The rug industry had long been known for fast talking, hard driving salesman with a reputation for being less than completely honest with their customers. It’s where the term “carpet bagger” came from. Some basic tips will protect you as you begin your rug buying process.
There are three main types of rug construction – Hand Knotted, Machine Woven, and Tufted.
Hand knotted rugs are generally considered to be the best. They are woven one knot at a time on a loom. First, the weaver will take a strong cotton, wool, or silk and create the warp loom. These threads run from the top to the bottom of the rug. Taking a strand of colored wool and knotting it around two warp threads in the foundation creates each knot. Starting at one end of the rug, the weaver takes different colors of wool and, like pixels on a computer screen, and creates the design.
Once a full row of knots is woven, the weaver will weave in a weft thread. The weft thread runs perpendicular to the warp threads and literally weaves back and forth between them. This creates a tremendous amount of strength in the rug and also holds the knots in place.
While incredibly strong, the hand-knotting process is painstaking and time consuming. A room-sized rug can easily take well over a year to weave. Hand woven rugs will generally wear better than any other rug in the market and not surprisingly, cost more than their counterparts. A good hand knotted rug can easily last 50 to 100 years with proper maintenance.
Machine woven rugs are manufactured quickly with large machines. While there are a few different types of machines that will construct a rug differently from one to the next, machines are not capable of creating the same structure as hand weaving. Rather than having wool knotted and tied onto the foundation, most machine woven rugs are made with a simple “half wrap” technique where the colored fibers are held in place with much less strength than in hand woven rugs. The benefit of machine woven rugs is that they are much less expensive and simpler to produce. The average lifespan of a machine woven rug is between 20 and 25 years.
The last style is tufted rugs, which straddle the line between machine woven and hand woven. They are made by hand using a tool known as a “tufting gun.” This is a simple tool that can be used to shoot a U-shaped tuft of wool into a cotton or jute grid. Because people use the tool, it’s often referred to as “Hand Woven.” However, this type of rug is not hand woven at all. The tool produces a look and feel much like the hand knotted rug; however, it is prone to wearing out much more quickly. To combat this, manufacturers will glue a canvas backing to the underside of the rug. This helps to hold the rug together, but in time the glues will degrade and the rug will begin to fall apart and may even produce a latex smell. Most tufted rugs are woven to last around five to 10 years before they begin to degrade.
So how can the consumer tell the difference between these types of rugs? The easiest to spot is the tufted rug – buy looking underneath and finding the canvas glued to the bottom. When it comes to the other two, take a section of the pile and squeeze it along the long end. In a hand-knotted rug you will see the wool wrapping around the warp threads. In a machine woven rug, the thread itself becomes exposed as no wool wraps around it.
Look at the illustrations to better understand basic rug construction.
Please note that within each category there It are large varieties with differing quality as well as subtle differences that can help a rug to last longer or cause it to wear out more quickly.
However, by understanding the basics, you will be better armed to make the right buying decision.
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Matt Gabel is the Retail Manager at Serafian’s Oriental Rugs. They offer free pick up and delivery in the metro area for the bi-annual rug cleaning. For more information, call (505) 504-RUGS or go to serafians.com