Rugs can be made from almost anything that can be translated into a fibre or strand.
Traditionally rugs were made from wool, silk or cotton as these materials are widely found throughout the world. However today this is much more varied with a huge range of contemporary & organic fibres also being used. Technology has also played its part creating new spinning techniques, dying techniques & new chemical compounds making colouring an art form.
Probably the oldest material known to be used for rug production with examples of flat weave rugs dating back to Egyptian civilizations. Wool comes in many different grades, qualities & types eg: Merino, Tibetan, Afghan, Berka and New Zealand Wool.
Wool has readily been available since the widespread domestication of sheep & goats with examples of wool being used in textiles dating back to some of earth’s oldest civilizations.
Today wool can be classified by its quality, which will depend on the source of the grazing land the sheep are reared on.
Poor nutrition and water shortages can produce low-grade wools which have little pile strength & are very coarse.
Low-grade wools tend to be found in lower price hand tufted products whilst finer grades are generally found in hand knotted rugs.
High altitudes & rich grazing can produce some of the finest qualities of wool e.g merino, tibetan and mohair wools.
Sourced from Angora goats mohair is probably the finest and is noted for its soft, fine yarn and a characteristic shine.
Colour is also a key factor – high altitude & mountain grazed animals tend to produce a very light colour yarn which when dyed can give brighter & stronger colours.
Poor quality wools tend to be darker or discoloured requiring more work during the dying process. While this type of wool is cheaper, the chemical processes involved can have detrimental effects on the health of workers, the environment & the finished product.
There is evidence to suggest that the first silk fabrics were produced around 3500 B.C. in ancient China.
Coming from silkworms, silk is extraordinarily resistant and it is considered to be the longest filament produced by nature.
In rug production silk is generally reserved for fine hand knotted qualities.
It can also be used to highlight a detail or provide subtle shading due to its unique light-reflective properties.
Silk’s unique shimmering appearance is due to the triangular prism-like structure of the silk fibre, which allows silk to refract incoming light at different angles, thus producing different colors.
Linens ( Hemp, Linen, Cotton )
This generic term is often used to refer to a group of fibres from organic sources i.e. Hemp, Linen & cotton.
Due to their absorbency, they are generally not used widely to produce rugs & are often used as part of a structure or as an accent detailing due to their softness.
However, sometimes in their raw form they are mixed with other materials to make them more versatile. Linens do not suffer from the pilling or fluffing issues associated with wool & silk based products.
Over the last 30 years there has been an explosion of new types of polymers & yarn production. Today synthetic fibres account for about half of all fibre usage in the rug industry.
Although many classes of fibre exist they are generally classified as being one of the following – nylon, polyester, acrylic and polyolefin polypropylene .
The most common of these four tends to be acrylic as it produces a yarn which has similar properties to wool. Nylon & polyester are less common as the yarns they produce tend to have a shiny surface.
Polyolefin is commonly used in mass-produced products & can provide an array of very hardwearing yarns.
Viscose & Rayon
Viscose is the most commonly mis-represented yarn. Although an artificial fibre it is actually made from wood.
Viscose is made from cellulose & can create a yarn, which has a similar look & feel to silk. Hence it is commonly referred to as art silk.
Banana & Bamboo
Over the last 10 years, technological advances in spinning & extraction processes have enabled the development of a whole range of new yarns.
The two most interesting developments currently starting to appear in the commercial rug world are Banana & Bamboo. Both are created from the soft part of the stem. Bamboo provides a fibre that is very similar to cotton whilst Banana provides a fine fibre, which has the reflective qualities of silk.
Both are still in their early stages of uses & currently have issues with dying & durability as both are highly absorbent, however as both are ecologically sound and are not reliant on fossil fuels, their development is inevitable.