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Who Invented Carpet? – The History of Carpet

who-invented-carpet?-–-the-history-of-carpet

Your feet are grateful for soft carpet on cold mornings. Carpet is such a large part of our everyday lives that we take it for granted. Carpet has a fascinating history: where did it come from? Who made the first carpet? In what countries is it produced?

It’s a cold Christmas morning when your youngest child wakes you up to open presents. You can’t help but laugh as your feet hit the carpeted floor. He’s bouncing around uncontrollably, and you can only be thankful that his feet are warm on your thick cut-pile carpet.

The next time you notice the carpet is when you’re bagging up the wrapping paper and empty boxes. As you get out of the vacuum to sweep up the Christmas cookie crumbs, you take a second to wonder at the carpet’s origin. Unfortunately, you forget due to the dog being unable to make it outside in time. Go ahead and sweep; we’ll tell you all about it.

Table of Contents

The Very First Rug

It’s thought the very first rug was most likely made in the Middle East of goat hair or sheep wool. This idea goes back to between 3,000 to 7,000 BCE.

This is supported by the discovery of the Pazyryk carpet in Siberia in 1949 by Russian archeologist Sergei Rudenko. He dated the carpet from about the fifth to the fourth century BCE. Grave robbers had torn open the tomb of a Scythian prince. The carpet froze into the block of ice that preserved it for 2,500 years.

This oldest surviving carpet told the story of the Scythian peoples in an empire stretching from one side of the Eurasian continent to the other. Pictures of griffins, horses and their riders, as well as deer were woven into the carpet. The red knotted textile is thought to be of either Armenian design as evidenced by carpets given in tribute to other countries.

Written Evidence Of Carpets

Among the first mentions of carpets were versed in the Bible. People were described as “sitting on rich carpets” while important things were going on. This tells us that people used wool or animal hair spun into a textile to put between their bodies and the hard ground. Animals had by this time become domesticated, so their hides were not used as a barrier between the ground and the person.

Weaving Rugs Became A Thing

What we know today as carpet didn’t exist until relatively recently. The weaving of rugs became an art that swept the ancient world from Persia or Iran into India and thence to Armenia, Pakistan, China, Scandinavia, and Turkey. Each country in the ancient world had its own rug weaving industry.

People would weave a rug for their own use. If they continued weaving, they would give the rugs as gifts. These textiles soon became the means of paying dowries upon marriage, paying taxes, and buying necessary things like livestock, and trading for goods and services.

In certain countries like China and India, rugs were the purview of the wealthy, kings, and gods. It wasn’t until the Common Era that rug making was brought by the Crusades and traders back to Europe. By this time, rugs were woven on looms, while some still hand-knotted their rugs.

Developments in fibers for weaving the rugs, better and more technologically advanced looms, as well as dyes to color them meant that demand for the textile was increasing. It wasn’t long before the middle classes had rugs in their homes. From France to Italy to England, rugs had become a thing.

Who Invented Carpet?

When the New World was settled, Europeans brought with them the tools of their trades. Most settlers made homes in New England, with Philadelphia being the location of the carpet trade. This meant carpet-making looms with wool being woven into the textile. However, wool was expensive at that time, so only the wealthiest of the new Americans could afford carpet in their homes.

William Sprague from Philadelphia established a carpet-making mill in 1791. As time and technology permitted, his carpet industry grew, allowing quality carpet to be manufactured in no time.

Thus, the case of the carpet stood until a lady in Dalton, Georgia found a new way to make cotton into a textile. It began, oddly enough, like a tufted bedspread.

In the early 20th century, Catherine Evans Whitener hand-made a tufted cotton bedspread as a wedding gift. She used unbleached muslin as the base of the bedspread, sewing cotton yarn onto the textile. Then she cut the yarn to make it fluffy. As time passed, other Dalton households began making the bedspreads.

The demand for bedspreads morphed into a demand for carpet made the same way. It grew until mills were established all over Dalton to answer the demand. This is how the broadloom carpet was developed. As time went on, synthetic fibers were developed which went into the carpets. Nylon, rayon, polyester, and acrylic were now the carpet fiber of choice.

