine-made (powerloomed) rugs.
Yarn: Continuous strand of twisted threads of natural or synthetic material.