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Rug Making

Updated on August 23, 2010

A rug is a floor covering made of heavy fabric. Rugs generally do not cover the floor completely and are not fastened down. The term "rug" is sometimes used interchangeably with "carpet," but carpeting generally covers the entire floor and is installed, or fastened to the floor. Rugs have been used as table covers, blankets, saddlebags, tent curtains, and canopies. Masterpieces of rug design are regarded as works of art and are hung on walls, where they can be seen to best advantage.

In prehistoric times, animal skins and woven rushes were used to cover the beaten-earth floors of primitive dwellings. As civilization progressed, rug making developed into a complex art.

Manufacture of Rugs

Rugs may be woven on looms, either by machine or by hand, or constructed on tufting or knitting machines. There are two basic weaving methods, tapestry and pile. In the outmoded tapestry style, the warp and weft, or lengthwise and crosswise threads, produce a flat rug. In the more customary pile technique, pieces of yarn are knotted around the underlying warp yarns. The ends of the yarns then stand up on the surface to form the pile.

Pile Weaves. Within the basic technique of pile weaving there are three important modern methods: velvet, Axminster, and Wilton.

The velvet weave is the simplest type and is used mostly for solid colors. A plush, velvety effect results when the yarn is straight and the pile is cut. Tightly twisted yarns result in a pebbly texture. In addition, combinations of cut and uncut pile may be used.

The Axminster weave was named for a town in England, but the loom used for it was invented by an American. It is a specialized carpet loom that allows an almost unlimited combination of color and design and is used primarily for intricate patterns. One distinguishing feature of this weave is that the back is heavily ribbed. An Axminster rug can be rolled lengthwise but not crosswise.

The Wilton weave also takes its name from the town in England where it was first made. This loom has a jacquard pattern attachment that directs the weaving process by a series of cards, which are perforated like player-piano rolls. The cards regulate the feeding of different colors of yarn into the loom and the reproduction of a texture pattern, such as a sculptured surface.

Tufting. The construction process that now accounts for the majority of carpet and rug production is tufting. It is a high-speed process involving two separate operations. First the backing is woven, and then the pile tufts are inserted by multiple-needled machines. To hold the tufts permanently in place, the backing is coated with a latex compound. The backing is usually made of jute but may also be made of kraft cord, cotton, or, more recently, man-made fibers. On most tufted carpets and rugs of good quality a second backing fabric is used. It is laminated to provide dimensional stability.

Knitting. In the knitting process the pile surface and backing are fabricated in one operation, as in weaving. Unlike weaving, however, the knitting process loops together the backing yarn, stitching yarn, and pile yarn with three sets of needles, in much the same way that hand knitting is done.

Any of these construction methods, weaving, tufting, or knitting, may be used to produce carpeting in standard broadloom widths, such as 9 feet, 12 feet, or 15 feet. Broadloom does not designate any particular style, quality, or type of construction, but is simply a term of measurement for any carpet more than 6 feet wide. Rugs may be cut from broadloom or may be made as prefinished units in standard sizes, such as 9 by 12 feet, or in a variety of shapes and sizes.

Other Methods. Other types of rugs include rag rugs, which are made by sewing or braiding together a warp of rags, and hooked rugs, which are made by using hooks to draw loops of yarn through a cloth foundation. Plaited straw or reed mats based on basket-weaving techniques are also manufactured.

Methods of weaving that are now obsolete included chenille and ingrain. Chenille weaving was a complicated process involving two looms. Ingrain rugs were woven by the tapestry method with the design on one side appearing in reverse on the other, so that an ingrain rug could be used on either side.

Materials and Design

Rugs and carpets may be made from natural or from man-made fibers. Nylon is now the principal fiber, followed by wool, the acrylics, rayon, polypropylene, and cotton.

Carpet wools are obtained from mountainous areas where sheep grow long protective fleece. Domestic American wool is generally too fine for carpet use, and manufacturers in the United States import their wool from other countries. The main sources are New Zealand, Argentina, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, India, and the United Kingdom.

