Twists and Textiles: What you Need to Know before you Buy an Area Rug
When it comes to choosing the right area rug for your home or office, there’s a lot to consider. What’s the best material for the location where it will make its new home? What kind of weave will hold up best? Should you get hand tufted or flat weaved? Machine made? Synthetic or natural? Confused yet? Thought so.
There’s a lot to understand when it comes to the art and science of rug making. As a manufacturing process that dates back thousands of years, it’s easy to get lost in what’s what. But take heart. We’ve taken the time to break down the most common types of materials and weaves so you don’t have to. Read on to find the one that’s right for you!
Types of Rug Weaves
A rug’s weave is often its defining characteristic. It dictates how much effort went into creating it on the part of the crafts person or machine. It lets the buyer know how much foot traffic and wear it can handle and what sort of care it will need. Knowing a few basic weave types can help you identify and determine which one best fits your needs.
These types are extremely high in value and prized for their individuality, even among two rugs of the same pattern. A craftsman can spend hundreds of hours creating a hand knotted rug, making them heirloom-quality works of art.
They get their intricate look from the thousands of hand-tied knots that make them up. Wool or silk is stretched over a loom both horizontally and vertically. The craftsman begins at the bottom and works his way towards the top, forming rows of knots underneath to create a pattern on top.
Hand knotted items include no backing and no glue or dyes. Trade names for them often reference their ancient origins by calling them Oriental or Persian rugs, but this type of weaving is found throughout the Middle East, China, and Tibet.
Much like a person who practices needlepoint follows a pre-set pattern to create his or her design, most hand tufted rugs are created by looping fibers through a sheeted cloth material on which the pattern has been printed.
The foundation is mounted to a frame and the crafts person uses a tufting gun to thread the fibers through its backing. While the “gun” title implies some machinery is at use, it’s only in the name of saving time. These types still take dozens of hours to complete and require some creativity on the part of the maker in terms of tuft placement and design. However, because the pattern is created by a machine, they don’t retain the unique qualities that some other handmade items often claim.
Latex or glue is applied to hold the tufts in place while a backing material is applied to keep the tufts from being exposed. Finally, the loops created by the gun are sheared in half, leaving two fibers in place where every loop used to be.
Most hand hooked rugs are made in a similar fashion to hand tufted ones: a hooking device is used to punch yarn or fibers through a mesh foundation. Glue is then applied to the back of the rug and a non-skid material is often attached. Materials used in construction make them a practical, affordable choice, but they don’t provide a lot of cushion.
This type of weaving gives the manufacturer a lot of room for creativity. This is why you see a lot of variation in pattern and theme among hand hooked rugs like Momeni’s Lil Mo Classic collection which features whimsical patterns like trains and penguins.
Braided rugs are among the earliest type made by human beings. They’re still an economical choice for any household because they’re made simplistically and often consist of bulk density or recycled materials.
These braided floor coverings are woven loosely by hand with some stitching or glue holding the wrapped cords that make them up together. These can be made quickly, but the thick material used to make them gives them a surprisingly long life. Because backing isn’t necessary to hold these types together, they’re often reversible.
If you were to look at a flat weaved rug close up, it might resemble the flat, tightly woven surface of an old-fashioned picnic basket. These types are chic and minimalist in their attraction and are another economical choice for the budget-minded homeowner.
Flat weave rugs are made by overlapping the material to create a thin profile. Outer seams hold the woven structure together with either stitching or a bit of glue. Since there’s no pile, they lay very flat and don’t require a backing.
This is any rug that’s woven on electrically powered loom. Manufacturers enter patterns or designs into a computer and let the machine work its magic as it creates the desired type of weave.
The greatest value is how they are made. Machines are fast and don’t expect to be paid, so a manufacturer can create dozens in the time it would take a craftsman to create one. While this presents a disadvantage for collectors, it makes owning a relatively nice area rug an affordable goal.
Machine made rugs are almost universally made of synthetic and inorganic materials. Pattern, design, and color are usually uniform.
Types of Rug Materials
Materials are generally separated into two categories: natural and synthetic. Natural materials are, of course, those found organically and made from animal or plant fibers. Synthetic materials are man-made and can include a variety of pliant materials.
Wool is the most common type of material found in high-end area rugs. While wool usually comes from sheep, it can also be made from llama, alpaca, or goat hair. An amazing and ancient material, wool retains dye colors well, it’s resilient, and naturally resists damage from water, fire, dust mites, and staining.
Sisal is the most popular natural fiber used in rug making. The plant sisal is culled from, the Agave Sisalana, is native to Central America but can be found in Mexico, Java, and East Africa. This plant’s long fibers make for a smooth-textured yarn that’s anti-static and long lasting. Sisal is flame retardant and absorb sound well.
Strong and durable, cotton retains a wide variety of dye colors and is often used in conjunction with wool. Rugs made from a wool-cotton blend work well in bedrooms and bathrooms because they feel great on bare feet.
Seagrass is a durable material made from tall plants found in wetland areas. It has a naturally non-porous surface that has a smooth texture. The hay-like feel and color of a new seagrass rug naturally fade over time.
A plant with origins in India and China, jute has a sustainability and firmness that makes it perfect for rug making. Because it stains easily, jute is often mixed with other natural or synthetic fibers before it’s made into a rug.
Bamboo is a woody material native to Japan and China. Not just for pandas to munch on, bamboo is much like sisal in its durability. It’s a great choice for high-traffic areas because it’s a strong material that can put up with heavy use. Bamboo is a great way to own a high-quality, natural fiber rug at a low price.
Typically used in higher-quality rugs, silk is often used in combination with another material such as wool. Added for its shine, even a small amount of silk can equal a higher price tag.
A soft, durable fiber cultivated from the ‘Cannabis genus’ plant family. As a textile, hemp is a strong, absorbent material resistant to ultraviolet light and mold.
From the French word for “caterpillar”, chenille is a type of cored fabric made from cotton, acrylic, or rayon. It’s soft and has an iridescent appearance that catches light easily.
This is a shiny, silk-like fiber made from wood pulp. It’s often used as an accent as a lower-cost alternative to silk.
A synthetic material, nylon has a lot of advantages including strength, uniformity, resistance to staining, and easy cleaning. Nylon is widely available and easily affordable. They’re also a strong choice for heavy traffic areas.
A blend of synthetic fibers used to give a rug the look of wool without the high cost.
Sometimes called olefin, these fibers are made from petroleum and ethylene gases. This is a strong material that’s quick drying, mildew resistant, and colorfast. It can also be heat-set to make it more durable and give it a wool-like look. While it’s not the best choice for high-traffic areas, this is one of the most affordable materials on the market.