Rumi, the 13th century poet is quoted as saying, “When someone beats a rug, the blows are not against the rug, but against the dust in it.” Rugs (and their dust) have been with us for a very long time, but not many people know the history of some of the most popular pieces of decor in the world.
The precise art of rugmaking is handled one yarn at a time.
- It is thought that people wove some form of rugs as far back as the Neolithic age around 7000 BC.
- The earliest recorded known rug was the Pazyryk Carpet, dating back to the 5th century BC. It was found in 1949 in a Siberian burial mound.
- Cavemen covered the entrance to their caves with skins from animals like sabertooth tigers, which insulated the dwellings and may have warded off predators.
- Nomadic people used rugs to sleep on, softening and insulating the ground floors of their tents, and as durable decorations that could stand multiple moves.
- Rugs were used as saddles in some cultures. When the horses died, the rugs were buried with them as a medal of honor.
- Ancient rugs were mostly all hand-knotted. This style of rugs is still made all over the world, and there are several different styles of hand-knotting, like Turkish, Persian, and Spanish. The most common materials are cotton, wool, silk, and jute. Weavers tie all the threads by hand, and then the yarn is clipped to form the pile.
- Some of the rugs created during the Renaissance period have survived to this day and are considered priceless antiques.
- Some of the most exquisite rugs ever produced were made around 1500 A.D. They were Persian rugs with a floral central medallion and a design that seemed three-dimensional.
- Once people began to build large, stone castles, rugs were used to cover drafty walls and floors as well as decoration. Many court women passed their time embroidering intricate tapestries.
- Thought to have originated centuries ago with the Native Americans, braided rugs are usually found in wool, silk, cotton, jute, sisal, and hemp.
A weaver in a Loloi factory creates a beautiful rug with time-tested techniques.
Industrialization and Techniques
- The carpet industry got off the ground in the United States in 1791 when William Sprague opened the first carpet mill in Philadelphia, PA to make woven wool carpets.
- Erastus Bigelow invented a power loom for weaving carpets in 1839, after which carpet production increased substantially.
- A power loom with a Jacquard mechanism, which machinated the pulling of individual threads in complicated patterns, moved carpet and rug creation forward in 1849.
- The Shuttleworth brothers were responsible for an innovation in 1905 by their Mohawk company in New York that created the Karnak Wilton carpet. This rug was so popular that their rug weavers did not change the color and pattern on their looms for up to five years.
- During World War I the largest carpet and rug manufacturer in the world, Alexander Smith & Sons, used their carpet looms to make tents and navy blankets for the U. S. Army and Navy.
- Marshall Field modified an Axminster weaving loom in the early 1900s to create Karastan rugs, which were woven through the back by machines and looked like handmade oriental rugs. They offered elaborate designs in an amazing assortment of colors.
- A tufting gun is used on this style of weave to shoot yarn into the base of the rug, while it is stretched on a frame. The hand-tufting gun makes both the loop and the cut in the loop that creates the pile. When the tufting is done, the base of the carpet is backed by a layer of latex to secure the pile.
- In the late 1800s, the city of Dalton, Georgia became home to a large portion of the carpet industry. It’s still currently referred to as the “Carpet Capital of the World.”
- Prior to the 1950s, wool and cotton were the primary materials used in rugs. In the mid-50s synthetic materials such as nylon, polyester, polypropylene, and viscose began to be introduced.
- Many manufacturers pair up with guest designers for exclusive collections, like Barclay Butera, Martha Stewart, and Isaac Mizrahi.
- The phrase “to sweep something under the rug” originated in 1963.
- Hand-woven rugs are flat rugs that do not have a pile. They are woven on looms out of a variety of materials and often have quite meticulous patterns. While one of the oldest types of rugs, it is enjoying a resurgence in contemporary fashion due to the demand for flatweaves and sarouks in layering designs.