Raw wool is scoured to remove grease and dirt before it is ready for processing. The fibers may be dyed in huge vats, then carded or combed, and spun into yarn. Sometimes the wool is then dyed.

Man-made fibers are produced in a pure white state. They may be solution dyed in their liquid state, or a finished rug or carpet may be piece dyed by placing it in a large drum, where it is uniformly permeated with color.

Because synthetic fibers are produced in laboratories, they can be controlled for uniformity. Synthetic fibers are also resistant to mildew and insects and do not cause allergies. Wool and wool-blend carpets and rugs are generally mothproofed during manufacture.

The design of a rug is produced by the appropriate placing of the pile tufts. In creating a woven pattern, the rug or carpet designer makes a graph-paper drawing, representing his design in detail, with each tiny square on the graph paper representing a tuft of yarn. Patterns may be based on leaves, flowers and other natural forms, on geometric forms, on designs used in textiles and tapestries, or on historic designs.

Modern carpets may be solid colored, multicolored, patterned in a definite style, or textured, or they may combine several of these elements. Multicolored carpets may be made by combining yarns of several different colors or by various dying processes. These processes include space dying, in which yarns are treated for various degrees of dye reception along the length. The multicolored effect results when the carpet is subjected to a single dye bath. In tufted carpets a pattern may be produced on the finished carpet by processes resembling printing.

Rugs as Art

The art of rug weaving originated in the Orient and reached its highest development in Persia. The design of Oriental rugs was largely determined by the religious traditions of most Islamic sects, which prohibited any naturalistic representation of living creatures in art. In most Moslem countries, therefore, artists used geometric or floral patterns, which they developed into extremely subtle and complex designs. Persian artists, however, following an earlier tradition, represented animal and even human figures in their decorative arts and in their rugs.

The most famous of the early Oriental rugs was the Persian Eternal Spring, made in the 6th century a.d. for the audience hall of the royal palace at Ctesiphon. The rug was an 84-foot square that represented a formal garden. The fruits, flowers, and birds in the garden were made of precious jewels, the watercourses and paths were of silk, and the earth was of gold. The border was a green meadow of emeralds. The value of this spectacular rug, probably the most sumptuous ever designed, has been estimated at the equivalent of 200 million dollars. The rug was cut up and distributed as booty after the Arab conquest of Ctesiphon in 635 a.d.

The finest examples of later Persian rug weaving were created in the 16th century. The basic carpet designs were the garden, hunting, medallion, prayer, and animal designs. Garden rugs represented Paradise, which is a Persian word for "walled park." The great Hunting Carpet (Poldi-Pezzoli Museum, Milan) contains a large scarlet and gold medallion surrounded by a blue field of foliage through which hunters chase their prey.

Although Persian rugs are unequaled in splendor, there are fine examples of rug making from India, Egypt, Turkey, the Caucasus, and China. An excellent example of Indian weaving is a fragment of a prayer rug, now in the Metropolitan Museum in New York City. It contains nearly 2,400 knots per square inch. The Egyptian Cairene rugs of the 15th century are famous for their mosaic patterns in green and cherry red. The exquisite Turkish prayer rugs, on which Moslem worshipers knelt, had vivid and intricate geometric designs. Turkish rugs are often represented in the paintings of Lorenzo Lotto, Hans Holbein, Hans Memling, and the Van Eyck brothers.

Dragon rugs from the Caucasus region of Asia feature a highly stylized dragon set against a writhing pattern of red, yellow, violet, and white. In most Chinese rugs a bold dark pattern stands out against a light tan or gold background. Chinese rugs are particularly admired for the dignity and clarity of their designs.

In America, the Navaho and other Indian tribes wove colorful rugs in the tapestry style. Unusual rugs were made from the plumage of birds by the Aztecs in Mexico.


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