Rugs and Carpets Through the History

Did you ever ask yourself how the rugs and carpets, how we know them today, made the way through the history? The idea is as old as the human civilisation, basically. Purposes of woven covers were different, and shapes and materials changed and evolved through the time.

Rugs and carpets have a rich history, only part of which is known. Ancient rugs are very rare because the earliest rugs were made of organic fibers. This type of fibers could not be reatined over long period of time, thus preservation over thousands of years is very rare. What science proved is that the weaving could be traced thousends of years back in history.

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First woven objects were rough, simple mats and baskets made of grasses, reeds, leaves, and other natural materials. The first woven ‘rugs’ were presumably rough cured skins used as floor coverings in the dwellings of early hunters.

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With tough, flexible backing and soft and warm on touch, these first floor covers served to keep the home more insulated and make living more comfortable.

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There is evidence for weaving and the existence of rugs in ancient Mesopotamia and Turkey as far back as 7000 and 8000 B.C.E., and in Egypt (wool and cotton) as early as the third millennium B.C.E. Mongolia and China were also main players in the textile industry, and nomadic herders and Chinese weavers were among the first to develop and weave wool rugs.

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Weaving developed in many other parts of the world in addition to Europe, including parts of the Americas as far back as 5500 B.C.E. Weavers began to use natural colors and gradually transitioned to using vegetable, flower, and insect materials. In that way coloured threads formed not just a simple useful object, but became something that makes the rugs also a decorative piece.

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With silk production born in China, the ornate, complex embroidery and designs of Turkey and Mongolia, and the development of more sophisticated looms and weaving techniques throughout the world lifted rug-making from necessity to art form.

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Italian merchants first brought oriental rugs to Europe, where they were used as wall hangings and coverings. By 1600, France had developed a dominant weaver’s guild, and England wasn’t far behind. The 1700’s marked England’s emergence into the weaving industry, and by about 1830, a good portion of the wool produced in England was used for carpets.

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Various machines were created to aid the process of weaving, and looms have become so sophisticated today that they run off of computer algorithms. Rugs were not widely available in the US and Europe until the onset of mass production and the invention of industrial grade machines.

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The first steam-powered loom appeared in 1787, and by 1876, the invention of the Axminster loom, a machine that permitted unlimited use of color and design, boosted the production of carpets. The advent of synthetic fibers and tufted carpet (carpet manufactured by the insertion of tufts of yarn through a carpet-backing fabric) made mass production and purchase of carpets easier, faster, and less expensive.

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Today’s modern rugs are produced in a hand-tufted, a pile weave or flatwoven technique. A hand-tufted rug is created without tying knots into the foundation, but rather by pushing wool or arcylic yarn through a primary backing, creating a ‘tuft’.

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Pile weave or knotted weave refers to the method of weaving used in most rugs. In this technique the rug is woven by creation of knots. A short piece of yarn is tied around two neighboring warp strands creating a knot on the surface of the rug.

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Flat weave refers to a technique of weaving where no knots are used in the weave. The warp strands are used as the foundation and the weft stands are used as both part of the foundation and in creating the patterns.

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