Dalton, Georgia remains to this day the Carpet Capital of the World, manufacturing over 70 percent of the carpet in the world. New technologies formulated in Dalton embraces stain resistance, color, softness, and durability.

Types Of Carpet

Persian rug, Oriental rug, area rugs, and other types of rug have given way to wall-to-wall carpet. Wool, polyester, nylon, acrylic, and similar synthetic yarn make up modern carpet. There are two basic types of carpet: tufted and woven. Within these two types are sub-types such as shag carpet being in the tufted category.

Weaving a carpet is no longer done by hand. Special looms are used to weave Wilton and Axminster carpet, which are two of the types of woven carpet. Woven carpet is very popular, even with its expense. You’ll see woven carpet in historic homes as well as in homes of those requiring historic accuracy in its interior design.

One of the most stunning examples of hand-knotted carpets can be seen in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Dating to about the mid-1500s, the carpet incorporates ten colors in a pattern depicting a shield in the middle. Surrounding the shield are exactingly placed geometric shapes. The corners of the carpet consist of medallions with the same geometric shapes surrounding them.

The body of the carpet is done in a floral pattern with a band around the body resembling the egg and dart pattern. Surrounding this is another pattern, finished off by the final band of the carpet. It’s called the Ardabil Carpet. It was made for Sufi leader Shaykh Safi al-Din Ardabili who passed in 1334. It changed hands and even survived earthquakes until the museum acquired it in 1893.

Loop Pile

In the tufted carpet category, you’ll find a loop pile. The process of making a carpet is fascinating. A sewing machine-like apparatus uses a backing material. Into this backing, hundreds of needles pass yarn. On the other side of the backing, loops form. In the loop pile, a hook keeps the yarn looped. This is the side of the carpet on which you walk. Now an adhesive is placed on the backing material, so a second backing can be attached. This provides stability to the final product.

Loop pile can be staggered with some yarns higher than others to form a pattern in the carpet. Level loop carpets are just that and are best suited to high-traffic areas. The most popular types of loop pile carpet are Sisal and Berber in which the loops are tighter, forming a uniform surface.

Cut Pile

The carpet goes through the same manufacturing process described above with one exception. If a cut pile carpet is desired, then instead of a hook, a blade is inserted on the walking side of the carpet. The blade slices the loop, making the yarn into a straight fiber. The pile is then twisted to help the fibers stand up straight without being crushed.

The most popular types of cut pile carpet are Frieze and Saxony. Frieze yarns are looser and look shaggy. Shag carpet might be long-fibered or short fibered, as in the Frieze version.

Saxony feels and looks like velvet. The fibers are short and densely packed, giving the carpet the appearance of velvet. Also known as plush, Saxony is an upscale version of cut pile carpet.

Wilton Carpet

Named for the town in England in which it was first manufactured, two basic types are woven along the warp and weft method on either single-frame or plain looms or Jacquard-frame or multi-frame looms. Wires are used in the warp of the yarn to lift the yarn to the wear side of the carpet. Specific colors in the pattern being woven are therefore being lifted from the warp into place on the wear side. The resulting carpet can be specified as all-loop or all-cut.

This weaving method produces a textile dense with yarn, with body and durability. Quality goes without saying.

Axminster Carpet

Axminster carpets were first woven in Axminster, Devon, England by Thomas Whitty in 1755. All carpet features a backing and a wear side. However, the Axminster weaving method weaves the yarn and the backing together in the same step. Axminster looms weave each yarn individually into place, which differs from the warp and weft method of weaving.

This weaving method delivers a product that’s wear-resistant, which is good in heavy traffic areas, durable, contributes to the purity of the air, as well as dealing well with either high or low humidity.

Carpet Tile

Carpet tiles are square pieces taken from a roll of wall-to-wall carpet. Easy to install, they can be made into any pattern the homeowner or business owner wishes. They have the same advantages as wall-to-wall carpets, just with more design possibilities. Some carpet manufacturers offer carpet tile in geometric shapes for the home or business owner desiring an interesting pattern on their floor.

Carpet tile is a snap to remove or replace. One of the bonuses of carpet tiles is that their composition makes a great sound-proofing property to any room in which they’re placed. This makes the tiles best suited to restaurants and clubs, business environments, and homeowners with noisy teens in a garage band.

FAQs

How Did Carpet Get Its Name?

The origin of the word carpet is from the Latin carpet or to pluck or card, because the yarn was plucked from unraveled textile. This devolved into the French carpite or heavy, decorated cloth. It’s also found in old Italian as carpita or thick, woolen cloth. Carpet only made it into modern language for a floor covering as late as the 15th to the 18th centuries.

What’s The Difference Between Rug And Carpet?

Today’s rugs are either area rugs, or they cover a large portion of a floor. Manufactured on looms with a differing process, carpet is meant to be laid over a subfloor by adhesive or tacks and wall to wall. Carpet that is hand-made, though, is still referred to as a rug. The two terms are interchangeable.

What Is Another Name For Carpet Sweeper?

Most people just call them a vacuum cleaner, but very close-cut carpet fiber can be swept with a broom as in the case of bars and some restaurants.

What Is Polyurethane Carpet Padding?

With no padding on the subfloor beneath the carpet, life would be no different from walking on concrete or wood. Carpet padding is therefore vital to our comfort and safety. Bits of polyurethane foam are bonded into carpet padding, with the colors combining to distinguish it from other types of carpet padding.

Is Carpet A Thing Of The Past?

It is not. Other types of flooring include hardwood, natural stone tiles, and vinyl to name a few. These have drawbacks regarding children and pets. The first consideration is if the children will fall and break a bone or bash their heads on hardwood or tile floors.

The second consideration is if the family dog will scratch the hard floor or break her nails. She could also skid across it if she’s coming at a dead run. That could mean health problems, breaks, and sprains for Madame Barksalot. Carpet, on the other hand, cushions the falls of the children. The dog might get her nails caught in looped carpet fibers, but her nails won’t break. She definitely won’t skid across velvety cut pile carpet.

There are also homeowners who don’t get along well with the cold. Not for them frozen toes on chilly winter mornings. Not for them pairs of bedroom slippers that slip and slide on hardwood or tile floors. Consider as well the homeowner who exercises at home instead of at the gym. Who wants to lie on a hardwood or tile floor to do crunches or position themselves in the Mountain Climber? Their feet would slide all over the hard floor. Yes, carpet is still a major thing.

Did Carpet Exist In Medieval Times?

King Arthur most probably walked across hand-woven rugs in his stone castle in the cold upper reaches of Wales. His landowning brethren most likely did the same. The serfs and slaves, however, more than likely wove their own rugs by hand using the wool of a sheep or the hair from other animals spun into thread. Priests of the Church as well as Druids of superior stature probably walked across hand-woven rugs lovingly made for them by their parishioners.

Keep in mind that even in medieval times, trade with countries all around the known world flourished in what would become the United Kingdom. Wines from Italy, cloth from the East, spices, cooking utensils, and other everyday items were brought into the ports every day. Rugs would have come from Turkey and perhaps even India.

How Were Carpets Cleaned Before Vacuums?

Don’t faint, but there have been days when I didn’t own a vacuum and couldn’t borrow one from a neighbor. I had to get down on all fours with a roll of Scotch tape. The tape picked up the loose effluvium that settles in carpets. I then went over it with a broom, which got what the tape didn’t. Thankfully, I only had to do that in one of the places I lived.

Back in the day, rugs were placed over fences or porch rails and beaten within an inch of their lives with long-handled paddles. Sometimes crushed herbs or tea leaves were applied, thinking these would draw out the dirt.

Which Country Makes The Best Carpet?

Today, India’s rug and carpet industry are worth over two billion dollars. India produces 40 percent of the world’s carpet. Iran comes in second with its Persian rugs. Their hand-knotted rugs have been popular the world over for centuries.

References:

BC Floor Covering Association: A History of Carpet

Wonderopolis: Who Invented the Carpet?

Bloomsburg Carpet: Weave Structures

Carpet Institute of Australia Limited: Australia’s Carpet Industry

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